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Amber Long

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Horsemanship Applied to the General Public

Photo by Xpress Foto.

I grew up in the land of the horse. Everyone was so sure I was going to have a career within that world; even I was quite sure that would be my destiny. Life is life, and after some twists, turns, bumps, and even stops, I chose to have a career within public education. Secondary education has been my focus, and for the past five years, I’ve been teaching seventh grade reading and language arts.

Ninety-five 11-12 years old enter my classroom daily. Ninety-five sets of eyes knowingly and unknowingly look to me for guidance. My guidance is suppose to fall under reading and language arts, but it doesn’t. More often than not, my kids look to me for life guidance. Even though my classroom is not an arena, I still apply my dressage skills to these kids.

Photo by JD Bradenburg.

To me, dressage is convincing a horse to do movements using the least restrictive measures. If a rider is forceful and restrictive, what happens to the horse? It becomes tense, stressed, and disengaged. Dressage takes a lot of give and take, positive reinforcement, praise, repetition, and most importantly time.

All that was mentioned is my goal of handling my students and the people I surround myself. Unfortunately, I see more restrictive people working with the public. Just like a horse, if you are loud, abrasive, and negative, the people around you will become tense, stressed, and less engaged. My goal for you is to become a dressage rider outside of the horse world. Handle your interactions with others with a lot of give and take, positive reinforcement, praise, repetition and time.

Photo courtesy of Amber Long.

Photo courtesy of Amber Long.

Photo courtesy of Amber Long.

Amber Long is a schoolteacher and Area VIII eventer “on extended maternity leave.” Check out her previous EN submissions here

Come Hell or High Water: A Swim to Safety That Area VIII Eventer Amber Long Will Never Forget

A year ago today, adult amateur eventer Amber Long had the scare of her life when a flash flood came through her farm in Winfield, West Virginia. The fast-rising waters quickly escalated into a life-threatening situation both for Amber's horses, including 2013 Area VIII Training level champion Simply Danny, and herself. She kindly recounted her story to EN.

A year ago today, my day started off with a shock. My baby was six months old and didn’t sleep all through the night. During the night soothings and feedings, I heard it rain off and on. At times it was raining pretty hard, but I didn’t think much about the horses in field. Many rain storms with heavy rainfall have come before, and everything had gone perfectly fine.

When the baby woke at 7 a.m. I did my customary action of looking out my bedroom window that overlooks our nine-acre pasture field. This was when I let out a gasp so loud my baby startled. I swooped him into my arms, hustled down the hall, then down the stairs. I burst outside onto our wraparound porch where my husband stood in shock.

We both gazed out into the pasture where our two horses and my aunt’s pony were stranded out in the field due to high water from a flash flood. The stream that separated them from the safety of the barn was about six feet wide and four to five feet deep, which wouldn’t have been a big factor except the current was moving pretty fast. My husband looked at me and asked, “What do we do now?”

I handed my husband the baby and asked him to change him and give him a bottle. All sorts of scenarios were playing through my head. One scenario was that the water wouldn’t rise any more, and the horses would be out there for a few hours. The water would recede, and the horses and us would simply go about our lives. Scenario number two: the water continues to rise, and they get swept down the creek, getting stuck in the fencing or other debris and drown.

As my husband changed the baby, I watched the water. The water rose and rose fast. I have great neighbors. However, it was early in the morning and no one I knew had a boat or let alone was even awake. That left me with calling 911.

Photo courtesy of Amber Long.

The water before the 911 call. Photo courtesy of Amber Long.

Talk about an awkward conversation. It was a year ago, but I remember everything clearly.

911 Operator: Hello, what’s your emergency?

Me: Uh, is there a water rescue boat nearby?

911 Operator: Yes. Do you need a water rescue?

Me: Yes

911 Operator: How many people need rescued?

Me: I have three horses needing rescued.

911 Operator: (silence)

Me: I need the boat for me to get to the horses that are stranded, so I can get them to safety.

911 Operator: OK, I’ll send them your way.

Me: Where is their location now?

911 Operator: At the county fair doing water rescues, but they’re leaving now. They should be there in 15 minutes.

After I hung up the scenario I played in my head was that they would ferry me across, I would put the halter on the dominant horse, my Training level eventer, hop back in the boat, and my faithful steed would plunge into the water leading his swimming herd to safety. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Simply Danny in his element at the Area VIII 2013 Training Championship. Photo by Xpress Foto.

Simply Danny in his element at the Area VIII 2013 Training Championship. Photo by Xpress Foto.

Amber Long and Simply Danny. Photo courtesy of Xpress Foto.

Amber Long and Simply Danny. Photo courtesy of Xpress Foto.

Unfortunately, I had to wait. During that long 15 minutes, my husband, my compliant baby, and my neighbors joined me at the water edge. The water went from six feet wide to 18 feet in a matter of minutes and steadily rose in that fast manner.

I safely stood on the bank while I looked at the horses. I love all horses, but the only things that kept going through my mind were all the shenanigans my event horse, Simply Danny, has done for me. All the events, all the silly stunts, everything that I have asked that horse to do, he had always faithfully gone with it. The water rose higher and still no sign of the water rescue boat.

The water rescuers finally pulled into my driveway, and when they did the entire field was covered with water. The horses were up to their fetlocks, and the time was 7:45 a.m. Only 45 minutes after the initial look out the window.

The amazing water rescue people were open-minded and willing to help! Sweet! I told them my plan.

They said it was a no-go, that the motor to the boat wasn’t strong enough to fight the current and pull a horse.

Instead, they recommend hauling me across, I get the horse, and I physically swim the horse back. WHAT!!! Your boat is having trouble fighting the current, and you want me to do what?! So I asked, “What if things go south, and we get in trouble?”

The water rescuer explained, “We’ll toss you the safety line and pull you to safety. “

“What about my horse?” They gave me the look and a shrug that implied that he’s on his own.

I looked at my husband and held my baby. “What do we do,” I asked him.

“What else can we do? We can’t let them die,” he said.

I gave my baby a long sweet kiss and prayed it wouldn’t be my last.

As the water rescuers fitted me with a life vest and hauled me across the swift water to the horses, I said a little prayer and also prayed all the training in my little horse’s past had made him strong enough to safely swim across. I hoped that the will of my husband’s horse and my aunt’s pony would be strong enough for them to survive.

I looked at the three horses, and every one of them had wide eyes. They were jumpy and startled with good reason.

I got off the boat and grabbed my halters. I put one on my husband’s horse, so he’d be more inclined to follow. The other on my horse. If two horses go, the third will often follow, right?

I hopped on my gelding to help coax him into the deep water since I knew from eventing that water wasn’t his favorite. My plan was to start upstream so we’d float with the current to the barn versus swimming against the current. I knew horses were decent swimmers. I also knew they weren’t strong swimmers, so going against the current was definitely out.

My gelding wanted to refuse. I kicked, smooched and clucked loudly. I may have even added a cowboy, “HAW!”

My husband’s gelding will follow my gelding anywhere. Slowly, skeptically we went, and suddenly we plunged into deep water. All three horses experience this drop-off, and the pony panics. She climbs on both the geldings. Everyone is now in panic mode. She knocks me off, and her hoof clips my head.

I’m OK. Is there blood? I don’t have time for that. I let go of the lead to my husband’s gelding. That gelding turns back around with the pony and remains stranded. I push the pony off my gelding, and in order to avoid his swimming legs, I get on my gelding to steer him towards the barn again. Once we have our correct directions, I get off and we both begin to swim.

My gelding and I are swimming. The current is swift and all I hear is my breathing and water. My gelding’s head goes underwater. I pull on his lead, pulling his head out of water. I swim hard, and he swims. I yell, “Come on, Danny!” His head goes under again. I pull up. He pops up. I yell, “Swim Danny! You can do it!” He swims. I swim. He goes under, and I pull up. I yell, “Swim Danny!” He swims. I swim. He goes under, and I pull up. I yell.

We repeat this for what feels like eternity. I am scared each time he goes under that it will be the last I see him. Will I be able to pull him back up? I swim. He swims. He goes under. I pull up, and he, no less, continues to try.

Amber and Danny swimming across the pasture. Photo courtesy of Amber Long.

Amber and Danny swimming across the pasture. Photo courtesy of Amber Long.

Finally he touched the bottom, and I was completely exhausted. I grabbed hold of his mane and let him carry me to the barn. We did it. My “floating” downstream plan worked! We survived.

The victory didn’t last long. I remembered that there were two other horses out there. A neighbor took my beloved Danny and placed him in a stall. My jelly legs collapsed from exhaustion, and I just looked across the stream at the other two horses. Can I do that swim again? If that’s my most athletic horse, what are these pleasure horses going to be like swimming across?

My husband and the baby came up beside me. I looked up to my husband’s face and grabbed my baby as he reached for me. I gave my baby the biggest hug that a six month old could handle. I looked at my husband and said, “I can’t do that again. I’m out of shape and exhausted. It would be dangerous. You’re going to have to do it.” My husband simply nodded.

My husband is good with a horse, but he came into horses at a later age and hasn’t been around them as long as I have. He has ridden and competed for years, but nowadays enjoys trail riding. I had faith that his instinct was good. I told him horses were pretty buoyant and to use the current to his favor. (Well, unless it’s an event horse named Simply Danny. Those horses tend to sink like lead.) I also told him horses aren’t strong swimmers, so avoid swimming against the current. Like husbands do, he didn’t listen.

I held my baby and watched as my husband got fitted into the life vest and was shuttled across to the remaining two horses. My husband grabbed the lead that was still dangling from his horse’s halter, and he began walking his horse toward the barn. This approach meant less swimming for horse and person, but there was very little room to make it to the barn due to the location of the ring. It was a 40-foot gap he had to aim for.

My husband, his gelding, and the pony began treading their way towards the barn. They plunged into the part where they all had to swim. The current was too much; I saw my husband, gelding and pony swimming, but their angle was off. The current was too much, and it was pushing them towards the actual creek. If they reached the creek, the current was even faster, and none would have a chance to survive.

The horses weren’t strong enough to swim against the current to make it to the opening, and both they and my husband missed it. My husband began to drift away towards the actual creek and called for a lifeline to be tossed to him. The water rescuers did as he requested and began pulling my husband to the boat, to safety. In my mind, I was yelling, “THE HORSES!”

My husband’s horse is barn sour and very buddy sour to my gelding. At that moment and ONLY at that moment I was so happy and thankful for this bad habit. My husband’s gelding began to fight and swam for the ring with all his might. The land is higher there. He found a spot he could touch down by the ring. That sucker burst out of the water and cleared a four-foot fence to get to safety. Luckily in his plunge he knocked down the top rail. At the very next moment the pony leapt over and followed the gelding.

They were safe. My husband was safe. I, the baby, and my beloved horse were safe.

The horses after the swim. Photo courtesy of Amber Long.

The horses after the swim. Photo courtesy of Amber Long.

Afterwards, my husband told me that he videoed my swim, but when my gelding started sinking, he said he had to stop. He didn’t want to film my horse’s death. That made me come out of shock and back to reality of how dire the situation truly was.

The first rescue attempt, with the pony panicking and tackling the geldings:

It has taken me a year to go public with my story. I’ve only shared the details and the video of this emotional experience with a few people. I’ve spent a year thinking about what could have happened if that day ended badly. I also diligently watch the creek when it rains even in the early a.m. hours.

Luckily on that day, I didn’t think about what would happen. I just made the plunge and had faith. We couldn’t leave the horses to chance and hope. With the help of the local water rescuers, the emotional support of family members and neighbors, determination and some luck, we all made it. Perhaps a little bruised, but we lived to tell the tale around a campfire one night. Starting the story with, “You remember when we had to go through hell and high water to save those horses?”