Burned Horses Recover!

Dr. Kent Sullivan and volunteers change Cheyenne 's dressings.

By Brad Thornberg

Editor's note: This is an amazing story that demonstrates the importance of optimum nutrition, veterinary care, and lots of TLC during the recovery process. It is heartwarming to know that so many people put in so much time, effort, and supplies to help these and other victims of the California fires. There are many still recovering.

At the 1800-acre WD Sence Ranch in Somis , CA , Jake and Kathy DeVan were not initially concerned about the Simi Valley fire reaching them. They could easily watch its progress from the top of the hill behind the ranch and the threat looked days away.

Between family and hired hands, fifteen people live on their spread. They have 150 horses, a number of which are used for rider training. Another 25 to 30 evacuated horses and 30 - 40 head of cattle had recently been added from areas under immediate burn threat.

At 1:00 AM , after making a last check on the fire from the hilltop, they retired for the night secure that things were OK for the time being. At 3:00 AM a friend who is a Sheriff's Deputy called and warned them that the wind had changed direction and the fire was heading towards them fast!

There was no time to evacuate. By 4:00 AM the fire had reached them and was sweeping past the house. Help from the fire department was impossible since their resources had long ago been called away and friends who tried to reach them were blocked by the flames.

Quickly gathering most of the animals into a 20-acre brush-free sandy area where the barns, roping arena and house stood, they worked to wet down and save the main house and other buildings. Gus Parker, a boarder, was able to save the tack building while another, PJ, watered down one of the hired men's homes. During this time, the animals remained calm despite the hay barn and manure piles burning. In half an hour the fire had passed through.

The horses suffered 2nd and 3rd degree thermal injuries.


During the race to round up the horses and cattle, not all had been found, so at daylight Kathy DeVan jumped on the four-wheeler and went searching for 6 missing horses. She was not able to locate them but by this time Darrel and Jeralyn Koupal, the horses' owners, had arrived and began searching the areas they knew where the animals would hide in their 100-acre pasture. Around 6:30 AM they found them standing all together. The horses' faces were swollen and skin crinkled but the depth and severity of the burns were not visible at this point.

Several areas on their bodies were severely burned, including the coronary bands and heel bulbs.

Dr. Kent Sullivan (a Boarded Surgical Specialist) and Dr. Deborah Kemper (an Internal Medicine Specialist), a husband and wife team and owners of West Coast Equine in Somis, CA, had been up all night evacuating horses to Somis away from the Simi Valley and Moorpark fires. Then at 4:00 AM the call came that the wind had changed and now Somis was on fire! The road into the gated community where they had stabled many of the animals was blocked by what remained of the fire department. It was a hot fire and though many plastic fences melted and vegetation disappeared, dirt roads stopped the flames from actually getting through to the barns on many of the ranchettes in the area.

At 8:00 AM , Dr. Sullivan responded to the call from the WD Sence Ranch and went to see the six horses that had been burned. He was able to slowly walk them 600 yards to the barn area though it was quite painful for the animals to move. At this time their bodies were very swollen but it was not yet known how extensive their injuries were, for the only obvious burn damage was singed tails, eyelashes and muzzles. The horses were definitely in need of supportive care so it was decided to move them 3 miles away to Joe and Sharon Goodman's horse rescue ranch.

Upper photo: Cheyenne , 11/15/03 , at 'rock bottom'. Lower photo: Drs. Deborah Kemper and Kent Sullivan with Cheyenne , 12/7/03 , after 3 weeks of improved nutrition with EquiPride fermented-feed digestive aid supplement, kindly donated by SweetPro Feeds.

The animals were started on intravenous fluids, steroids and pain relievers. After four days it became apparent that they also had 2nd and 3rd degree thermal injuries as skin died and began to slough off. In 10 days the skin had, in varying degrees, fallen off their faces, legs, chests, girth, groin and under their tails down to muscle. There was also damage to coronary bands and heel bulbs. Fortunately they did not have smoke inhalation injuries!

These burns were severe enough - especially on hard to heal legs and the swollen flesh surrounding - that they did not lend themselves to skin grafting and suturing. At this time, ACell, Inc., a Columbia , Maryland veterinary and medical company, donated a new product that aids in wound healing. It is about the size of a yellow sticky note and has regenerative properties. This patch is applied to the raw wound, after being soaked in a saline solution, where it acts as a "scaffold" over the muscle for cells to stick to and grow upon. About 40 -50 of these patches were placed on the wounds during each dressing change by Drs. Sullivan & Kemper.

Upper photo: Shadow (foreground) and Cheyenne , 11/15/03 ; Lower photo: Shadow, 12/7/03

Healing this amount of damaged skin was tremendously hard for the animals and they began to lose weight rapidly. As Dr. Kemper pointed out, "Nutrition is very important because of the metabolic demands on the body." Two to three weeks into treatment the horses had "hit rock bottom". On November 12th , SweetPro Feeds of Walhalla, ND, after seeing the horses' plight on Fox News, donated their new breakthrough horse nutritional and digestive aid supplement, EquiPride. This product is a fermented feed that comes in a meal form (topdress) and works by allowing a horse to fully digest its forage. It also delivers all the vitamins and trace minerals needed by the animal while adding yeast, biotin, omega 3 oils and a proprietary blend of flax, oats, barley malt and wheat called Pro-Biotein. Dr. Kemper said, "EquiPride came at the perfect time to meet their nutritional needs." "I think it has helped these horses a lot." After this the horses began to turn the corner quickly; their burns have healed rapidly, manes and tails have grown out, and they are looking and feeling much better!

Thirty-five days after the fire, four of the six horses returned to the WD Sence Ranch. When let loose, they bucked, reared and ran around the corral for the sheer joy of being home! The two remaining horses are being kept longer at the Goodman's horse "MASH" unit because of possible laminitis in one due to the severity of his burns. The other is to receive further treatment and also keep him company.

Dakota, 11/15/03 and 12/7/03

Doctors Sullivan and Kemper give a lot of credit to those team members who worked hard alongside them as they treated the horses: The Koupals drove two hours each way every day from their Redondo Beach home to help and comfort their horses. The stable owners, Joe and Sharon Goodman, went out of their way to assist the efforts. Ann Freauf organized the volunteer schedules, alerted media outlets, fielded inquiries and handled donations. Of course, there were also star volunteers who "stood in the trenches" - Gusie Woodfill, Diane Dunford, Sharann Chotenousky, Jane Rees and Rita Dubnewych.

Back at the ranch, with burns healed and hair regrowing, the horses enjoy their pre-digested EquiLix supplement block.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the four horses that have returned to WD Sence are supplementing their hay with a free-choice lick block (SweetPro Feeds EquiLix, a non-molasses pre-digested blend of distiller's grains with Pro-Biotein). Still checked on every day, they have made an amazing recovery and are very happy! The DeVans have since gathered up all the cattle not located before the fire and have had to euthanise five due to burns. They were, however, able to save their 4-H replacement heifers. Several of them had burned udders but as good mothers they allowed their calves to feed despite the pain. The DeVans, along with their daughter Danielle, her boyfriend Joe Yanez, sons Mike and Chris, and hired men Juan Lopez and Manuel De Jesus, are working hard to rebuild what was lost. (A friend who had come to the ranch to relax asked when that was going to be possible after being set to work.) They are now looking for the Santa Ana winds to stop and a good rain to bring green back to the fields, beginning a restoration of the land to accompany the healing of horses.

About the author:

Brad Thornberg is amazed and delighted with the horses' recovery from their horrible burns. He entered the horse products division of SweetPro Feeds, a 14-year family endeavor, last year.

For more information:

West Coast Equine
Kent Sullivan, VMD (Boarded Surgeon)
Deborah Kemper, DVM (Internal Medicine)
PO Box 213
Somis , CA 93066

ACell, Inc.
Columbia , MD 21044

SweetPro Feeds
PO Box 69
Walhalla , ND 58282