Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Swim in the Ocean

By now I'm sure almost everyone as heard about the horse William that went for an extended swim in the ocean.  The horse in question was an Arabian and he was being prepped to be used as part of a photo shoot on the beach in Summerland, California.  Before the photo shoot began something spooked William and he ended up swimming over a mile out to sea.  It was quite the recovery effort to get him safely back to shore after swimming in the ocean for a a few hours.  

photo copyright Joel Desmarteau

photo copyright April Visel

photo copyright April Visel

The trainer made this public statement via the farm's facebook page.  Text is copied below, or click here to go to the statement on Facebook:

To dispel rumors, gossip and to detail the facts, Lowe Show Horse Centre is issuing an official statement regarding the ocean rescue on May 15, 2012.

Since 2006, renowned professional photographer April Visel, has hosted seven photography workshops called Artistry In Motion. The workshop involves both classroom and location education where April teaches other photographers techniques on how to photograph horses in action. Capturing images of equines in motion is a highly difficult skill requiring impeccable timing, a masterful eye and is an artistry that often takes years to perfect. The workshop has several location shoots — one of which is a beautiful, horse-friendly beach in Summerland, California, just south of Santa Barbara. Thousands of people ride on this particular beach every year as it’s one of the few beaches left in California that allows horses. When Jim Lowe, professional Arabian and Half-Arabian horse trainer for 35 years and owner of Lowe Show Horse Centre, was asked to participate and volunteer a few of his show horses for the workshop, Jim agreed as he had seen the artistic images captured by the photographers from previous workshops. “I have been a part of many beach photo shoots in years past,” says Jim. “They have always been very memorable experiences and the photographs are breathtaking. When you live close to the ocean in California, you want to make images using the beautiful landscape. Not everyone gets the opportunity to photograph their horses on the beach. In fact, many horse owners will never get that opportunity.”

Jim volunteered a few of his best show horses — 12 time National Champion Papa Rhazi (15-year-old Half-Arabian), 15 time National Champion Mamage (23-year-old purebred Arabian stallion), National Champion Victim Of Love (6-year-old Half-Arabian), and Air of Temptation (known as William who turned 7-years-old on May 14, the day before the photo shoot). William was one of the newest members in the barn having been purchased by Jon Peters in February 2012 for his 14-year-old daughter Kendyl to ride and compete with. “While it’s very fun and exciting to be a part of a photo shoot on the beach, the horse’s safety was my number one priority,” says Jim. “These are show horses that compete all year with their adult and youth amateur riders. Their health and well-being had to be preserved in order for them to continue to compete. My job, in addition to training them for competition, is to protect them and keep them healthy. Much like how I care for my own four children.”

The horses were trailered north to the beach location from their home farm in Somis. At 5:00 pm, the horses were groomed up, tacked and taken down to the beach where they spent time getting acclimated with the ocean. “Some of the horses had never been in the ocean before so it was important to spend as much time as needed to get them to feel safe in the new environment,” says Jim. “I had done this more than 30 times before so I knew that in order to get the best shots, I had to build their confidence and trust, and get them to relax and feel secure. There was no pressuring them or forcing them to dive in. I slowly and quietly allow them to see, hear and feel the water and the sand and encourage them to not be afraid. Generally a horse will trust my direction and the surroundings within 20 minutes. And then they start to enjoy and play in the water.”

On the beach, there were 10 student photographers in attendance (all of whom are horsemen and women themselves and one of whom was a practicing veterinarian), 7 total horses (three of which came from another training barn), 2 professional horse trainers, a skilled handler for each horse and models who were experienced riders. First up on the shoot list was William and Jim. They spent more than 15 minutes just walking up and down the shore. William was nervous at first but was getting more comfortable with each wave. Jim decided to dismount and walk him (by hand) into the water. “We were about knee deep in the water when a wave broke right under us,” says Jim. “I think what scared him was both the wave breaking and the sound that it made. There was a strong echo in the cove so the sounds of the waves crashing were magnified.” At that moment, William jumped forward, pulling the reins out of Jim’s hands and William began swimming about 20 feet out parallel to the shore. “We all were thinking that he would see his herd and his people and swim to land. The tide was coming in so we thought that would also help to push him in.” But after about 5 minutes of swimming south, Jim and 2 other people tore off their clothes and dove into the ocean in an attempt to direct him to the shore. One of the model/riders (a skilled roper), attempted to lasso him with no success. As the three swimmers got closer to William, he made a 90 degree turn and swam directly out to the horizon. At this moment, all emergency and rescue services available were called.

William swam 2.5 miles west and over an hour passed before he was located by an oil rig crew chief. He used one of the boats to search for William and get a visual so that the fire department and harbor patrol could bring him back to land. “He was so far out from land that we couldn’t see him anymore,” says Jim. “It was the most helpless feeling I’d ever experienced. We just didn’t know where we was, if he was still swimming or if something tragic had happened. A million things were going through all of our minds. We were relying solely on the help of the boaters to find him and bring him back. And since it was starting to get dark, finding him quickly was critical.”

“When we were all standing on the beach watching him swim further and further out to sea, we just kept asking ourselves, why? Why did he swim out instead of heading towards his herd and his people? He was swimming against the current and we just didn’t know why. A vet later explained to me that when horses are swimming, their vision is much different than humans’. With the placement of their eyes and with their noses lifted upward out of the water, they have less visibility than a human does. They see the horizon differently — their perspective is skewed. So it’s likely that he couldn’t see us — especially in rough ocean water. He might have panicked, but contrary to what some people have been saying, he’s not a stupid horse. He’s actually very smart and trains exceptionally well. It’s one of the reasons why I train Arabians and Half-Arabians. I’m a tall man and would be better suited physically to a bigger breed, but I chose this one because of their unparalleled qualities of beauty, resilience, stamina and intelligence.”

Once William was located, members of the fire department and harbor patrol secured buoys to his saddle (he was still wearing both his saddle and bridle), put a life preserver around his neck, and slowly swam him along the side of the boat, back to the shore. Two paddle boarders assisted in escorting him and the big boat that located him, provided lights to help guide them to land.

At 8:45 pm, William walked onto the shore and was greeted by cheers and applause and a crowd of people with blankets to warm him up. His tack was removed and he was led up the hill and put in the horse trailer to be taken to the veterinary hospital Alamo Pintado in Santa Ynez. He was given a full physical, fluids and checked out to be in really good shape, all things considered. “The rescue team was truly extraordinary and highly applaudable. They were in a situation that they had never been in before and they rose to the challenge and handled William with kid gloves. We can’t thank them enough for their attention to detail, their professionalism and their bravery.”

“Some people have questioned the precautionary measures taken for the beach shoot. I’ve done this many times before (as well as Ms. Visel) without incident and I would have never, ever guessed something like this would happen. I think all future beach shoots will now have another line of protection — perhaps a boat or jet ski. And I hope others will learn from this as well. Were there risks involved with a beach shoot? Of course. Every day we are faced with risks. Getting into your car is a risk. But imagine all of the amazing things you would miss if you spent your life not taking chances.”

“As life goes around, people can be very quick to judge, criticize and point fingers. Too often, people want to spin a story and find someone to blame and pinpoint the negatives in a situation. If it makes people feel better, I have big shoulders and will accept the blame. No one was negligent. No one was singularly responsible. But at the end of the day, I am ultimately accountable for the safety and well-being of my clients’ horses. And I will unfailingly do whatever it takes to serve them because that’s the professional and honorable thing to do. There are many should haves, could haves, would haves but the story has a happy ending and I hope that people will make that the focus of this incident. It was a fluke accident with long moments of uncertainty, but at the end of the day, everyone came out of this safe and sound, a 14-year-old girl still has her horse and we learned something from the experience. It’s a miraculous survival story of a horse that never gave up and who beat the odds. That should be the real storyline.”

“While it was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, it was also one of the most amazing. William swam for almost 3 hours and 5 miles round trip. It’s incredible and a true testament to the Arabian breed. I’m not sure a horse of another breed would have fared as well. His age and physical condition were also big contributors to his survival. The horses in training with me are treated like Olympic athletes. They are in impeccable physical condition because there is a lot asked of them when they compete.”

“Arabians are also endurance horses and have a courage and a spirit in them that most other breeds lack. They are mechanically built with a greater lung capacity than other breeds which allows them to go longer distances. Originally desert and war horses, Arabians were trusted by great warriors to carry them into battle because they knew this breed had the heart and the stamina. William is an incredible example of our breed. And I’m looking forward to getting him back to the barn for a hero’s welcome home. He’s got a long show career ahead of him and he’s got the love of a young girl. I suspect after this, he will have a very big fan club. While this could have had a devastating ending, it didn’t and it will be a story we will all tell for the rest of our lives. And a survival story with a happily-ever-after is the best story to perpetuate.”


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Certainly not a situation I would ever hope to find myself in, and amazingly William made it through the ordeal completely unscathed!  From what I've seen of the on-line chatter about this incident people seem to be divided into two camps.  One camp blame the trainer for the incident.  The other camp thinks it falls into the category of horses can and will do really crazy things unexpectedly, such is life with a flight animal, even one that is typically very quiet.  I have to say I don't know if I can really agree with placing the blame on the trainer.  Sometimes you just have to accept that you are dealing with flight animals and you never know when it is going to turn a situation into a disaster.  I've been hurt twice on the farm in some very freak accidents that no one could have ever seen coming, especially not with the particular horses involved.  Plus, at some point the horse has to have a first visit to the beach.  If we did not do firsts with our horses we would never be able to take them anywhere or do anything with them.  Given that it wasn't the photo shoot itself that spooked the horse, for me this whole incident gets chalked up into the crazy things that can and will happen with horses category. Plus I do think William probably got disoriented and wasn't really sure in what direction he was heading after he spooked.  


Maybe the horse had major holes in its training, maybe he had a terrible personality for this, I don't know.  If either of these are/were true that would definitely change my view on things.  However, given that the trainer has extensive experience taking horses to the beach I am giving the benefit of the doubt to him.


So what do you think, terrible decision making on the trainer's part or another example of the crazy things that can happen with a large animal with a flight response?


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Kennedy very relaxed in the woods with a droopy lip


With his ears at half mast and his drooping lower lip I don't think Clayton could be any more relaxed


Rocky and Toledo grooming


Titan and Silver


Chance and Leo


Moe and Levendi grooming


Thomas, Homer, Levendi and Hemi hanging out in the shade


Largo going after a big bite of leaves


Sebastian
   

4 comments:

Lisa said...

I'm in the "horses can and will do crazy things and there is next to nothing you can do about it except roll with it" camp.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Waves washing under horses' feet can be very disorienting to them. In fact, it's often disorienting to humans as well.

My one experience with a loose horse in the water - a wave smacked him in the face just as we stepped off of the back of a steep sand bar heading out for our first ocean swim - was that the horse high tailed it back to shore, managing to drop some me (and some manure) before reaching the beach.

Anything can happen with horses. I bet many of the people commenting negatively don't even ride horses, much less ride them on the beach. Just my two cents.

ABScharstein said...

What the trainer and people around the horse experienced is absolutely STRANGE! Like the trainer said, you would expect William to turn around and head for shore, back to the handlers and horses.
Nah. Horses like to throw in a wild card every now and again ;).
I agree with the other posters completely. And CFS, I think you are right, the people that complained or bashed the connections are not horse people or don't ride often enough to know that horses are living creatures, have minds of their own, and they will surprise you!
"It is what it is."

Funder said...

Nah, it's just a "horses try to kill themselves in crazy ways" situation.

Did you see the Youtube that was attached to some of the news articles? Here it is. I will say this: at first I couldn't believe he was an Arab; he looks like a Saddlebred. And... ouch, left behind at the trot much?