Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Barn Fire Kills 1 Horse, Devastates Virginia Eventing Operation

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At about 9:20 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, eventer Danielle Poulsen received a call from her barn manager at Long Branch Farm in Clarke County, Virginia, where she runs her business Poulsen Eventing. Just hours before, Poulsen and her boyfriend had turned out horses and wrapped up chores, then took an evening bike ride on the trails around the 400-acre property. 

Now, barn manager Joe “B.J.” Lewis was telling her the historic barn was on fire, and two horses were trapped inside. Poulsen’s former four-star horse, Capability Brown, now the mount of her assistant Kate Bearer; and a student’s horse, Tino, had both been kept in overnight as they recovered from minor injuries. 

“B.J. was able to save [Tino], and he was pretty upset that he wasn’t able to get to the other horse, but we’re just so grateful to B.J. for being there,” Poulsen said.

Danielle Poulsen watched the June 18 fire take down the historic barn at Long Branch Farm with her former four-star horse trapped inside. A second trapped horse was saved by barn manager, Joe “B.J.” Lewis. Photos Courtesy Of Danielle Poulsen

Poulsen returned to the farm to find the barn consumed by flames, and watched on as “loads of firetrucks” arrived on the scene to combat the blaze. 

Wayne Whetsell, director of fire, EMS and emergency management for Clarke County, described the emergency response to the fire in an email statement. 

“At approximately [9:20 p.m.], fire-EMS units from Clarke County, Mount Weather, Warren County, Frederick County, Fauquier County responded to a reported barn fire,” Whetsell said. “Units arrived to find a large footprint barn fully involved with fire. The fire is currently under investigation. One horse removed safely and one deceased in the fire.”

Poulsen was also amazed by the quick response of the nearby community. Neighbors arrived with water troughs and carried out water to the horses in the pastures. Another group of good Samaritans used a chainsaw to free a horse from a pasture that was downwind from the smoke. Poulsen was also given a nebulizer to treat Tino, the horse who was temporarily trapped in the smoky barn. 

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“It’s pretty remarkable when people come together like this,” Poulsen said. “Our farm is 400 acres and people ride bikes, they walk their dogs, we do weddings over at the farm—it’s just a huge staple in the community. So people came from the community that have known and loved the farm for years.”

Poulsen said that because the wind blew smoke in the opposite direction of the fields where the 18 horses were turned out, they were not impacted by the heat and smoke. They had room to move away from smoke in their large paddocks, and the one horse in the pasture downwind was quickly moved to a safer paddock. 

Returning to the structure the next morning, Poulsen found that the fire had completely destroyed the team’s equipment, tack and feed, and the historic barn structure is considered a total loss. The hardest loss for Poulsen is, of course, the death of her beloved Capability Brown, or “Bane.” 

Danielle Poulsen hopes that the Long Branch barn can be rebuilt and that her eventing operation can one day return “home.”

“We’re just so devastated to lose him,” Poulsen said. “He was more of a friend than anything to us. He didn’t owe anybody anything. He was just a wonderful horse and a horse that I was hoping to have for a very, very long time—for the rest of his life. For this to happen to him, it’s definitely heartbreaking.”

Seven of Poulsen Eventing’s horses have been moved to Sara Kozumplik’s Overlook Farm, where Poulsen used to work as an assistant. Kozumplik first put Poulsen on Bane, whom Poulsen eventually bought for herself. Other horses have gone home with their owners temporarily, and five of the young horses are living simply in a retirement pasture with a large shed at Long Branch. 

“They’re very happy just waiting there until we can figure out what to do,” Poulsen said. “They’ve got it made.”  

After vet checks on all the surviving horses, Poulsen was relieved to confirm the animals had clear eyes and lungs. While grateful for their health and safety, Poulsen and Bearer know that they have a long road ahead of them to rebuild their beloved operation. 

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“You don’t think about it at first—and obviously losing a horse is the most devastating thing—but you don’t think about the amount of money in tack and wheelbarrows and these high-end saddles and everything—it’s all gone,” she said.

The cause of the fire is yet unknown, but Poulsen is reassured that she and her team “didn’t have anything running in the barn; we’re so careful.”

A GoFundMe created by Poulsen and Bearer’s friend, Natalia Czapski, aims to rebuild their eventing business, and to meet vet expenses and other immediate needs. By midday Thursday, June 20, the fundraiser had surpassed $78,000. 

Danielle Poulsen hasn’t been able to return to enter the damaged structure at Long Branch Farm, as it remains hot following the June 18 fire.

As the dollar amount ticks up on the fundraiser, Poulsen has been moved by the outpouring of financial support, as well as the helping hands from their community. In the face of so much bad luck, Poulsen is still quick to gratitude: she names all the neighbors who offered support, believes the direction of the wind spared her other horses, and is thankful that the quick action of her barn manager saved Tino.

And then, there’s Biscuit. 

As Poulsen was working with neighbors to fill water buckets on the night of the fire, she remembered spotting two green eyes shining up at her in a nearby paddock. The next morning as she arrived at the farm, she was greeted by a familiar sound: the barn cat, Biscuit, had survived and was loudly demanding his breakfast. 

For now, Biscuit is settling in nicely at the tack room at Overlook Farm. But Poulsen hopes that they’ll all be able to return to Long Branch one day. 

“You know, hopefully, they’ll be able to build a new barn and get geared up,” Poulsen said. “Who knows how long that’ll take, but you know, Long Branch is home to us and it’s the most beautiful farm in the world. We’d be lucky to be there.”

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