A fire killed five horses and destroyed the indoor and other structures at the Rothenberger family’s Gestut Erlenhof in Bad Homburg, Germany, on Feb. 28. Sönke Rothenberger, who has team gold on his résumé from the last FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) and Olympic Games (Brazil), and his sister Sanneke were at home at the time and were alerted to the fire by their dog Nera barking around 6 a.m. Sanneke awoke first and looked out the window to see smoke billowing from the burning barn.
There were 35 horses inside at the time, and they were able to free most of them. Five died, and three horses were taken to a veterinary clinic for treatment for burns. Two mares, Luna and Cantata, remain in critical condition, but veterinarians feel confident that the third burn victim, St. Anton, will recover.
The farm housed numerous Féderation Equestre Internationale-level dressage horses and Sönke’s 2016 Olympic and 2018 WEG gold medal-winning mount, Cosmo 59.
Sönke rescued Cosmo and brought him to the Krause family’s neighboring barn.
“Cosmo—as wild as he can behave, if he feels like it, he followed Sönke yesterday—without a halter!” the family wrote on their website. “From the burning stable, like a lamb, put his nose between his shoulder blades as if to give him breath, and followed him up the hill to his emergency quarters with the Krause family.”
Sanneke led her sister Semmieke’s horse Golden Girl, or “Goldi,” to safety as well. The other horses ran into the nearby woods upon release. All of the horses were later caught.
“We have lost a large part of our life’s work: our riding hall, our stable, several young horses and pensioners,” the family said in their initial statement.
The horses that perished include Sanneke’s retired junior horse Paso Doble, Semmieke’s young horse Fayola, Sönke’s show jumping schoolmaster Kid Gentleman, Sönke’s young stallion Zum Gluck, and a pony belonging to a young Swedish rider in training with Semmieke.
Two firefighters were injured in the rescue operation. Sönke suffered burns to his face, while Sanneke has burns on her thigh and is suffering from smoke inhalation.
Sven and Gonnelien Rothenburger, also Olympic medalists in their own right and parents to Sönke, Sanneke and Semmieke, were attending a CDI in Lier, Belgium, with Semmieke. They headed home immediately when they learned of the fire.
Approximately 250 firefighters responded to the deadly blaze, but when the flames were extinguished, the barn was a complete loss. The fire ultimately spread to the adjacent indoor riding ring, causing significant damage. Smoke detectors in the barns functioned properly. The cause of the fire is currently unknown.