A search and rescue mission for 22 horses in New York is underway. The horses went missing from Leland Neff’s property in Schoharie County, N.Y., on Aug. 27. The area was one of the most devastated by Hurricane Irene on her path up the East Coast.
The area around Neff’s 90-acre farm has been declared a disaster zone. Most of the destruction came from the overflow of a river that cuts through the property. A bridge upriver broke, and an onslaught of water was released from the dam nearby, completely flooding the surrounding land.
“I knew they were missing right away,” Neff said.
Neff, an artist whose paintings and photographs have been displayed in numerous publications, including the cover of the Chronicle, had been developing his herd for 15 years. He studied Thoroughbred bloodlines and bred those with successful jumping offspring.
“I had three generations of my breeding program on the farm,” Neff said. “I haven’t sold one horse since I started breeding. Not one horse is here by accident.”
Among those lost was Neff’s stallion Prince, who was recently shown to show jumper Todd Minikus as a potential show prospect. Prince was the sire of every young horse on the property save one, who was by Neff’s stallion Valentino.
After Neff discovered his horses were missing, he hiked 11 miles with his computer to get an Internet signal. Once he had one, he sent out an SOS message on Facebook, which his friend Kim Tudor received. She put up a page on Facebook and then contacted Netposse.com, an online resource for missing and stolen horses.
“All the publicity will not only help Leland but everyone who lost horses and animals,” Tudor said.
Every day, Neff looks for his horses. He follows up on tips that people call in. He has seen the same donkey three times and had multiple calls about corpses, but so far they’ve all turned out to be false leads.
“We haven’t found one dead, so that means they might still all be alive,” Neff said. “The area around here is so treacherous. It makes it difficult for people to find anything. Even if someone saw a horse, they might not be able to do anything about it.”
The floodwaters are infested with bacteria, and most roads are impassable. Volunteers are urged to get tetanus shots before venturing out to search. Mounted park police from the nearby state park have also been assisting with the search on horseback.
After a week of heavy rain, it appears the search will have to be put on hold. Residents are preparing themselves for more destruction, as evacuation orders were put into place in Schoharie County.
If you would like to help, please view the NetPosse flyer. The report has photos of most of the missing horses, as well as contact information. The Facebook page has information on how you can help, as well as updated photos of all of the missing horses.