A new Illinois horse barn has risen from the ashes and hearts are on the mend

horsesA year after fire ripped through the Valley View Acres stables killing dozens of beloved horses, a new barn has risen from the ashes and new horses are filling the stalls.

“It was hard losing 32 of my best friends,” said Laura Kalivoda of Crystal Lake who has ridden horses at the stables near Woodstock Illinois since she was a child and today gives riding lessons there. “That was the worst thing that had ever happened in my life.”

Kalivoda, 20, knew and loved each horse that perished on that rainy, chilly night of Nov. 22, 2014.

As she recently stood in the new barn, her voice often drowned out by the neighs of feisty horses nearby, she recalled the pain in explaining to many young riders that their favorite horses had died.

That pain was compounded as she worked with students, some as young as 5, learn to ride the new horses.

It was emotional, she explained, because she often referred to a horse who had died as she’d help a student adapt to a new horse. There were moments when the child would pause and a somber look would wash across their face, as if reliving the moment they learned their horse had died.

But the year since has brought the horse community together and together all are ready to ride forward.

Kalivoda is just one of many from the horse community -locally and nationally- who rallied around owners, Amber and Tyson Bauman.

On a recent rainy, chili night, students were back in the new barn quietly brushing horses prepping them to go out into the brightly lit arena to practice their trots and jumps. Their parents gathered in the not quite finished viewing area. Mittens, the Barn’s 17-year-old cat, was once again welcoming the riders and their parents back to the barn.

In the weeks since the new horses moved in and lessons have commenced, Amber Bauman said there have been many firsts. The first jump. The first fall.

“We celebrate those things,” Bauman said as she watched students riding in the arena.

After the tragic fire, which the Baumans refer to as “the barn” many people, those familiar to them and strangers from across the country, raced to their rescue donating horses, tack and money to rebuild.

Bauman said there is much heartache that lingers, but says the time for tears is over.

The tragedy has taught her a lot about life and people.

“You find out who your real friends are,” she said. “There are a lot of wonderful people out there.”

She said many “angels” have logged hundreds of hours by her side laying radiant floor heating, insulation, and plumbing, staining wood, building horse jumps, digging trenches and shoveling gravel.

Their only payment – burgers, sodas and waters.

She said at times horses would just “show up” in her driveway or supplies would appear on her front porch.

Few students left. Many said the best way to deal with the tragedy was to stick together, do the work and to just keep riding.

“It’s family, you’ve got to stick together,” said Amber’s cousin Quentin Britton, as he watched his 11-year-old daughter Isabel riding in the arena. “Don’t let anything get in your way. You gotta rebuild. Keep going.”

Bauman, who also works as a substitute teacher and whose husband Tyson is deputy police chief in nearby Harvard, remained busy all year negotiating with insurance, finding new horses for her students to rid and teaching lessons six days a week in a rented facility in Crystal Lake.

Lessons were taught and riding and jumping competitions were won on the backs of donated horses that Bauman and her students had to work hard to break in.

Bauman said often times at various competitions people she’d never met, but who knew of her because of the fire, would approach her and they’d “hug and cry like you had known them your whole life.”

Her daughter Alexis, 12, has had opportunity to train with Charles Moorcroft, influential rider from Florida who became aware of the family after the fire. Without being solicited, he sent Alexis Sebastian, one of his prized horses, to practice on.

Alexis’ favorite pony Ella Enchanted died in the fire. Today, she has a new favorite, Just Juliet, whom as she writes on a piece of paper hanging outside her stall “just is a pretty one.”

Juliet is a full sister to Hunter, a beloved pony who had died in the fire. Bauman said she “just wanted her” and a Go Fund Me account paid for her to be brought to the barn from Pennsylvania.

Authorities have deemed the fire that leveled the 150-year-old barn as “undetermined.”

The new stables and arena cost $260,000. The facility is equipped with heated stalls that include automatic waterers. The building has been constructed with fireproof materials, sprinkler system, smoke and fire detectors. Each stall has its own exterior door and hay is kept in a separate building away from the horses.

“You go through one tragedy, you think of everything,” said Amber’s father Paul Allen.

Bauman said she received just $5,000 from insurance for loss of business. The horses were not covered by insurance. She has had to take out a $109,000 loan to help with the costs to rebuild. But it’s still not enough.

Crystal Lake Deputy Fire Chief Christopher Olsen confirmed the fire was deemed “undetermined.”

“We don’t know exactly what caused it,” Olsen said.

He said though there is no way of knowing for sure what caused this fire, possible reasons for such barn fires could be related to an electrical malfunction or faulty heating equipment. One thing he knows for sure is the fire was not purposely set by anyone.

He also said, though it varies in different areas and is a case by case scenario, in McHenry County there are no requirements for sprinkler systems or fire alarms in this agriculture type of building. He also said there is no requirement for Bauman’s business to be regularly monitored or inspected by authorities.

Jennifer Austin, mom of 13-year-old Anna, who lost a favorite horse, London, in the fire said being back in the new arena is “Great.”

“It’s just light and bright and cheerful and the horses seem happy… It’s just gorgeous,” she said as her daughter readied for her lesson.

Austin said her daughter who takes lessons weekly was upset by the loss but her best remedy was to continue riding.

“Carry on,” Austin said. “You work hard and don’t give up and continue to make your dreams come true.”

Bauman said there are no tears anymore. “It’s time to move forward,” she said.
There is more work to be done, lessons to be given and competitions to be won.

Now a year after suffering the loss of 32 ”family members,” she said she looks to the future and anticipates “being super successful in the show ring locally and nationally” and “Honestly, just enjoying the ride on this roller coaster called life.”

Tragic fire kills 32 defenseless horses, leads to much sadness, but with the kindness of friends and strangers alike the barn will rebuild

On a chilly November evening, flames raged through a barn at Valley View Acres in unincorporated Woodstock killing 32 horses and breaking the hearts of many who loved them.

“We lost everything,” said Amber Bauman, who with her husband Tyson and their three children have owned the farm for about eight years.

In recent days she has found herself knee deep in the ash and twisted metal sifting through, searching for what is left of the horses and the life she so loved.

She said, with tears in her eyes, it is her duty to be out in the debris no matter how painful because “Those are my horses … I need to be in there … That was my life.”

The horses ranged in age from 1 to 31. In the fire she lost 18 of her own horses and 14 others owned by borders. She loved all of them.

Bauman said she knew each one “intimately … knew every whinny.”

“They all (had) their own personalities,” she said.

One horse, Heaven ”went to college” with Bauman. While attending Northern Illinois University in DeKalb she boarded her in a nearby stable.

Heaven died in the fire with her foals Bobby, 6, and Ferrah, 2.

Eve, who Bauman bought as a yearling, also died. Bauman was 10 and she bought her with her own savings of $82.73 on New Year’s Eve. Eve was the first horse her daughter Alexis road on at just two weeks old, Bauman recalled carrying Alexis on her chest in a baby carrier wearing her little helmet.

Each New Year’s she was sure to ride Eve to celebrate the day she bought her.

On a side table, inside Bauman’s home sets a framed photo taken on their last New Years Eve ride together.

Out in the pasture are mounds where the horses have been buried. Upon the mounds are flowers, Christmas wreaths, apples and carrots placed there by visitors.

Alexis Bauman, 11, placed a love letter on one mound written to her horse Dusty: “I love you even though you bucked me.”

Children who took riding lessons from Bauman hand painted 32 rocks, each with the name of a horse buried beneath the mounds.

Bauman said visitors come daily to pay their respects. She says it’s like that old adage “The barn door’s always open.” She often look out her window to see someone walking out to the pasture.

The rubble of what had been home to the horses sits eerily outside her kitchen window. She tries to avoid seeing it by parking her truck in front of the window.

“It’s gonna be a long road … but hopefully we can clean up this mess,” she said.

The investigation into the fire, which started when the Baumans were attending an end of the year horse gala is still under investigation, authorities said.

Adam Bauman, 15, rushed to the barn when he noticed the fire and tried to get the horses out. But, as is typical horse behavior, they would not flee their stalls, his mother said.

In the weeks since, the deep pain has somewhat eased by the kindness of the local horse community and strangers from across the country.

Bauman said daily she receives phone calls and donations of money, saddles, bridals, horse blankets and other tack. Nearby school children raised $1,600 for Bauman and a local vet has donated equine medicines. Items just arrive on her front porch, she said.

But most endearing are the donations of horses.

In the last few weeks she has had seven horses and ponies donated from as far as northern Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida.

Cheryle Schultz of Black Creek Wis. met Bauman in 2011 at an American Warm Blood inspection event. She learned of the fire through Facebook and reached out to offer two of her own 18 horses.

After spending some time with the horses in their stalls, brushing them, talking to them and watching them run in the pasture Bauman chose two male youngsters named Diesel and Scooter. Or, as Bauman says, the horses chose her. “We don’t pick horses, our horses pick us.”

“I own a horse again,” Bauman recently beamed when telling the story of finding her “two boys.”

Schultz said she gave Bauman the horses because she “can’t imagine the pain she felt.”

“All I could see is her going out to her barn everyday and having no one there to love,” she said adding that for horse people, horses are therapy.

“If you can’t go out there to love them you are losing a piece of your soul,” Schultz said. “Where do we go for therapy when something terrible happens, if not to the barn?”
Bauman said seeing horses out in the pasture again has brought her some peace. “It’s like (taking) one step forward.”

Bauman said she has only felt love and support from the horse community. Her borders and clients have all stuck with her. One barn in Marengo donates horses so she can continue to provide riding lessons and another barn in Prairie Grove had let her use their space to provide the lessons. She recently signed a lease with a barn in Crystal Lake where she will board her new horses and provide lessons.

She has 97 students and teaches up to 200 lessons a week.

Bauman said she is moved by “the outpouring of love from people” especially from those she has never even met, including local children who she heard have given their allowance money to help the barn.

Cindy Pyke, owner of A’la Fin Rancho horse farm in DePere Wis. learned about the fire through a friend. Though she did not know the Baumans she reached out and offered two of her 21 horses.

She was sad for those borders who had only one horse and wanted to do something to help.

“I’m a horse lover and I know if you only have one and you lose it, that’s pretty traumatic,” Pyke said. “It’s like losing your best friend. … It’s just heartbreaking.”
Kathy Hinz of Crystal Lake, whose daughter Natalie lost her horse Lightening McQueeny in the fire, recently took a ride with Bauman to Pyke’s farm.

Natalie Hines, 14, chose a mare named Tivo Miz Quijote. Another border joined them and brought back Cee Cee.

Hinz said dealing with the fire and the loss of her daughter’s horse “is a painful process.”

She is amazed at Bauman’s strength and the way she puts her borders before herself in her efforts to continue lessons and find them new horses.

Hinz described the closeness of the families at Valley View Acres and the shared strength and determination to help rebuild the barn.

“While we never forget the souls we lost, we continue to focus on the strength of each other,” Hinz said. “Sometimes it is hard, but we continue to remind each other that forward is the only option we have.”

The morning after bringing the new horses to the pasture at Valley View, Hinz went out for a visit.

“It was so nice to see passed where the barn was and see horses roaming out in the field,” she said. “it was very, very peaceful.”

The tragedy has broken Bauman’s heart but has not stopped or embittered her.

“We will rebuild,” she said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, this wasn’t built in a day. Our barn was like a family. I need to have that family again. We just need to get back to normal.”