Barbara Rice refers to them as her boys, Jake and Hawk, two good horses who she pampered and coddled and who, in return, helped her through tough times.
But now they’re gone, struck down by a freak, fast summer storm that let loose on the Lower Mainland Thursday, creating chaos in the hour in which it touched down.
Rice boarded her two horses – painted-quarter-horse crosses – at a property on 246th Street near Dewdney Trunk Road.
The pair, along with Tina Ranger’s horse, Doc, a former standardbred race horse adopted from the Greener Pastures Society, died after being struck by a lightning just after 3 p.m.
“Usually, when we have thunder and lightning storms, they head for other shelters. I don’t think they had a chance. They were under there because it was raining. That was it,” Rice said Friday.
She owned Jake and Hawk for about nine years and doted on and cared for them.
“It was they who kept me going through my cancer.”
She is still getting treatment for that, as well as fybromyalgia.
“They helped me. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning.”
Both were gentle creatures. Jake was her son Jesse’s horse. Jake didn’t care how close people got to him and, it seemed, would have jumped into Rice’s lap, if she would have let him. When she hugged the horses, they returned the affection by bending towards her.
“They were spoiled. They were glorified lawn puppies. They had a really good life. “You rehash it back and forth trying to think, ‘could I have done anything differently?’
“There is nothing.
“My horses are what kept me going, and now they’re gone. It’s just a stupid freak accident.”
There was one streak of luck though. Fifteen minutes before the lightning struck, Rice’s friend was in the same spot, photographing the horses.
Local veterinarian Stephanie Jeanneret got to the property soon after the lightning hit and saw the animals.
“They just looked like they dropped dead. There was no sign of any movement. No sign of any struggle.”
It’s the first time she’s seen such an incident, although she’s heard of it previously.
“It happens. It’s super rare.” It’s hard to say what kind of advice to give owners of animals. If a barn is properly built with a ground connection, it will be safe during a thunder storm. But many shelters are flimsy and might not offer much protection.
The storm was caused by a low-pressure system off Oregon’s coast, bringing monsoon-like rain and thunderstorms to parts of southwest B.C.
A man working on the property told Rice it looked like lightning hit the ground near the tree the horses were huddled under. The shock could have travelled through the ground, hitting the animals then the tree.
After the strike, the man waited for the horses to come running. “There are no horses. They were all dead.
“I still can’t believe I’m looking at a picture and thinking, ‘they’re all gone.’ It’s like a real bad joke.”
Maple Ridge fire chief Peter Grootendorst said horses could be more vulnerable to electric shock because their wide stance allows more electricity to travel through their bodies through their four hooves.
Rice doesn’t know what she’ll do now, if she’ll get another horse, although she’s had a lifelong connection with the animals.
But she wants something good to result from the deaths.
People who want to help should just donate to the animal rescue shelters, such as J & M Acres Horse Rescue or Greener Pastures B.C. Standardbred Horse Adoption Society, which adopts out old race horses.
“Save somebody else,” she asks. “There are so many animals that need help.”
Tina Ranger, who lost Doc, says the same thing. Doc used to be named As Noted during his seven-year-career as a harness race horse.
“Doc was my buddy, my steady confident companion who has left this earth in a tragic flash of lightning, and my heart hurts for the loss. He was my big animal friend, I could take anywhere and trust with anyone.”
Ranger had another horse on the property, a mare called Kat, who was in a different spot when the lightning hit and survived the storm. She’s now missing her three stablemates.
In the aftermath of the strike, when the three horses were still there, Jeanneret gave Kat a mild tranquillizer, then let her walk up to her mates, so she could say goodbye.
“It was heart wrenching,” said Rice.