the state of being away from a place or person.
an occasion or period of being away from a place or person
.the nonexistence or lack of.
Hello, my lovely readers, it has been a while, hasn't it? I've been away from you, away from here and really away from everything. The word absence is really the only word that explains where I've been and what I've been doing. All three definitions are applicable to my recent state. Hope you're ready for a long one...
You see, on Thursday, December 7th I left for Las Vegas planning on several days of boots, big hair and rodeo for the National Finals Rodeo. A trip I look forward to all year long. My mom, step-dad, step-brother and I go together every year. We drink too much, we spend too much money and we eat at PF Chang's (long long story) a few too many times. It's our "thing".
My mom and I boarded an awesome little flight right from Carlsbad, checked into our hotel and we were just about to grab some lunch and a glass of wine when we got the text... Fire.
You see, we have a bit of a history with fires...
In 2003, my mom and I worked for several days evacuating other peoples horses in what would eventually be called the "Cedar Fire" which burned over 280,000 acres in San Diego County. 2,232 homes were burned, 15 people lost their lives and the fire burned for 12 days. We learned first hand how fast and unpredictable fire can be, we also learned how important it was to have an evacuation plan in place. Thankfully during that time our home and horses were not under any evacuation orders and we were simply able to help others. I remember to this day remarking to my mom that I felt like we were in one of those bad disaster movies as we traveled down the freeway with not a single car on our side of the freeway... and bumper to bumper traffic heading the other direction. I can honestly say that that week shaped my view of a lot of things in life, it also gave me a pretty intense fear and anxiety regarding wildfires in southern California.
In 2007 I was heavily campaigning for the title of Congress Queen and October of 2007 found both my mom and me in Columbus, Ohio. I had secured the title of Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association Queen and was giving it my best run! October 2007 also found San Diego heavily engulfed in flames. The "Witch" fires would claim two lives, injured 55 firefighters, burn 247,800 acres, and over 1,200 homes.
Having first-hand experience from 2003 intensified every emotion during that time. You can imagine the feeling of helplessness being thousands of miles away and hearing that indeed your house and horses are in a mandatory evacuation zone. In between my testing, interviews, and lots and lots of tears - I would catch national news coverage (social media wasn't was what it is today!) to check for updates. I remember discussing with family back home which horses would go first, which horses would stay if we ran out of time, and I vividly remember talking to my sister on the phone and her saying to me "ok, I'm standing in your room - what do you want me to get?". The overwhelming feeling of loss hit instantly before anything even happened. Thankfully our home and horses survived the worst of it, and I remember at about 3 pm on coronation night looking at my mom, taking a deep breath and saying "you think I still have time to get my hair done?". I still can't believe we pulled it off.
The next few Octobers came and went without issue, and the fear of fire while always there begins to slip away a little bit each season it doesn't come. But that's the thing about fire... you never know when it will happen.
My next experience with fire came in May of 2014. You see... I thought I was smart. I thought I would remove as much stress from my WEDDING DAY. I thought I would have a small private ceremony, on a Wednesday in San Fransisco. Close to my husbands family, easy for mine to get to.... the 21 of us would have a quiet day with a private ceremony and a beautiful dinner. The weather would be nice and cool (my biggest fear was being hot in my dress!). Ohhhh how mother nature had other plans for us.
San Fransico hit over 100 degrees that day, actual record-breaking temperatures. The same was going on in San Diego. Mid-morning amidst all the wedding prep, hair, make up etc.... we got the text. Fire.
A superstorm of 20 fires would join together and burn over 26,000 acres in North San Diego County. The Coco's fire (closest to us) would burn from our wedding day May 14th, 2014 until May 22nd. The fires would claim one life and over 65 structures.
I was devastated. I knew that all day I was going to be distracted, and to be totally honest - I cannot believe that my most amazing friend and photographer, Heather, was able to capture the photos she did that day. If I wasn't on the phone, I was texting, if I wasn't texting I was looking at local news and the cycle went over and over again. Its a true testament to my most amazing husband that he put up with me that day.
Literally, everyone in my family was there. My evacuation plan was WITH me. Everyone did their best to keep me distracted, fed, champagne'd and we tried our best to continue on with the day.
These photos were taken within the same 10 minutes, my first time seeing my married name, the fires coming over the hill back home, and our calvary coming to evacuate our horses back home.
Thankfully we have an amazing network of friends (who pulled our valuables and sentimental things out of our house in the dark), horse trainers, and farriers who showed up and loaded up ALL of our horses under scary circumstances. Not to mention poor Heather who was stuck taking our pictures while she was dealing with the same thing for her family and horses. While I knew my wedding day was to be memorable - I didn't think it would be THAT memorable.
So fast forward back to December 7th, 2017. The text. I immediately get in touch with work and see whats going on there. In my heart I am devastated that I cannot be there, not only to help - but be there to support my amazing coworkers who I know are going to be in for one heck of a ride. You see, my day job, which I have spoken of before entails helping to run a pretty darn amazing equine sports medicine veterinary practice in San Marcos, California. We take care of some phenomenal equine athletes, including those at the San Luis Rey Downs.
As the afternoon played out, news got worse and worse. I tried to create a "command center" from my hotel room and keep my friend in harms way, clients and colleagues as informed as I could. I went to instastories (sorry if you had to listen to all of those) to get evacuation news to as many people as fast as I could. And... when I heard that the fire had hit the training track... I well... I had a bit of a breakdown.
The fire spread quickly and sporadically. The fire department called it a "dirty burn". Wood barns, palm trees and anything in its path caught flame and quickly entire barns were engulphed. Family friends of ours were injured defending their horses and barns with garden hoses.
I saw horrific things via text, facebook, and Instagram. I watched videos of horses being let go in order to save their lives. The worst part, I knew MY people were there. I knew they were in danger as well. I knew that this loss would be so much more than we were even seeing in that moment.
My team was simply amazing. They worked around the clock not only directly at "The Downs" as we affectionally call it, but the rest of my team mobilized and assisted with the county evacuations taking place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. I work with a highly trained, skilled and technical team and they were nothing short of phenomenal. I heard from everyone who had contact with them what all-stars they were that night and in the coming days. I honestly still have difficulty writing about it without crying. I am so so impressed with them and our equine community. As my colleague, Nicole recently said to me, "It's the horses that ultimately bring us together"
I did what I could with what I had, it's amazing the power of social media isn't it? We quickly heard from friends, family, vendors. The donations are still coming in today. The hardest hit, after the equine lives lost, were the backstretch workers. The grooms, exercise riders, and families who lived at San Luis Rey Downs lost everything that day. They lost their homes, their place of work, they lost their equine companions. Many many left with only the shirts on their backs. I will link donation resources for them below.
All in all the Lilac fire claimed 46 of our equine friends. The devastation and loss will take a long long time to get over. The community is strong and already beginning to rebuild. As the days pass it gets a little easier for each of us.
I decided to stay in Vegas with my family that weekend. I knew by the time I got home that the dust would have settled so to speak, and I knew my presence with my family was just what they and I both needed.
So there you have it... while I have been right here all along, it just didn't feel right to put out content that I wasn't wholeheartedly believing in. I've been a bit of a hot mess of late. Not too many pretty Instagram worthy moments, but you know what? That's ok. I'm here to share with you the real me. And sometimes it's not pretty. I apologize for my absence and promise you that all the fun content is coming back soon (like really soon, like tomorrow soon...). I will be back in full force with a NFR recap.
Ways to help:
Amazon wishlist for grooms (I can personally vouch for the person collecting these goods): http://amzn.to/2D88IVx
Thoroughbred Charities of America GoFund Me: https://www.gofundme.com/help-for-san-luis-rey-downs
Or... just message me and I can get you in touch with the people who need it most.
With lots of love & thanks for your patience,
XOXO | SLL