Harvey’s Angels: Horse Community Members Come Together
Hurricane Harvey was the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Wilma in 2005. On August 25, 2017, a life changing tragedy began for many Texans. Over a four-day stretch, many areas received more than 40 inches of rain. Homes were lost, lives were lost, and hope survived it all.
Despite one of the most tragic events in Texas history, people are banding together and have found strength in each other. Many feel this storm has restored a sense of humanity that had been waning in this country.
Members of our horse community have played integral roles in the recovery effort for both humans and animals. We interviewed three heroines who have been instrumental in giving back to their communities. Their stories are some of many beautiful demonstrations of people coming together to help in a time of desperate need.
After returning from a trip to California unable to access her apartment due to severe flooding, Kopp realized the magnitude of Harvey’s aftermath and set out to help wherever she could. She was lucky enough to have a place to stay at her ranch outside of the city and made that her base as she made trips to the city and surrounding areas to help out.
“I started by delivering hay, vet supplies, and feed to Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy. With over 350 horses, they were in desperate need of help and supplies.”
After her first visit, Kopp was overwhelmed when she returned to find lines of people there to help and bring supplies. “There were so many donations and individuals bringing supplies from all over. There were vets there donating their time and supplies. It was incredible to see everyone working together.”
Although transporting supplies was an integral part of Kopp’s initial involvement in the hurricane relief effort, she wanted to find out how she could do more. She downloaded an app called Zello on her phone, which functions like a walkie-talkie to connect people. She found a channel for animal rescue where coordinators (sometimes from other states) would report animals in need of rescue and their location.
Kopp answered the call when 40 horses were reported to be in danger of drowning in neck deep water in Wharton. Many people arrived with various supplies, trailers, and boats to the military staging area where they were put into groups and granted access to the area.
“I was on a boat with people from all over, including people from out-of-state. We boated just under three miles when I saw a man handling some horses and asked if there were any broke horses I could get on and ride to get closer to the horses in danger.”
After struggling to catch a mare with just a halter in the water, Kopp mounted the mare and proceeded to ride through four feet of water toward the herd. She was able to catch two other horses and rode with them in tow for a mile and a half.
“We could not see the road, and sometimes the horses would fall into the ditch. I fell under water, got scraped up, but refused to let go of the horses because I didn’t want anyone to get swept away.”
At one point, there was a bridge that they needed to cross and, while Kopp and multiple horses made it, not all of the horses made it across the bridge. Some succumbed to the current. Finally, when the water was thigh deep, Kopp walked her horses the rest of the way to safety. When she got out of the water, two young cowboys had arrived on the scene creating an image that will forever remain in Kopp’s mind when they shook hands, acknowledged the gravity of their situation, and rode into the water to save more horses.
“It was a very vulnerable and emotional moment. These tough cowboys realized the magnitude of the disaster they were up against and watching them go out there anyway summed up the way we were all feeling at the time. We all felt this was not a choice, this was our duty to help, and we were all in it together.”
They saved almost all of the horses from Wharton that day. It was speculated that those horses had been trapped in water for five days. Even though many are severely injured and are dispersed in many different locations, Kopp has been vigilant about keeping up with them and continues to check on them and bring supplies to their various locations.
“I think the thing that sticks with me the most is the fact that there were people of every race, religion, age, socioeconomic status, etc. out there helping. People are people, and we all just want to help. Usually, we question and are skeptical of others, but this event brought a sense of trust that I have never seen before. We will get through this together.”
Despite the devastating damage to her family’s homes, her barn, and her community, Harkey remains strong and has been doing her part to help others. “After seeing all of my personal property in ruins, my world show ribbons and pictures floating in water, my trail poles miles from my barn, and having my entire routine rocked, I still believe that I am one of the lucky ones.”
For Harkey, it is hard to believe that her obscure town of Dickinson is now a household name after Harvey wreaked havoc on her community. Four days following Harvey’s arrival, Harkey was unable to get to her family to make sure they were okay and had to send guards in to notify her of their status.
“My brother had ten feet of water in his house and they had to cut through the roof with an axe to get him, his girlfriend, and their dog out without drowning. They have nothing left except the clothes on their back. People all around that area were trapped in attics. If they couldn’t get out through the roof, then they faced the possibility of drowning.”
People in rescue boats have been real heroes in Dickinson. Harkey’s close friend had just delivered a brand new baby via c-section just days before Harvey hit and was found by a rescue crew and brought to safety after she was found lying in the water holding her baby up. Harkey has personally been involved in group efforts to keep older adults from getting swept away in the currents and has gone on numerous rescue boats offering assistance to anyone in need.
“I get in my truck and drive to wherever I can park and hop on boats with strangers and just go. You do whatever you have to do, and you help whoever needs it. If you see someone in need, you ask how you can help. You transport them places; you offer them food, you just do whatever you can. If you sit at home, you can’t help but focus on what you should be doing. There is always more to do and more people you can help.”
In Dickinson, the community has come together in ways Harkey never thought possible. “The local high school football team is going from home to home taking out sheetrock and carpet, everyone is on board, and it is beautiful to watch.”
The horse community has played an integral role in helping Harkey, and other horse owners continue to care for their animals. “There have been supplies sent from all over the place. Most recently, horse friends from Ocala sent a load of some of the most beautiful hay you’ve ever seen. The outreach from the horse community has been unreal. People are sending supplies, and I am helping to distribute them to those in need. I am being helped and helping at the same time. It is important to give, receive, and give back.”
Harkey realizes that all of the things that were lost can be replaced and rebuilt, but calls the camaraderie and humanity that has come out of this disaster a real blessing.
“Personally, Harvey took away my family’s homes, flooded my barn, and has forced me to see things I wish I could un-see, but the one thing that is a blessing is that it washed away the hate. We are all just people helping other people and that makes it a blessing despite the tragedy.”
Before Hurricane Harvey ever made landfall, George had already experienced the outpouring of support from the horse industry. “I received so many calls, texts, and messages before the storm from horse people all over expressing their concern and asking how they could help.”
Although George fared better than many in the aftermath of Harvey, many around her were not as lucky. “Our road was flooded with eight feet of water, but since our barn is on higher ground, thankfully we had no flooding and the horses were all safe and dry.”
Once George was able to leave her house, she set out to help in her community. “I loaded up the truck with water, clothes, dog food and other necessities and it was shocking to see the damage all around me firsthand. They were launching boats in parking lots with supplies for stranded people and seeing this happening in my town was a surreal experience.”
Perhaps some of the most humbling moments for George have been the true outpouring of support from people in the horse industry all over the country.
“As soon as the storm was over, people were calling asking me how they could help. There were trailers of hay, truckloads of shavings, gofundme accounts, and people sending checks. These people have been selfless, they don’t want recognition, they just want to help and it is unbelievable.”
George has played an integral role in making sure that supplies are getting to immediate members of our horse community. “When you go through a lot of the larger organizations, there are a lot of moving parts. I was able to circumvent that and get supplies directly to the people I know are in need.”
Some of the people directly affected by the storm that George has helped are Carol Anderson, a friend and local horsewoman whose entire barn in Winnie (on the south side of Houston) was under water and Heather Harkey in Dickinson. Additionally, she has helped to set up a hub at Anderson’s place for others in need to pick up supplies.
“Getting supplies where they need to go hasn’t been easy, roads are under water, and the destruction is unfathomable. It isn’t unusual to see only the tops of roofs and tops of cars in some areas. However, people are always willing to help despite the devastation and that is encouraging.”
In one of her most recent excursions, George headed to downtown Houston to help a friend stranded in their house in a very flooded area. “A normally 45 minute drive to that part of Houston took over two hours and I got on my paddleboard for a mile to get to my destination.”
The current in the water was challenging to say the least due to the current from the drainage, but people were still out there willing to drag her paddleboard when she got stuck. Delivering beer to lift spirits and other necessities, George became very popular downtown.
“The truth is that people are all coming together and finding joy despite the tragedy. We need to remember what is happening right now and that it will still be going on months from now. The love, support, and willingness to help cannot stop. We are just getting started.”
GoHorseShow also sends our thoughts and prayers to everyone in Hurricane Irma’s path as well as the other hurricanes headed to the United States, and we hope everyone stays safe.
Photos © Heather Harkey, Jessi Kopp, and Becky George
Video © Jessi Kopp
About the Author: A California native turned Texan, Erica Lang Greathouse took her first pony ride at a local fair at the age of four. That ride ignited her passion for horses, and there was no turning back. In her show career, she has earned a Congress Championship, multiple APHA World and Reserve World Championships, and a top ten finish at the AQHYA World Show. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Psychology.