NEWS AND NOTES
The signs are everywhere after a massive mudslide devastated this tiny town in northwestern Washington state. Yet, a stranger doesn’t need a sign to point out the dedication and sense of duty in its people and neighbors. All one has to do is watch and let it soak in.
Survivors and rescue teams endure treacherous conditions and poor weather as they painstakingly comb through mud, shattered trees and the remains of crumbled houses in hopes of finding the 17 who are still missing.
A chaplain puts his arm around a firefighter, offering words of encouragement while taking a break amidst the morass that claimed at least 30 lives and destroyed more than two-dozen homes March 22 after rumbling down the rain-soaked foothills of the Cascade Mountains.
About 10 miles east of the slide, the displaced horses aren’t forgotten, either. Pickups towing horse trailers crammed with hay file into Darrington. Kelsie Nickerson, a Marysville, Wash., farrier, unloads her trimming tools as a persistent rain falls on the fairgrounds. The scene leaves her in awe.
“It’s been really cool to see how this community and other communities are jumping in to help,” says Kelsie Nickerson, a Marysville, Wash., farrier. “There were lots and lots of hay being brought in from different co-ops and individual people. There was a semi-truck that was loaded with dog and cat good and horse grain. I’ve been told there are all sorts of other trucks coming to help.”
Nickerson is just one of many who are doing what they can to ease the burden for survivors. She was inspired to help after a family she knows had to evacuate their home because the mudslide rerouted the Stillaguamish River, flooding their property.
“The mudslide ended right at their property line,” Nickerson explains. “They’re not even sure whether they will ever get back into their house. I took over a load of hay and grain for their horses and some clothes for the family.”
The Anderson family owns seven horses, which were moved to the fairgrounds to avoid the flooding.
“The horses were in need of being trimmed, so I was like, ‘Well, I can do that,’” she tells American Farriers Journal.
Nickerson’s generosity in helping the survivors is part and parcel of who she is, says Shane Westman, her American Association of Professional Farriers mentor.
“Kelsie is very passionate about horses and farrier work,” the Bow, Wash., farrier says. “She’s a real go-getter. It doesn’t surprise me in the least she stepped right up to volunteer.”
The fairgrounds were teeming with activity that Saturday, which marked 1 week since the tragic mudslide. A moment of silence brought the work to a brief halt as residents, volunteers and first responders mourned the victims. Then, it was back to the arduous task at hand.
And, there were journalists. Armed with cameras, microphones, pens and notepads, reporters surrounded the farrier while she was trimming the Andrews’ horses.
“I was being interviewed by CBS, and I had cameras right there while I’m trimming feet,” she recalls. “It’s a little intimidating, but we got the job done.”
Trimming horses with all of the activity and tumult that encompasses a disaster zone can be difficult enough for a seasoned farrier.
Yet, Nickerson isn’t seasoned.
Just two weeks before the mudslide, she graduated from Dr. Jack Roth’s Oklahoma Horseshoeing School in Purcell, Okla.
“It’s definitely tough to concentrate,” Nickerson says of all of the attention while shoeing. “I’m still in the beginning stages where it takes me 3 hours to do 4 shoes. So, there’s a lot of concentrating needed to do this right now for me. Being asked questions and having cameras right there in front of me, you know, up close to the foot while I’m trying to trim, it’s a little hard to concentrate.”
Through it all, Nickerson has handled it with aplomb.
“For a young farrier right out of school, working in front of a small crowd is very intimidating,” Westman explains. “Although brimming with confidence at their new skills, they are quick to realize they have not worked out their inefficiencies and think small mistakes are glaring. With experience and continued education, a farrier’s skill develops, efficiency and technique improve, and a comfort level is reached working in front of others.”
A total of 30 horses are displaced, 20 of which belonged to Darrington farrier Summer Raffo, who was driving along Highway 530 when the mudslide slammed into her. Five days later, search teams found her vehicle encased in mud about 500 feet off the road. Her brother Dayn Brunner was among the workers who dug for about an hour to free the 2009 Mission Farrier School graduate.
Raffo’s horses, many of which she rescued, are being cared for by, who else, a volunteer.
Oso Strong, indeed.