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Horses' deaths sadden veterinary students

A heartbreaking discovery after a violent thunderstorm leaves a vocational center grieving for three of its horses.

Published September 7, 2006

SEMINOLE — Peggy Biran spent most of the Labor Day weekend nursing Abby, a 27-year-old horse suffering from a bout of colic.

For Biran, such caring had become second nature during her 17 years as a teacher in the veterinary program at Seminole Vocational Education Center.

But what she saw upon arriving at the shelter early Tuesday broke her heart.

Two horses, Penny and Sable, were dead after lightning struck their shelter. A third, Abby, was alive but struggling to breathe.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw. I just couldn’t believe what I saw,” she said. “It’s bad enough to lose an animal … (but) an unexpected tragedy that nobody has any control over, it’s hard.”

Abby was euthanized to end her suffering. A cremello mare, she had lived at the school for 15 years. Penny and Sable, both 19-year-old chestnuts, had come to the center 10 years ago. Four other horses were not injured.

The animals provided hands-on experience for students in the school’s veterinary assisting program. They went on camping trips with the students. They were used as placid mounts for students new to riding in the extracurricular riding club. Abby was so gentle that she was used to help disabled children learn to ride.

On Thursday, two days after she discovered the horses, Biran still could not talk about it without tearing up.
“It’s been a rough couple of days,” Biran said.

Biran said she spent all of Sunday at the center, 12611 86th Ave. N, watching over Abby because of the horse’s colic. The next day, Labor Day, she went to the center every two hours to make sure Abby was okay. She checked the horses one last time about 8 p.m.

Abby was in a stall in a shelter in one of the pastures. Sable was penned in the stall next door as company for Abby. Penny was in the pasture but was able to enter and leave the shelter at will.

Biran arrived at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday to find a tragic scene.

“At first, I didn’t understand. … I think I was in shock,” Biran said.

 An investigation revealed a hole in the shingle roof where lightning had apparently struck the building during the violent thunderstorm the night before. As the highest point in an otherwise empty pasture, the barn apparently attracted the lightning bolt.

Biran said she was thankful that no students were around to see the scene. But students were upset when they were told of the deaths. A grief counselor was brought in to help them cope.

“It was very considerate of the administration to think of their feelings,” Biran said.

In death, Abby, Sable and Penny left at least one lesson — that life must go on. The school’s four remaining horses — Terra, Sheena, Chapps  and Toby — still must be cared for.

“Four still depend on us. Four are still a very big part of our program,” Biran said. “They’re still here, and they still need us.”

[Last modified September 12, 2006, 10:15:19]

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