Udall horse saved animals, owner says

NEAR UDALL — If they gave horses medals of honor, Debbie Yeager is convinced her horse Jazz would wear a big one.

The horse has her owner's gratitude for saving the lives of her other farm animals on a night when a massive thunderstorm and winds roared through.

Debbie Yeager is a practical, no-nonsense woman. She describes her horse in these terms:

"She's a big gal but she's very well put-together. This horse can spin on a dime and give you nine cents change."

And so, on the night of Sept. 15, after feeding her ducks, pigs, goats, cows and horses, Yeager noticed the Kansas sky turning green and the winds picking up.

She saw Jazz, the 9-year-old paint mare herding the other farm animals — all species — and moving them into a small pen of her barn. Usually, the animals stay outside because the sounds of pelting rain and wind are so loud on the metal barn. They go to the south side of the barn and turn their backs to the storm and ride it out.

This time, Jazz wouldn't let them.

The horse stood at the gate, ears back, teeth bared, not letting any of the other animals out of the barn.

"I think, 'This storm is coming and the animals will work it out, I got to get back to the house.' "

And that's when, she says, "all hell broke loose." Baseball-size hail pelted the farm. Trees were doubled over by winds. She could hear shingles tearing loose from the roof of her house, and the chicken house as it crashed down.

The electricity flickered.

Yeager threw the house cats down the basement and followed.

"It's the first time I've been scared in Kansas," the native Texan said. "I made phone calls to my husband telling him to come home. Called my daughter and told her 'I love you.' "

And then, just as suddenly as the storm came up, it was over.

Nothing but silence.

In darkness and a flashlight, Yeager ventured to the barn.

She feared the worst.

"You see these things on TV, you never think about them happening to you," Yeager said. "I'm just grateful. I thought when I went out to the barn, I'd have to come back to the house and get a gun and put animals down. I saw all the sheet metal and the chicken house ripped and torn upside down."

The barn door had blown away. The high winds had woven hay into a metal fence.

"But in the beams of the flashlight, Yeager could also see Jazz letting the farm animals out of their pen:

The cows.

The horses.

The goats, pigs and ducks were all safe.

Is it possible the horse could have saved the animals?

Maybe, say the experts.

"We haven't seen any herding behavior like that," said Mike Quick, curator of mammals at the Sedgwick County Zoo. "I've never seen horses adopting other animals. Our animals will spend their evenings in pasture but usually horses will stay with other horses and tolerate the other animals."

It is an incredible story with really only one element unbelievable, said Linda Anderson of the Angel Animals Network.

"I can't believe there are no photos and that someone from Kansas is not out in the storm videotaping this," she said, jokingly.

Anderson and her husband, Allen, co-founded the Angel Animals Network in Minneapolis, Minn., and have written numerous articles and books on the miracles of animals. Last year, the Andersons published the book "Horses With a Mission."

"It is an incredible story but we get these types of stories all the time, maybe not with all that drama, but animals have a sixth sense, an intuitiveness that is so far beyond what we humans seem to have," Linda Anderson said.

At least one other animal specialist agrees.

Temple Grandin says she, too, believes it is possible.

A film about Grandin won seven Emmys last month. Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an innovator in the field of animal behavior, says it is possible.

Last week, Grandin said it would be normal animal behavior for the horse to feel protective.

"It happens quite commonly for an animal to protect another animal or person," she said.

Think of the pictures you've seen on the Internet — a tiger mothering piglets, a Labrador retriever mothering calves, she said.

Animals will protect one another, particularly when they sense weather changes, Grandin said.

"I've seen cattle jump fences and gates 12 hours before a big storm hits," Grandin said. "It's the barometric pressure. They sense a bad storm coming."

Grandin said it's possible that Jazz, Yeager's paint mare, may have had previous experiences with bad weather. It's unknown because Yeager has owned Jazz for only four months.

"She may have had a couple of tornadoes in her past," Grandin said. "Horses have super-good sensors at remembering sounds and feelings. They see things in pictures. They are visual thinkers."

For now, Yeager is simply grateful for that big paint horse in her pasture. The horse, she said, is one of the most patient, compassionate creatures she's ever seen.

'She doesn't shy. She doesn't spook," Yeager said. "She's just awesome. She's a big old sweetheart."