Julie Winkle, pictured above with Rodney Jenkins at the Upperville Horse Show
In almost an instant, trainer, breeder and well-respected judge Julie Winkel lost over 35 years of memories, when a fast moving brushfire swept through her farm in Reno, NV on January 19th. Winkel has called Maplewood Stables home since she opened for business in 1977, and it has since become one of the West’s better-known producers of sporthorses, a busy sales and training center, as well as a haven for up and coming trainers who go through Maplewood’s internship program.
With 80 horses on the 150-acre property, priority number one was moving them out of harms way as the fire approached around noon on the 19th. But as Winkel and her team worked to evacuate mares, stallions and horses in training to neighboring farms, nothing could be done to save Winkel’s home on the property, which burned to the ground in under an hour.
High winds blowing in an unusual direction, combined with the mistake of a Reno resident disposing of fireplace ashes made for unfortunate circumstances that ignited into a fast moving brushfire. Unseasonably dry winter conditions didn’t help, and as wind gusts blew up to 82 miles per hour, the fire quickly covered the distance between its point of origin and Maplewood Stable, five miles to the north.
“Within a half hour of the start of the fire, my house was gone and we were still loading horses,” said Winkel. “It was very unusual that the winds were blowing north, they usually blow west. As soon as I saw the plume of smoke I had everyone hook up the trailers, and when I saw the firefighting planes come over the mountains, I said that’s it, we’re out of here.”
Fifty horses that were stabled in the property’s three barns were moved across the street, to Lynn and Joe Mullin’s neighboring Meadowview Farm.
“We had four stallions, so it was a little bit hard to get them settled and organized, but I have a fantastic group of interns and staff, and with everyone helping we moved 50 horses within two hours,” said Winkel.
An additional 30 horses were moved from field to field with the help of veterinarian staff from nearby Comstock Equine Hospital. The horses were able to be safely relocated on the property to a dirt lot.
But Winkel was unable to save the contents of her home, which included countless mementos and memories of over 35 years of competing and training in the horse industry. Since 1977, she had kept a scrapbook of the events of every year, and the walls of her house were lined with framed ribbons, photos and trophies from competitions around the country.
“Those things are never going to be replaced,” added Winkel. “My son’s baby pictures, every piece of clothing I owned except what was on my back, is gone. I hardly got to save anything out of the house because the fire was so fast.”
In addition, all of Maplewood’s horse documentation, passports and registration papers were stored in a fireproof safe that didn’t work when it counted. Everything ended up in ashes. Winkel was only able to grab her computer, riding boots, personal passport and her purse as she rushed out the door to get her horses to safety.
Almost as fast as it came, the fire was gone, and all the horses were able to move back into their barns by Saturday morning. While fencing on the property and the grand prix field were burned, the barns and indoor arena were untouched, and the homes of Maplewood’s grooms and interns were not damaged.
The fire was so fast-moving that the house was burned to the ground in under an hour
Winkel judges some of the country’s top equitation and hunter competitions, recently judging at the 2011 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. She is well known for her Conformation Clinic column in Practical Horseman magazine, is a popular clinician and manages a full barn of young horses that compete up and down the West Coast. She also hosted the 2009 USHJA Emerging Athletes Program Nationals at Maplewood Farm.
In addition to her activities as a judge and trainer, Winkel runs a long-established internship program that gives aspiring riders a two-year, hands on course in all aspects of the horse show industry. With the assistance of her interns and full time staff, Winkel is back to business this week and is sending a team to compete weeks 1-3 at HITS Thermal. She’s also going to stay on schedule with upcoming clinics this week in Seattle, and in Chicago and Wellington in February.
“I’m dealing with as much as I can right now, and I’ve got to keep working and keep making money,” Winkel said pragmatically. “I’ll use any insurance money I get to fix the fences and put back into the farm first, before I think about rebuilding the house. I’m living right now in a little barn apartment behind my son’s house, and I’m just going to see how things go.”
Response from the horse community was instantaneous when news of the fire got out on Thursday afternoon. A flood of support and well wishes, along with a galvanization of close friends and anonymous people alike offering their support surprised and touched Winkel.
“I’m so overwhelmed with the outpouring of people calling, texting and emailing me, sending me things and donating to help me,” she said. “Locally and across the country, I am truly touched beyond words.”
Anyone wishing to donate funds to benefit Maplewood Stable and Julie Winkel can send checks made out to the CPHA Foundation with a note signifying that the donation is for Julie Winkel to:
Attn: Julie Winkel
10153 ½ Suite 391
Toluca Lake, CA 91602
To reach Julie directly, use the following address:
425 W Laramie Dr.
Reno, NV 89521