Six years of hard work was consumed in a tragic, heartbreaking fire Sunday morning that killed nearly a dozen horses on a ranch in eastern Laramie County.
That’s how Zoila Caballero’s family feels after 11 of her family’s horses died in a fire. Of the horses that died, seven were babies and three were mares that were actively horse racing. The foals were being bred to race over the next few years. She, her husband Luis and his twin brother Raul had spent six years invested in the horses.
“For them, it’s devastating, they’ve put in the years,” she said of the family’s work.
Caballero said fire investigators determined the event to be an accident, but she suspects it was arson for a few reasons.
She said the extremely powerful blaze started near some old tires that didn’t appear to provide a readily available source of ignition on a cold winter night. The fire investigators considered a nearby welding machine as a potential spark for the blaze.
Also drawing skepticism from Caballero is that the fire spread in the opposite direction of the wind. The family found footprints in the snow leading from nearby Interstate 80 on to the ranch property.
Caballero said they have contacted the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office, which was scheduled to come out to the ranch Monday and investigate the scene.
She said the family suspects someone they've had recent issues with and who was recently released from prison in Colorado may have something to do with it.
The barn was completely destroyed in the fire, as were 80 bales of hay.
Caballero said the fire started and spread so quickly, and burned so hot, that it was fire responders who woke the family up to alert them of the emergency around 4:30 a.m. Sunday. She said firefighters remained at the scene until mid-afternoon.
The Caballero family breeds quarter horses to race around Wyoming. After six years of breeding and training horses in their spare time, Zoila and her husband were just starting to see the fruits of their labor pay off and had planned to retire in the near future to focus on racing.
“All our dreams, all our retirement, is down the drain,” she said.
Breeding is an important part of horse racing in creating a viable stable of competitive horses for the next generation, as they typically only race for a couple of years. One of the horses that died in the fire was a stallion that was a full brother of a horse that made more than $2 million during its racing career.
“There’s no more bloodline left for that horse,” Caballero said.
Although the Caballeros still have 13 horses left, none will race. They are expecting 12 newborn foals in the coming months that will race in the future, but this still puts the Caballeros out of racing for at least two years, pulling away a significant chunk of their income and life’s passion.
“We don’t know what to do,” she said. “It’s a big loss right now.”
The Caballero family was already tight on money because Zoila’s husband hasn’t been paid on time for some outstanding work. Now, they’ll have to scramble just to keep their remaining horses alive and taken care of.
Because the barn was destroyed, the family has nowhere to house their 13 remaining horses. Caballero said people in the community have already been stepping up to take in their horses and have donated hay, but they still need help.
The family still needs more hay for the remaining horses, materials for a new three-sided shelter and a place to keep two or three of their broodmares for a few months before they give birth. There are five other horses that will not be giving birth that also need a home.
The Red Cross has planned a GoFundMe campaign for the family, but it is not set up yet. Those wanting to donate can contact Caballero at 970-388-0752.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.