Swiss Barn Fires Kill More Than 20 Horses

More than 20 horses are dead after probable arson-related fires incinerated two stables at the Swiss National Institute of Equitation (IENA) in Avenches, Switzerland. The horses were trapped inside during the early morning fires which have been likened to a “terrorist act” by the institute’s director.

“We can only respond to this act by bringing triumph to our values, which are fair play and respect—values which are manifest in the daily relationship between coach, equestrian, and horse,” said Jean-Pierre Kratzer, IENA director.

Seven fires broke out within an hour shortly after midnight on Saturday, July 16, in various locations in and around Avenches, according to the Police of the Canton de Vaud.

Two of these fires destroyed two distinctly separated buildings of the IENA, killing all 11 of the institute’s trotting ponies as well as 13 trotting horses, including one horse who had originally survived the flames but had to be euthanized later in the equine clinic due to smoke inhalation, Kratzer said. One of the 4-year-olds that was killed, Dealer d’Occagnes, had just returned a few hours earlier from a race in Cluny, France, where he had placed fifth in the Prix Super U Presse.

Several people had to be quickly evacuated from their apartments at the institute, Kratzer said, however, there were no human casualties.

The five other fires destroyed two separate barley fields, agricultural machinery, and straw bales.

The Swiss National Stud, a research farm also based in Avenches, remained untouched. “The stables that burned are private sport stables located just west of the National Stud, where there are the racecourse and the cross-country fields,” said Anja Zollinger, BSc, of the Swiss National Stud Farm.

“The fires are clearly of criminal origin because the two burned buildings at the Institute are geographically separated, and so are the other sites that were burned, all within the same region,” she said.

The Police of the Canton de Vaud, the county which includes Avenches, has opened an investigation, according to BS Christian Bourquenoud, Deputy Principal Inspector.

“I don’t know who would have done this, but it couldn’t have been a horse person,” Kratzer said. “But we’re going to fight. We’re going to rebuild everything.”

That effort is starting immediately. The trotting races scheduled at the site for Tuesday afternoon, July 18, have been maintained.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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