As of you have heard there was a catastrophic flood in the Houston area.  The dramatic videos of horses lurching in the water was them hitting fence lines that an observer could not see. Brave people were bucking law enforcement to make these rescues. I was threatened with arrest at least 20 times for any participation in the water. Everything would have gone much smoother, and quicker if the sheriffs had just backed off a bit.

After 42 years of living on Cypress Creek, you feel you sort of know it. The weather had predicted 4 to possibly 9 inches per day, possibly for 3 days. I always watch the weather carefully as our rainy weather hampers the daily trail ride business.

I was aware that Monday and Tuesday could be wet. I know when to prepare, tying lawn furniture down, picking up loose buckets, water troughs, etc. When to move all vehicles off the property and up on higher frontage road.  Next, get halters on horses, and move them to high south side of property. If the water keeps coming up, we know when we have about 30 minutes to get the last vehicle out, before the low spot in the road floods. 45 trillion gallons of water fell from the sky that night.

Harris County Flood Control District, did not anticipate this disaster on the evening of the flood. In their press release on April 18th at 8 pm, they stated “Emergency management officials are urging Harris County residents to stay put even if homes are flooding because you are safer indoors than out driving on flooded roadways where cars can sink or be swept away quickly. Had they anticipated water levels  that we actually experienced, everyone would have been evacuated immediately.

Almost all of the most significant rainfall occurred 10 to 40 miles west of us on the Cypress Creek watershed. We only had 10 inches here, which we could normally handle, but couple that with the 15-17 inches that fell to the west, and the flood gates being conservatively open on downstream rivers, what happened was the fastest rising flood water that Harris County has ever experienced.

The result, eight human deaths and probably more  to be revealed when all the water goes down.

And, we are still boating into the house after four days.

Cypress Trails does have a plan for the evacuation of horses. In 2015 we evacuated twice, which in the end were not required after all. Evacuation is discussed with staff on a regular basis.

Below is a fairly succinct outline of April 18:

Monday, April 18

12 am to 2 am – I had been regularly checking the internet flood gauges and rainfall sites from midnight onwards. Up until 2 am everything was still OK, with the river level at about 55′, 12’ above normal.

3 am – 4″ of rain fell at the barn, the river incredibly rose to about 62′ at this point, I had to make a quick decision if I was going to move horses or vehicles. I choose horses.

3:30 am – The horses were moved out of the Arena paddock and the north pasture closest to the creek, to stalls in the house/barn, which is on higher ground. The horses had just been through this terrific storm, and were skittish. I saddled up and rode into north pasture to collect the horses. They followed me into the barn like lambs, but when we were in the process of haltering them, the horses spooked and broke out of the barn. When they ran into the flood water on the south side, the strong current scattered the herd. Several horses ran into the Arena paddock and got tangled in the cable fencing as the current pushed them into it.

Realize we had had walked easily around this area about 20 minutes earlier catching the horses. Now it was a struggle to walk in it. The horses that ran into Arena paddock were some of the horses later seen on televised news reports. I, and an employee, Hoku, swam to the Arena paddock to rescue horses, but we were only just able to swim there. Hoku, sitting on a fence, held the horse Amber’s head above water until the water got a foot higher and she was able to disentangle herself from the fencing. Amber is fine. Neither I nor Hoku could swim against the current to get back to the barn/house. We had on T-shirts and gym shorts. We sat for 2.5 hours in cold flood water that, as it grew higher was trying to tug our clothes off. Talk about Déjà vu, this was almost exactly the same place I was back in 2001 when I swam in to save a couple of horses left at the house when we were at the TETRA convention.

5 am – To the west, in the Cypress Creek watershed, 13 to 17 inches of rain had fallen. Another 4 inches fell, the river was now at 65′ (nearly 2′ above the river bank). My house is on pilings, so it was OK, but water was rising in the stalls and tack rooms. Then law enforcement personnel arrived with rescue boats, their priority was to rescue people and not horses. Hoku and I were rescued from the Arena paddock about 8 am, where we had been stranded after swimming there 2.5 hours earlier. The TV pictures of horses stuck in the floods came from around this time. No horses were tied to any fences or poles but some horses were entangled in cable fences which were now underwater (all but one got out). There is no barbed wire as stated in some accounts.

7 am – There were no horses in the single story barn which can be seen with just its roof above the water in the news coverage. All these horses had evacuated themselves early on. Confusion on this occurred because I have a barn under my house. Horses were in that barn, which is on higher ground.

11 am – The river was now 6′ above its banks, volunteers began to help rescue horses from the south pastures (which is the high ground) of the flooded Cypress Trails. Justin Nelzen, Devan Horn, Mark Jensen and many others contributed to heroic rescues throughout the day as they grabbed horses out of the currents and got them to safety. At this time there was a fairly large herd on the edge of the south pasture. They were restless, and testing the current as they moved around quite a bit.

2 pm – Kelly, Matt, and Cody, in chest deep water, and me in a boat, pushed the horses to the west off the property, where Corrie Patrick, Tracy Taylor, and Krista Mohn picked up the twenty-plus horses and pushed them through nearby woods to the neighbor’s barn. Unfortunately a group of six or seven horses broke away from the neighbor’s paddocks and returned to the farm. When they reached their home trails and made their way to the house/barn, two split off for the evacuation area on the frontage road and were caught, two headed toward the barn, and two ended up getting swept into the creek. Almost to safety, Jolly Roger, one of the horses headed for the house/barn failed to go in the barn and, he too, was swept into the creek when he got too near the edge. Devan Horn saw him caught in bank brush and went in the creek and guided him to safety. The other two are two of the missing horses. Please note that the air boats were barely strong enough to negotiate the worst current. The motor boats had to stay well clear of the current between the Arena paddock and the house/barn.

4 pm – Later in the day the twelve to fourteen horses in the house/barn were swum to safety with the aid of a power boat and rider for guiding. All horses were guided to the south pasture edge where the water was shallow enough for them to walk, and then to the access road and a waiting trailer.

The massive amounts of rain in the watershed (12″-17″) contributed to the rapid rise in the river level, as well as water released from the Conroe dam prior to this event. There have only been two horses lost to flooding at Cypress Trails previously, back in 2001, fifteen years ago.

No horses were tied up and left in the flood water to drown. This report was probably due to the sight of horses tangled in fencing and unable to move.

As of this posting there is one 27 year old mare that is known to have died, she was trapped in the cable fencing, and four other horses are currently being actively searched for. The remainder of the horses were moved to evacuation pastures near the George Bush Airport on Tuesday, and onto friend’s ranches after a brief respite at my neighbor’s ranch.

The dramatic videos of horses lurching in the water was them hitting fence lines that an observer could not see. Brave people were bucking law enforcement to make these rescues. I was threatened with arrest at least 20 times for any participation in the water. Everything would have gone much smoother, and quicker if the sheriffs had just backed off a bit.

6 pm – The river level was still at about 5’ above the banks and access to the ranch house was by boat only. There are two ponies and eight dogs on the upper deck of my house, all being cared for.

All of the other horses are in safe and comfortable facilities. Any horses requiring doctoring or meds are either at the vets, or in a facility next door to the vet for observation. One horse was hospitalized due to a pastern puncture.

Wednesday, April 20

5 am – The creek went back up another foot and hopefully this will be the end of the crest. At this point we had only lost one employee car, and one old farm truck. Around 1 pm the creek rose to 70 feet, and we lost all of the vehicles and 5 trailers (including the living quarters).

I wish to thank everyone for all their help and support, if you watch any of the videos you will understand why. There was a huge crowd of friends and strangers.

There are really nasty people who are spreading incredible lies and exaggerations…. Like “Darolyn was eating doughnuts while her horses drown”, in actuality, I had one as I came off the boat from being rescued from the 2.5 hour sit in the water. That was my meal for the day. S

Some people have launched online petitions to close my business/make me surrender my horses, based on many falsehoods. If you care to, read the nice stuff on my Facebook. The “Haters” have even commandeered Facebook, they have created 3-4 other Facebook accounts in Cypress Trails name and are posting negative comments.

So I is not even sure you can get up on the right one. Hopefully you have as much information as you need.

Thanks in advance for your support, and thanks to everyone that helped on the rescue operation.

Darolyn Butler

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