MINOOKA — When Janet Flury woke up April 18, just before 5 a.m., the rain had already made a mess of Aliboo Farm.
Water had leaked into the main house and office, and made a shallow puddle of the fields and stable.
An hour later, she watched water come rushing across the field.
“It was not real,” said Flury, owner of the Minooka horse farm.
Another hour gone by, and the basement of her house had flooded up to the first floor and the office “was completely gone.”
As for a lot of area residents that day, it became a scramble for the Flurys to try and save their belongings and to not get stranded in the flood.
But the folks at Aliboo Farm had an additional concern:
What were they going to do about the 21 horses they breed, raise and train?
‘A LOT OF HEART’
Flury founded AliBoo Farm in 1999.
The name comes from her daughters’ nicknames — “Ali” is Alison and “Boo” is Taylor.
When Taylor was 15, she was diagnosed with chiari malformation — a condition that required her to undergo two brain surgeries in 2006. Between the surgeries, a horse breeder took interest in Taylor’s story and named a horse after her — Taylor was the barn name, and Role Model, also a nod to Taylor Flury — was its registered name.
As a 2-year old filly, Role Model crashed through a fence and broke her shoulder.
A veterinarian advised the horse be put down.
But the Flurys accepted Role Model, and within a couple of years, the horse went from injured to winning classes around the country and becoming Horse of the Year.
The story of Taylor and Taylor — T-squared, as Janet puts it — exemplifies the spirit of Aliboo Farm. Hope. Grit. Working together.
Many breeding farms, Janet Flury explained, have a lot of money. That’s not really the case with Aliboo, she said.
“It’s been a labor of love,” she said. “We have a lot of heart.”
And as the flood waters rose that day, they were going to need it.
Emergency crews told the family and workers that they were going to need to evacuate.
But Janet knew they couldn’t.
“We’re not going anywhere without our horses,” she said.’
‘HORSES WERE SWIMMING’
They brought the first eight horses to the Ellis House & Equestrian Center down the road, as water continued to rush over the property.
“I don’t think I’ve seen that much water in my life,” said Taylor Flury, who runs the barn. “We had to swim back.”
“The barn was an island,” Janet said.
With the first horses gone, the rest began to panic — the young horses, especially. The water was up around the waist in the stable.
One of the horses, Janet said, didn’t like the feeling of water on its belly and began kicking up. Wilbur, a three-year old stallion, was also a difficult evacuee.
In the end, all 21 horses got out. Eight were at the Ellis House, and the rest were led to Northern Traditions Farm, and were eventually sheltered at a farm in Big Rock.
“It was amazing,” Janet said. “The horses were swimming.”
The family’s three dogs also had to be evacuated. The dogs weigh 140 to 220 pounds, Janet said, and they left the office through a window and were transported to Northern Traditions Farm via canoe.
A couple of the horses had scratches, Taylor said, but that they were otherwise OK.
She said she is glad all humans and animals made it out safely.
“We were really scared,” Taylor said. “It was just crazy what the flood could do.”
‘TRULY ROLE MODELS’
The waters left as quickly as they came.
On Friday, flooding began receding and was soon gone.
But its effects are still something the Flurys are recovering from.
The indoor and outdoor jumps were ruined, and Taylor said she hasn’t been able to ride the horses since they’ve returned.
Janet guessed that the flood caused “a couple hundred thousand easily in damages.”
That’s damage insurance likely will not cover because they are not in a floodplain.
But, she said, it would have been a lot worse were it not for the help of volunteers, workers and family members.
Janet said that Debbie Granate, who runs the Ellis House, Bob Griffin and Tom Thorpe of Northern Traditions, and about 50 volunteers were essential to evacuating the horses and helping with the recovery process in the subsequent days.
“We got so lucky with the amount of community support we got,” Taylor added.
Janet also said that the employees at the farm were tireless in the recovery.
“They spent nine hours out in the water,” she said. “Then they came back the next day with smiles on their faces, asking how else they could help. They’re just amazing.”
But, Janet said, she was especially proud of her children — Alison, Taylor and Jordan.
Jordan is a 15-year old honors student at Joliet Catholic Academy, and Janet said he went above and beyond in helping during the circumstances.
And that is perhaps the take-away from the whole disaster. That for all the damage the flood could do, it also served to reveal the strength of community and family.
“I’m so proud of my children,” Janet said. “They were truly our role models.”