“You have to get out now. Leave now!” the storm chasers yelled, making their voices heard above the din of the storm.
As softball-sized hail pummeled the rooftop of her barn at Celestial Stables, on the Orr Family Farm, Lindsay White and her partner Randy Weidner ran for their lives as the EF 5 Oklahoma tornado bore down on the barn where they kept two prized off-track Thoroughbreds and his racing Quarter Horses.
She hesitated for a moment: “I said I wanted to hitch up the trailer first,” White says. “But there was no time.”
So, with only the clothes that they wore, they scooped up three frenzied dogs on the way to their truck, leapt into the front seat, and gunned it toward the nearby interstate.
Two-and-a-half miles up the road, they listened in fear, in prayer, and finally in utter shock to a radio news broadcast reporting the behemoth tornado that ripped through Oklahoma May 20, had just made a direct hit on the farm they just fled.
“At first we had hope,” says White, owner of Plain as Bay Eventing. “We know tornados can jump around, and we were hoping it jumped our barn.”
And there was no trace of her partner’s racing Quarter Horses, which he ran at nearby Canterbury Park in Shakopee.
“We got back to the farm 45 minutes later and by the looks of it, you’d never know there was a training center and a horse farm there,” she says. “It was gone.”
Carefully picking their way through the mangled debris, past twisted metal of horse trailers, and the bodies of dead horses, White searched for four days for theirs.
“The USDA came in and piled the horses up, and they washed off their faces so you could recognize them,” she says. “But even with that, it was hard to recognize your own.”
They had one who had been decapitated and could not be identified, but she suspects the animal in question, based on distinctive markings on his body, may have been her prized eventing prospect, Heavenly Due.
Now five weeks since she walked that wasteland with her partner, trying to take it all in, White says they are making due in temporary housing, and planning a future as they mourn the loss of their animals.
The recollections of her special horses, and all the hope and promise they held, comprise memories she clings to, and the stories that, after their deaths, still make her smile.
In Florida earlier this year, though it now feels like a lifetime ago, White rode Heavenly Due in a clinic with Olympic equestrian James Wofford. With pride, she recalls how the famous rider was quite impressed with her little Thoroughbred, who had 40 starts on the track and had earned $100,000, before he began training for Eventing.
“He was a beautiful horse. He was 17.1 hands and a dark, dark bay, but he looked jet black,”
White says. “He was very leggy, and a practical joker around the barn.”
In the Florida clinic, he was “brilliant,” she says. A lot of people predicted that Heavenly Due, who was competing at Preliminary Level, was the horse who would take her to eventing heights.
Her other OTTB For Instance was just five when he died in the storm; he had started to show talent as a jumper. “He would jump anything you put in front of him!”
If she smiles through tears when she recalls her horses, she swells with a mix of emotion—gratefulness, amazement— at the outpouring of help offered by fellow horsemen and sympathizers across the country.
The couple has a place to live, temporarily, after the racetrack opened up a dormitory room to them.
And horses – beautiful, fine animals to help carry them further from tragedy – have been donated to both of them!
Texas equestrian Stephanie Cook, of Hill Country Riding Academy in San Antonio is giving White an eight-year-old OTTB named Coda Bear, a rescue horse who will become White’s next eventing project. And her partner has been given three horses to help him rebuild his racing business.
The eventing community has flooded her with letters of support, including many hailing from none other than top Eventer Phillip Dutton, who experienced a devastating barn fire recently.
“The support I’ve gotten from the Eventing community has been incredible. I don’t even have a horse yet, but I have outfits for him and for myself!” she says. “And I’ve gotten letters from so many people, everyone has been so supportive and absolutely incredible. I don’t think I would have even been thinking about riding again if it hadn’t been for all the support.”
Although she will never be able to replace Heavenly Due, through the kind words and donations that are nothing less than heaven sent, White is bravely facing the future.
“I was just getting started in my eventing business,” she says. “It’s kind of sad because I really was getting going, right before the tornado.”
She adds, “I’m really trying to put a lot of it behind us. “I was blessed to have my horses for the time that we had together. Of course, my two Thoroughbreds were my favorites, and I miss them most. But I love them all.
The Randall Weidner Trust Fund has been established at the Wells Fargo Bank. Checks can be written to “Randall Weidner Catastrophe Trust” and mailed to: Wells Fargo, 380 S. Marschall Rd., Shakopee, Minn. 55379.