May 25, 2011
The American Quarter Horse Journal caught up with three American Quarter Horse owners in Oklahoma to see how they fared as tornadoes ripped across the state.
Parts of Oklahoma were devastated on Tuesday, May 24, by high-powered tornadoes. The twisters cut right through the heart of horse country in Oklahoma, wreaking a war path on some American Quarter Horse owners and leaving others surprisingly unscathed.
Butch Wise, owner of Lazy E Ranch in Guthrie, Oklahoma, counts himself as one of the lucky.
“Everything was west of us here at the main ranch,” says Butch. “We were extremely fortunate – others weren’t as fortunate, but we’re in really good shape.”
Even if the storms had been closer than 10 miles away, Butch says that the staff at the Lazy E Ranch was prepared for the worst.
“We have excellent weather forecasting and storm tracking here and we watched that and alerted all of our people. We’re fortunate we have Lazy E Arena here, which has a very good place for us to go in case of violent storms. And if it looks like it’s going to be rough enough, we start moving horses.”
AQHA Professional Horsewoman Jackie Krshka was another among the unharmed.
“The tornadoes were about two to three miles away,” she says. “We were completely unaffected, thankfully.
“I’ve yet to be up north of us where it was extremely hard-hit,” says Jackie. “Law enforcement and rescue people have asked that people limit coming up there just because they don’t need too many people for today. They’re still trying to locate the missing children and missing people. Hopefully, later on today we’ll get some news on a couple of our members that I know have horse places up there. It’s just tragic.”
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Even though she hasn’t driven through the affected areas, Jackie has seen the destruction as she’s ventured south.
“Right now, we’re going down to Gil Galyean’s to pick up a horse and we just went on a part of the highway where the tornado came across and it’s just absolute devastation. The bark peeled off the trees, debris is scattered everywhere and houses look like they exploded. It’s terrible.”
Doug Blessen of Stillwater, Oklahoma, can’t believe his luck – a tornado cut across his property, tearing up trees and destroying fences, but left his house and barn completely intact.
“Literally, the tornado was right there on us and the only way we knew this was because I was in the house and there wasn’t any rain and there wasn’t much wind and a transformer blew and all the lights went out,” says Doug. “When the transformer blew I said, ‘Something hit the transformer, let’s get to the cellar NOW!’ We couldn’t really get the back door open to get down in the cellar – we shoved it and it just flew open and the tornado was happening right there. Debris was flying and hitting us everywhere and we were trying to get in the cellar.”
Doug was surprised to hear that his neighbor across the road witnessed his horses’ reactions to the tornado.
“They all pointed their rear-ends toward the tornado and one of his mares, while the debris was flying, just buckled her legs and went down on her belly. After the debris passed, she stood back up. He said he’d always wondered how horses survived it.”
Despite the fact that Doug’s house and barn are unharmed, he can’t believe the destruction to everything else around him.
“I’ve probably got 500 trees laying on the ground. (My neighbor’s) house was taken and his barn’s destroyed. Across the street from him, there’s a 10,000-square-foot home that’s completely destroyed. I’ve got fence that is just mangled, pipe fence that’s bent, cables stripped out of the pipe fence and debris down the road – we had to have heavy equipment come get the debris ’cause you can’t get down our road. There’s solid trees on our county road.
“We just built a 60-foot round pen and it’s lined with these gorgeous huge oak trees all the way around it. I have it lined with telephone poles, so it’s a solid 6-foot wall,” he says. “We had two builders out here last night and they were like, ‘Well, we knew it wouldn’t take your round pen because of the way you built it.’ And it didn’t (touch the round pen), but it took every single big oak tree, and I’m talking about you-can’t-reach-your-arms-around-them oak trees, that were around the round pen.”
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Since Doug’s horses were out in the pasture, he was a little bit wary about what he might find when he and his family left their cellar.
“My daughter’s an animal lover,” Doug boasts. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘Daddy, we need to check on the horses.’ And I said, ‘Go get me three halters – we’ll go catch them and put them in the corral.’ All my daughter could think was, ‘We’ve got to get the horses.’
“We got up and went out to the pasture to check on the horses – we have three American Quarter Horses – they were all in that pasture and everything was flattened. They heard us and came running up to us and we checked their eyes and all over their bodies and they looked good.”
The office manager of Oakridge Equine Hospital in Edmond, Oklahoma, confirmed that while that facility did not sustain any damage from the tornadoes, the staff has treated horses that sustained injuries during the storms. Due to confidentiality agreements, however, no details on injuries were made available to the Journal.