They could see the tornado behind them from the rearview mirror, bearing down on the farm where their horses were stabled, where other vehicles they owned were parked, where so much of their lives was invested.
Had it not been for the storm watchers who ordered them to leave, Randy Weidner and his partner, Lyndsay White, would have been still on the grounds, loading horses into a trailer when the tornado struck in its full fury. As it was, they escaped with maybe three minutes to spare, Weidner said, traveling as quickly as possible in the traffic surrounding them to safety at a friend’s place nearby.
Those memories now have a surreal quality in the aftermath of the storm in Moore, Okla., that killed 24 people, injured 200 and left countless animals dead, 80 of them or more at the Orr Family Farm and Celestial Acres Training center where Weidner and White kept an apartment and 12 horses.
The horses are gone now, all 12 of them under their care, and one of their four dogs was still missing Wednesday. It was just another Oklahoma day until the storm arrived.
“We have tornadoes around here all the time, some the day before and there were no sirens,” Weidner said. “But when I saw it coming out of the barn window and saw the storm chasers, too, I realized we were in trouble.”
Weidner and White escaped with only the clothes on their backs and three of their four dogs. “The other dog was way down at one end of he barn and we couldn’t find him,” Weidner said. “The humane society has run pictures of a dog that looks just like him. We’re hoping it is.”
Weidner, a native of Rosemount and former president of the Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association, was on the cell phone Wednesday, conveying the horrific details of this nightmare as he drove back onto the farm and immediately broke down at the sight of dead horses being loaded onto a truck.
Perhaps some were horses he trained, horses that should have been stabled now at Canterbury Park as he returned to Oklahoma for another load.
Weidner didn’t recognize his pickup truck on the grounds. It was about 300 yards from where he parked it. “The only way I could tell it was mine was by the Minnesota license plates,” he said.
The only thing left of the barn where his horses were kept was the cement floor. “We knew before we got to the freeway that the tornado had struck the farm. We heard it on the radio,” he recalled. “There wasn’t a board or a brick left of the barn. The horses… that was a sight nobody should see.”
A catastrophe fund has been established in Weidner’s name at the Wells-Fargo bank in Shakopee. Donations can be made there or at any Wells Fargo branch.
Trainer Mark Lee lost 12 thoroughbreds at the same facility. A man he works with somehow survived under the debris of a flattened barn. “I don’t know how he did it,” said Lee, “but somehow he pulled himself out of the rubble.”
Amazingly, Lando Hite, an exercise rider/groom, found shelter in the only place he could, a horse stall, and lived to tell the story to local television stations.
People continue to express condolences, saying that at least there was no loss of human life only animals, something Weidner does not want to hear.
“I resent that,” he said. “People don’t know that these horses are like family to me. You spend all your time with them, every day, tending and caring for them.”
As of now, Weidner expects to start the meet at Canterbury with four horses, three of them thoroughbreds, the fourth a quarter horse, although owners at other tracks have expressed an interest in sending their horses with him to Minnesota. He is about to start his third meet, as uncertain as it is, at Canterbury Park, and also competes at Prairie Meadows, Hialeah and Remington Park.
Weidner grew up around horses and competed in the Minnesota State High School rodeo, in bareback riding. He would up as an assistant trainer in Maryland, where he met Lyndsay, or Sky as she is known. They struck out on their own about 3 and 1/2 years ago.
Now, they will start again.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.
Photo Courtesy of the Q-Racing Journal