T he letters and packages keep coming every week to Canterbury Park, each one easing the pain a little more. One included some money and a photo of the lemonade stand that raised it, set up by children Randy Weidner and Lindsay White have never met. Others are stuffed with horse brushes and hoof picks or little gifts, such as the 12 origami horses folded by kids in Denver.
Many are from strangers, people who learned from the news about how Weidner and White lost all 12 of their horses in the EF-5 tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., in May. Friends of the trainers have pitched in, too, donating equipment, horses and more than $20,000. Since that terrible day — when the twister also destroyed their apartment in the barn at Celestial Acres Training Center, along with their truck and horse trailer — Weidner and White have been rebuilding their lives and their livelihoods, with the help of hundreds of people united by a common love for horses.
A week after the tornado, Weidner, a Rosemount native, arrived at Canterbury Park to join the one horse that had not been with him in Oklahoma. Track a Tac, nicknamed “Lucky,” won his season debut on July 4 in Weidner’s second race since the storm.
That has highlighted a summer in which Weidner and White have resurrected a racing stable that now includes 10 quarter horses and a pony horse, Elvis, donated by a ranch in Texas. Some days, they said, they still weep for the horses they lost. Just as often, they are moved to tears by the generosity and kindness of an equine community in which hoofbeats and heartbeats go hand in hand.
“We have a long way to go, but we’re getting back on our feet,” said Weidner, who was uninsured. “I couldn’t even begin to name all the people who have helped us. It doesn’t matter what breed or discipline it is; horse people are horse people. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without our friends, family and even people we don’t know.”
On the day the tornado struck, Weidner and White were completing their racing season at Remington Park in Oklahoma City and preparing to drive the first of two loads of horses to Canterbury. With the storm bearing down on the training center, they had no time to move the horses to safety. They fled in their car with their three dogs, watching the tornado in their rearview mirror.
They returned to find the training center destroyed. Dead and dying horses lay everywhere; it was estimated that more than 150 horses were killed or unaccounted for in a storm that also killed 24 people. Weidner and White combed the grounds for two days looking for their possessions and found only a kitchen knife and a dog leash.
The Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association — of which Weidner is a past president — quickly established a fund. When Weidner and White arrived at Canterbury, they were greeted with a welcome sign at the stable gate, and friends had already furnished and set up their living space in the dormitory above their barn.
More than 350 people attended a fundraiser hosted by the MQHRA that brought in more than $20,000. Contributions and letters of support came from as far away as Australia and England. Children donated their allowance money, and kids who participate in pony clubs around the country sent leg wraps and other equine supplies.
Horsemen scoured their barns for extra tack and equipment. Some of Canterbury’s top quarter horse trainers — who are Weidner’s rivals on the track — reached especially deep. Amber Blair gave the couple two new racing bridles, and Bob Johnson hired them to help with his stable for a couple of weeks so they could make some money while they were getting their own horses ready to race.
“I had a barn fire once that took everything, so I knew how devastating it had to be for them,” Johnson said. “We’re like a family; we’re all working 16 to 18 hours a day with our horses, and we help each other out. I think you don’t really realize who your friends are until something like this happens, and everyone pulls together.”
Signs of rebuilding
Weidner’s small stable includes a horse co-owned by three clients who lost horses in the tornado, as well as two new ones he picked up last week in Texas. Because most were not in racing condition when they came to his barn, he has saddled only six starters during the Canterbury meet; two have finished in the money and earned $6,650.
He and White will take them to race at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows when Canterbury’s quarter horse season winds down in mid-August, with a used truck bought two weeks ago via Craigslist and a trailer purchased at a discount.
Weidner said he and White each are writing about 25 thank-you notes every week, a task that won’t end any time soon. “It’s been overwhelming,” he said. “We can’t thank people enough for everything they’ve done.”