Tornado Destroys Arena at Worthmore Equestrian Center by Marita Wilson

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On the evening of May 29th, Pam Kuster had just come home from a Special Olympics meeting with her son Scott. Her husband Eric was home already, and as they began sorting the mail a thunderstorm rolled in.

For Pam, Eric and Scott, home is a special placethey share their property with the 44 horses of Worthmore Equestrian Center, a riding, boarding, and therapy center they started in 2003.

Worthmore and its facilities have withstood two hurricanes, constant high winds, and countless sudden thunderstorms. So when Wednesdays storm hit, Pam wasnt too concerned. In fact, the horses were all spending the night outside in the paddocks and pastures, as is normal in good weather.

And then a tree came down over her porch.

I turned around and looked out the back doorand Im watching our big honey locustJust so you have perspective, we have been here through two hurricanes. We were here for Isabel. We were here for Sandy. And Ive never seen that tree move like that.

The bushesIm surprised they actually stood back up because they were laying on the ground. And the rain came horizontal.

And I saw sheet metal fly.

Watching stunned from her kitchen window, Pam immediately assumed the roof was coming off the old barn, which has stood on the property for 80 years.

But when she opened the door to get a clearer picture, she received a total shock.

Their indoor arena was totally gone.

Eric yelled, Dont even think about going out there,’” Pam recalls. Of course, he knew she was thinking about the horses in the 10 paddocks downwind from the indoor, completely out of sight.

It was awfulknowing that the horses were out there in this mess.

Genna Kuster, Pams daughter who works and teaches at Worthmore, remembers getting a call.

Mom called me and she said, Genna, the indoor has gone down and I cant see the horses over the wreckage.And I pictured…” Genna gestures down an imaginary hill. “…dead horses. I thought that BP, Fancy, Musette, Byzwere gone.

When the winds eased after 5 agonizing minutes, Pam and Eric rushed out into the rain.

We have to go to the side paddocks, because we have horses out. And to come through that barn and to see that first paddock, and all the metal in that first paddockand there was no horse in the paddock.

There was so much metal, it was like, Okay, hes got to be dead under the metal.Where else are you going to go?

The horse they were looking for was Trojan Fan, a 12 year old gelding owned by a family in Tennessee.

Miraculously, Trojan had managed to escape the paddock and was several yards away, standing near the other horses.

He hadnt escaped without injuries, though.

Pam immediately called her vet, who made it to Worthmore in 5 minutes and spent three straight hours giving Trojan hundreds of stitches.

He was incredible. He just stood. You know, after 2 hours of suturing to then say he started to get a little dicy? Thats an amazing animal.

The first day we really werent sure if he was going to make it. [But] Im feeling really positive. Hes going to come through.

——

Worthmore isnt just home to Pam, Eric, Scott, and the horses. Its a second home for many others on the Eastern Shore as well.

Dozens of special-needs children from six local schools come to the barn weekly through the Kent Association of Riding Therapy (KART) program. Dozens more, both with and without disabilities, take private lessons as well. Disabled adults spend time with horses each summer through KARTs Easterseals Camp Fairlee. Bridges at Worthmore serves veterans and their families, at-risk youth, and children of incarcerated families. KART and Bridges also work in partnership to run programs for the Kent Center and local veterans. Kent County Parks and Recreation runs programs at Worthmore for kids that have never been around a horse. And for adults who havent been around horses, Worthmore serves as an Equine Discovery Center, which provides guided and supervised horse experiences.

And amidst all of these programs, countless people seek out Worthmores horses to ground themselves in the midst of a busy, sterile, technology-filled world.

All of those people and programs relied on the indoor arena.

The indoor arena is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It allows programs to run rain or shine. It contained lighting, fans, a video security system, a ramp and lift to allow wheelchair-bound people to ride, and large mirrors on the walls to let riders evaluate their posture. Private horse owners and students of Worthmore alike used the arena constantly.

And while insurance will cover the replacement of the building, they wont cover many of those lost assets, nor the lost revenue from programs that wont be able to run while construction is underway.

Normally we do all of our sessions in the indoor,Pam said. That means that with the indoor down, theres no conceivable way they can run Camp Fairlee. As for their other summer camps and their regular lessons, theyre hoping to find a way to continue them.

But they will have to reimagine what that will look like without the indoor arena.

That building has changed more lives than I can even tell you,Pam says.

She doesnt have to tell youits easy to see. On Friday, people brought donuts, coffee, muffins, soup, and homemade lasagna all in the space of an hour. The wall outside the office is stacked with water bottles and iced tea. On Saturday, only two days after the news got out, people are chopping up felled trees, taking over horse chores, sharing the story on social media, and pooling their talents and connections for future plans. Volunteers are clearing debris with whatever they have, whether its their hands, their trucks, or a backhoe.

Avery, a Worthmore riding student whos on the spectrum, called Pam in hysterics, saying We have to rebuild. This has to happen. Nobody understands.She offered Pam her life savings$500 in a lock boxto help rebuild the arena.

I am honestly so thankful for the people Im surrounded by,Pam said with quiet honesty. Because it really was like a death, where youre kind of wandering. You cant really think about what you need.

By Saturday afternoon, people had donated over $5000 through Worthmores GoFundMe campaign. Worthmore is hoping to eventually raise up to $200,000, not only for the rebuilding costs that insurance wont cover, but also to keep the horses fed and cared until they can get their programs running again.

And, of course, to help pay for Trojans ongoing medical costs.

On Saturday, Trojan was bright-eyed and moving around his stall, looking to visitors for scratches and munching from a huge pile of hay. He seems to enjoy being the center of attention now that he lives in the stall closest to the office.

The worry at this point is that the numerous drugs in his system will ruin his appetite and his health will start to deteriorate.

In retrospect, one injury out of 44 animalsits a godsend. I chalk it up to God. I really honestly do. All I have to say is, Well, Im not exactly sure why. Its not important that I know why. But hes got something else going on.But seriouslyI always look at it for a higher reason. There has to be something. Why else are we here?

But that higher reason wont happen without continuing support.

We appreciate anythinganythinganybody can do. Whether its five dollars, whether its a donation of a mounting block, whether its a donation for a lesson for somebody, or a therapy session for somebody. Hands on deck are going to be really important over the coming weeks.

Worthmore will be posting updates and instructions on their Facebook page and website (www.worthmoreequestrian.com) for those looking to volunteer.

As for Scott, who has autism, it took him a while before he was able to process the big change.

Indoor arena X X,he told his mom on Friday morning.

To Scott, X X means destroyed.

Yes. Indoor arena X X,Pam replied. But were going to build a new one. Were going to fix it.

Indoor arena X Xfix it,he repeated.

And with the help of the community, they will.

For those looking to donate, please visit www.gofundme.com and search for Worthmore Equestrian Center,or make a check payable to Worthmore Equestrian Center and mail it to 11570 Still Pond Rd, Worton, MD 21678.

Links to their GoFundMe page and their Venmo can also be found on their Facebook page. 2Follow their progress on Facebook or at www.worthmoreequestrian.com.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Just a small correction: Easterseals Camp Fairlee is not a KART program and will be in session this summer as usual. We will be very disappointed not to be able to offer horseback riding through KART this year.

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