First Responders Reflect on Oklahoma Tornado The remains of Celestial Acres Training Facility. Photo © S&S Productions 2013  

First Responders Reflect on Oklahoma Tornado, Horses

by Michele DeVinney Schmoll

On Monday, May 20, 2013, an EF-5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma killing more than 200 horses. Veterinarians and volunteers worked almost around the clock to capture and care for the surviving horses and livestock.

Dan Mullenix is the CEO of the newly formed Oklahoma Livestock First Responders. He and co-founder, Clayton McCook, DVM, of Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery have plenty of hurricane experience, but nothing prepared them and their team for what they would encounter.

Dan says he knew this particular storm was going to be devastating when he saw the weather reports. “I was sitting at home on Monday… after watching the weather I had a gut feeling.” He hooked up his trailer and called other team members. “We followed the tornado into town trying to get to one of farms that got hit badly. We couldn’t get that far due to downed power lines so we sat waiting. All of a sudden, there were people coming out of the dark and rubble cluttered area leading horses to us, we loaded the trailers.” Oklahoma hurricane ravages horses along with everything else.

They hauled horses to area veterinarians and set up a make shift triage with the assistance of Dr. McCook. “We unloaded horses washing off the mud via flashlight, checking for injuries, treating and saving horses as best as we could.”

Fellow team member Amanda Eggleston arrived in the destroyed town to help. She grew up there, showing horses, doing pony club activities and playing polo with many in the community. When she arrived, she sadly recalls, “The only way I knew that I was at the Celestial Acres Training Facility was their gate. I felt like I was punched in the stomach when I realized it was really gone. It was one thing to see it on TV. I felt like I was in a movie. I felt like this couldn’t possibly be real. There was nothing left.”

The next day they rounded up as many horses as they could, but traffic was bumper to bumper. Traffic kept them from getting back into town, so they assisted those outside of town.

Dr. McCook and veterinarian Dr. Chancey from the Remington Park Race Track went door to door through the affected neighborhoods to small farms. They found several horses that had numerous lacerations, abrasions and injuries that were in deplorable conditions.

Dr. McCook says, “You see images on TV like everybody else and the helicopter flies over and all that but seeing it in person is just entirely different. Working on the race track you see horses from time to time break down. Fracture their legs and things like that but you don’t ever see a 100 horses in a shape like that. You don’t see a whole field sort of littered with unspeakable things that have happened to them. I think that is the thing that is the toughest, the scale of numbers.” 

“It’s a tough scene and I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to get some of those images out of my head. It’s not something anybody should every have to see. I’m glad I went. Somebody needed to be there. I think all of us agree that, the veterinarians in particular I have spoken with that made their way down, we needed to be there for that reason. We take an oath and we just tried to do what we could. I don’t have any regrets about going down there. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Kevin Trimmell, the Facility Manager for Heritage Place, spoke with his boss at Remington Park Race Track. They decided to open up the facility to horses displaced by tornadoes until their owners can get back on their feet.

Kevin says, “We are a close knit community working with area veterinarians and horse owners like a family. It was only natural to open our doors to assist.”

Heritage Place has 660 stalls with everything needed to offer shelter since it is their off season. Horses healthy enough for transport were moved to the facility to make more room at the local equine clinics to treat those injured.

Near exhaustion after working days on end, Dan said that he had to take a moment to cry for everything he saw and everyone that lost so much. Walking live horses past the dead ones was really hard he said. “I have seen a lot of things in my life but nothing can prepare you for this amount of devastation.”