Blown Away

When a series of tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma, two AQHYA members and their friends amazed everyone with their relief efforts.

By Alicia Harris, AQHA online communications and publications intern
The American Quarter Horse Journal
June 11, 2013

AQHYA members Mattie Lemmons and Emily Prather, along with friends Ethan Taylor, Austin Lugwig and Brant Weaver aid Moore, Oklahoma, horse owners after the devasting tornado

Ethan Taylor, 16 (left); Austin Lugwig, 18; Emily Prather, 16; Mattie Lemmons, 16; and Brant Weaver, 19, delivered truck-and-trailer loads full of feed and supplies to horse owners near Moore, Oklahoma. (Photo courtesy of Yvette Fees)

It was 3 a.m. May 23, and 16-year-old AQHYA member Emily Prather of Claremore, Oklahoma, was just starting her day. By 6 a.m., she and four friends – Mattie Lemmons, Ethan Taylor, Austin Lugwig and Brant Weaver – were on the road with two completely loaded trucks and trailers. Their destination? Moore, Oklahoma.

When a series of tornadoes ripped through the state on May 20, Quarter Horse owner Yvette Fees immediately opened up her family’s small stable near Chickasha via a post on her Facebook page.

“I posted on Facebook that ‘This is what we need and our facilities are open,’ ” Yvette says. “‘Anybody who needs horses transported to Oklahoma State University or wherever, let us know.’ It pretty much went viral from there.”

When Emily heard about the storms, she immediately started researching to see what could be done to help.

“Emily contacted me pretty much right away,” Yvette says. “A couple days later, she called me and said that (she and her friends) had two truck-and-trailer loads full and (wanted to know) if they could go ahead and bring it up. They brought buckets, fly spray, leg wraps, cotton wraps, feed, halters, lead ropes, round bales. I was simply amazed at these two young ladies. In two days’ time, they gathered all these donations and got it to us for immediate use.”

Mattie, 16, who is also an AQHYA member from Claremore, worked very closely with Emily to get the effort rolling.

“Emily posted on Facebook, seeing if anybody would be willing to donate anything,” Mattie says. “I texted her, and we turned it into a bigger thing than we were expecting.”

The girls went to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and just about everywhere they could to get the word out. The Claremore Daily Progress, their local newspaper, even ran a free ad for them to help with the effort.

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“Being very animal-oriented and having such a love for animals, me and Emily immediately thought of the horses and the livestock, who aren’t going to be getting the help from Red Cross and from all the donations,” Mattie says. “That’s one of the main reasons that we wanted to reach out to them.”

“It was just awesome how everybody came together,” Emily says. “We had been advertising all day the day before that we were going to be at Stillwater Milling, our local feed store. We’d be there all day collecting stuff to take down to Moore. So we sat there all day, and we were getting donations. We were just so excited because we didn’t think we were going to get a turnout that big.”

Two of the boys – Brant and Austin – drove their trucks to take the trailers down. There was no spare room to be found. Whatever they could possibly take, they did.

“We loaded everything up on our trailers and headed out. We had six bales (of hay), trailer loads, truck loads, and our entire trucks were full,” Emily says. “We literally didn’t have much room to move (in the trucks) because we were packed down.”

The two-and-a -half-hour drive to Moore was fairly uneventful, but the group quickly discovered that they could not get to where they were heading.

“The directions we were taking (from Yvette) said to take the Moore exit,” Mattie says. “We got through and there was just standstill traffic for miles. We ended up actually stopping and turning around because there was no way for us to get off of the one main road, which was the only road open going through Moore.”

They ended up meeting Yvette at Wal-Mart before following her back to her house to unload the supplies.

“I was overwhelmed,” Yvette says. “I gave them big hugs and told them, ‘You guys deserve a heap of thanks for stepping up, over and above what a lot of adults have done.’

“They said, ‘Well, we just wanted to help.’ They’re very modest – an extremely modest group.”

Both girls agreed that the experience was both heartwarming and eye-opening at the same time.

“The weirdest experience probably was being able to look on the right side of the road, and see nothing but flattened houses, and look on the left side of the road, and see houses still standing – not even touched,” Mattie says. “That was probably one of the hardest things to watch.

“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting as many people to donate – or be willing to donate – to the animals as much as they did,” Mattie adds. “The first thought people have through their mind is the people. Even though the people need help, the animals … are kind of left out, fending for themselves. So, seeing those donations roll in the way they were was really heartwarming.”

“The problem doesn’t go away after just a couple of days,” Emily says. “It doesn’t just stop just because a bunch of people helped on one day. The hurt is still there. There’s still the fact that it happened. You can’t just get rid of that.”

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With each wave of storms that rolls through Oklahoma since the devastating Moore tornado, Yvette has found herself back at Square 1.

“It has just been so crazy here,” Yvette says. “I mean, I’ve lost count of what tornado we’re on at this point. It has just been crazy. We’ve been kind of all over the place. Not only has it taken on the whole equine scenario, but we’re also helping the families of all the people who have had horses injured or whatnot.

“(We’re) trying to make sure when the horses come home from the vet’s that they have plenty of feed, hay, buckets, halters and whatever they are going to need to make it as easy as possible on them so that the rebuilding process is possible.”

“Being able to drive around that area and have a little glimpse of the destruction, it can change your life. It will change your life,” Mattie says. “You can’t prepare yourself for what you actually end up seeing when you get down there. People need to realize it’s not OK as just a one-time thing. All these donations on one day aren’t going to fix everything. It’s going to take months upon months to get things back in order. Hopefully people will understand that.”

As for Yvette, she was absolutely amazed at what these young adults had accomplished.

“You just don’t meet young people with the drive, care and concern that they showed,” Yvette says. “I think it’s really a wonderful, wonderful thing that they stepped up and did it all on their own.”

If you would like to help Emily’s and Mattie’s efforts by donating directly to horse owners affected by the tornadoes, you can contact Yvette at (405) 589-0883, or email her at yvettefees@aol.com.

How You Can Help

Donations can also be made to help the general relief effort:

  • The Women's Horse Industry Network is raising funds to help horse owners in the affected areas. People who wish to make a donation to this effort can do so by visiting WHIN's website at www.womenshorseindustry.com.
  • If you would like to make a monetary donation to the affected horsemen, you may also send a check to the OQHRA Benevolence Fund and write "tornado relief" in the memo: OQRHA, 3317 E. Memorial Rd., Edmond, OK 73013
  • The Salvation Army: Make a donation at www.donate.salvationarmyusa.org or text “storm” to 80888 to make a $10 donation.
  • The Red Cross: Make a donation to www.redcross.org/okc or www.redcross.org or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • United Way of Central Oklahoma’s Disaster Relief Fund is open. Donations may be made online at www.unitedwayokc.org.
  • Contributions to the Moore & Shawnee Tornado Relief Fund can be made securely online at www.TulsaCF.org.

Further relief efforts for affected horsemen are being continually set up and will be posted here as information becomes available.