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Volunteers rally to put back tents that were blown away by Thursday's storm.
SAM OWENS | The Roanoke Times
Betty Finch (left to right), Jim Foley, Inga reed Reed, and Bradley Ronk pull wires and parts out of one of the fallen Roanoke Valley Horse Show tents at the Salem Civic Center, Thursday afternoon. The almost finished set up of the horse show was demolished in one quick hit due to the stormy weather and high winds that hit the area. Volunteers are quickly trying to consider all the damages and get the set-up back on track to allow for a smooth moving horse show next week.
SAM OWENS | The Roanoke Times
A tent set up for the upcoming Roanoke Valley Horse Show, is strewn across the Salem Civic Center parking lot after stormy weather hit Thursday afternoon.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Just to the side of the Boulevard entrance to the parking lot of the Taliaferro Complex, 25 tandem dump truck loads of sawdust — an estimated 130 tons — is piled in a small mountain awaiting use during the 42th annual Roanoke Valley Horse that opens today.
That the sawdust is still there is news. That a horse show starting 8 a.m. and running through Saturday night on schedule also is news.
Despite a brief but catastrophic wind and rain storm Thursday that wrecked weeks of work in minutes, all now is as it should be. Sawdust is where it belongs, the show is running on schedule, and the customers are filing in because of the work guys like Tommy Barron and many more like him.
“A miracle has happened,” said Carol Whiteside of the Roanoke Valley Horsemen’s Association. “Two weeks worth of work has been done in 24 hours.”
Barron was one of more than 50 volunteers who came on short notice to work in shifts all weekend to clean up and set up. Barron has volunteered for this event for so long and with such jack-of-all-trades excellence that he’s in the horse show’s Hall of Fame.
In just minutes on Thursday, wind gusts of more than 70 miles per hour pobliterated eight huge tents with room for 615 horse stalls in addition to four smaller auxiliary hospitality tents.
Tents were lifted like parachutes going in the wrong direction, snapping ropes, bending and breaking poles of metal and wood, tearing heavy duty canvas asunder.
Gusts snapped 250 to 300 ropes that anchored tents to iron eyes set permanently in the asphalt. Hundreds of thick wooden tent poles blew through the air “like straw,” Barron said. Poles were launched across the street and deposited on the grounds of Salem Memorial Ballpark and up against the fence surrounding Salem Stadium. Just about all the tents were a total loss.
Bad as it was, luck was good. No horses were present. Humans had time to take cover. Nobody was hurt. It would have been different if the storm had arrived show week.
“There could have been lives and horses lost,” Barron said.
Show executive director Chelsea Hartberger, volunteer Leah Wilson — Barron’s daughter — Wilson’s baby, and others fled to the lower level concrete bathrooms of the detached show office building. Others who were in the ground floor office noticed the metal door bulging inward with the tempest and feared it would separate from its hinges.
The door held. So did a tarp Tommy Barron draped on that big heap of sawdust an hour or two before the storm. The cover was weighted with straw bales and 2-by-4s.
“Just trying to keep the sawdust out of the football stadium and storm drain,” Barron said.
In the wake of the storm, officials from the tent rental company gathered replacements from Pennsylvania and Louisville, Ky.
By early afternoon Friday, four of the eight barn tents were back up.
Friday evening before the volunteers went home, all tents were erect and rewired for lights so contractors could work through the night to install stalls.
Reputation was at stake. The show was recognized earlier this year as a United States Equestrian Federation Heritage Competition, a distinction that goes to shows in business 25 years or more. Also, the show must have contributed to the growth of the sport and been active in service to the community.
Proceeds from the non-profit show benefit the Bradley Free Clinic and a number of other local human service, environmental, conservancy, and equine causes.
“With its long tenure and many charitable contributions, the show exemplifies everything the USEF looks for when designating a Heritage Competition,” USEF chief executive officer John Long said when the award was announced.
A familiar mix of hunters, jumpers, saddlebreds, racking, roadsters, Western, Arabians, and hackney ponies will be in action day and night through Saturday. The $50,000 Grand Prix of Roanoke and 16 other championship classes finish up.
As usual, Aaron Vale will command attention in pro jumper classes. Vale is winner of a record 12 Grand Prix here including the last three. Evening jumper classes include the $5,000 Welcome Stake Tuesday, the $5,000 Open Jumper Speed Wednesday, Thursday’s $7,500 Open Stake, and the $5,000 Junior Amateur Owner Friday.
The big money saddle horse classes include the $2,000 Five Gaited Amateur, $2,000 Three Gaited Amateur, the $2,000 Fine Harness, the $3,500 Three Gaited, and $5,000 Five Gaited. All go Saturday night prior to the Prix, scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
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