NORMAN — Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, then 14-year-old Cortney Townsend, came to the rescue of a 16-year-old Ohio girl whom she had never met. Veronica Llewellyn of Wadsworth, Ohio, arrived in Oklahoma after an 1,100-mile trip to compete in the 2011 Grand National and World Championship Morgan Horse Show, only to find that her horse, Rebel, was sick and wouldn’t be able to compete. Cortney had been preparing Gulfwind Wild Finale, know as Rocky, for competition, but she was not showing at that time. Rocky and Llewellyn made a winning combination and captured the Low Working Hunter Reserve World Champion title, and also won the Grand National Hunter Seat Equitation 17 and Under Over Fences class and were a strong third in the AMHA Over Fences Medal Class.
Gulfwind Wild Finale “Rocky” is a champion, high strung and not easily loaded into a horse trailer.
In the midst of wildfires and 113-degree heat, Cortney Townsend made a harrowing five-mile ride to get Rocky away from danger.
Cortney began the hot and windy morning of Aug. 3 at Celtic Cross Equestrian Center in Norman, where she volunteers and trains for the 2012 Grand National and World Championship Morgan Horse Show.
It was about noon when Cortney said she, her trainer Marilee Tussing, and Mike Bomesberger, the barn manager smelled smoke.
“We saw white smoke, then it turned black, and it was coming closer,” Cortney said. “We began moving horses by horse trailers to Thunderbird Stables.”
It was a frantic race for a time as Marilee Tussing, owner of Celtic Cross, contacted owners to alert them of the fire, and they began moving the 20 horses, among them two pregnant Clydesdale mares.
Smoke and fire seemed to surround them.
“The fire was coming straight at us at Thunderbird and we had to move again,” Cortney said. “Rocky has trouble loading and he wouldn’t get in the trailer. I either had to leave Rocky or ride him to the barn at Thunder Valley Ranch on 108th St.”
She called her grandparents, Edward and Betty Edwards of Norman, and told them what she planned to do.
“I was scared,” Betty Edwards said. “Cortney wouldn’t leave that horse for anything.”
The grandparents knew Cortney was in danger but were unable to help her because by the time they were aware of the situation Highway 9 had closed. They said they began to pray.
Fleeing the Fires
“I had no saddle, no bridle or bit,” Cortney said. “Rocky was really nervous, and all I had was a rope and his halter. That was it, and there were cars all around me on Highway 9. It was like the world’s gone mad, and I thought, don’t look back, just keep going forward.”
They stopped once for shade and water, but Cortney said it seemed to make things worse. A person with a horse trailer offered to help, though Cortney said she knew Rocky wouldn’t get in.
“I thought that ride would never end,” Cortney said.
At Thunder Valley Ranch there was water, grass and a short time to run in the pasture.
The respite was short lived as the wind shifted and they had to keep moving. This time Rocky, the hardheaded champion who likes to show off in the show ring, cooperated.
He got in the horse trailer and was transported to Robinson Equestrian Center in Oklahoma City where he is staying until training begins again at Celtic Cross Equestrian, where the arena is the only thing left standing.
The only recognizable items left from the fire are burned bits and stirrups, and the melted remains of Tussing’s grandmother’s china.
“We got all of our people out, all the horses, dogs and even the barn cats,” Tussing said. Once we get water, fences and hay we will have our barn family back together again.”
Tussing said her riding school is dedicated to equestrian education and the glory of God, and things will continue.
“I am exhausted right now, but I have to keep going,” she said. “I am a music teacher at Southgate Elementary School in Moore. I have been there 31 years, and my music life and farm life make a great life. I love it.”
She said she isn’t angry and needs to save her energy to keep going and concentrate on immediate needs.
“I just need some hay, that’s the biggest need,” she said.