Horsemen for Holly benefits "Race trackers" |

Horsemen for Holly benefits "Race trackers"

article and photos by Lincoln Rogers
Parker, Colo.
Lincoln Rogers

He is a “race tracker”, an affectionate nickname describing those involved in the sport of horse racing. His family has bred and trained thoroughbred horses in Holly, Colo., for over 50 years, and he was there on that fateful day in March 2007… the day a tornado changed the town forever.

“We were home and we were lucky enough to get to the basement,” said Shannon Rushton, a big man working hard to remember that day in a calm tone of voice. “We came back out and everything was gone.”

“Everything” was his house, its contents, and all three family vehicles. In less than a minute, the life of his family (and that of seven other racing families) hurtled down a stretch they never saw coming.

“We had no warning,” Rushton described of nature’s sudden violence. “We just felt the pressure change in our house and my wife said, ‘We better get to the basement.’ We got my three kids and her down(stairs) and I got the door this close to being closed,” he described, raising his large hands about a foot apart in length.

“It ripped the door out of my hands, blew me down the stairs and through a wall and into some shelves.” His voice was still calm, but it was evident the fresh memory was anything but. “About 20 seconds later it was over.”

What goes through a husband and father’s mind during a time like that?

“You just hope your family is okay,” he revealed, keeping his emotions in check during the interview. “Everything else can be replaced.”

While material possessions can be replaced, the financial repercussion of losing everything is severe. The eight horse racing families based in Holly experienced losses totaling over $700,000. In such an emergency, a tight-knit extended family is invaluable, even if they aren’t biologically related.

“They’re family,” stated Gail Castor about everyone in the Rocky Mountain racing community. Castor has been training Quarter Horses for racing since 1983, with many of those years based in Holly. While her operation is currently located in Wellington, Colo., she couldn’t pick up the telephone fast enough to see how they were doing.

“I have a lot of friends that live (in Holly),” Castor explained. “I called and tried to check on all of them. We tried to help as much as we could.”

That desire to help brought about the concept of Horsemen For Holly, a fundraising benefit intended to provide financial help to the eight racing families caught inside the tornado’s path of destruction. In about a month’s time, Castor (who also serves on the Board of Directors for the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association) oversaw the development of a fundraiser held during Memorial Day weekend at Arapahoe Park, the opening weekend of the year for the Colorado racetrack. The benefit included a silent auction, a barbecue, and a live auction held after Saturday’s schedule of races.

Judging by the effort put into the event, not only is the racing community in the Rocky Mountain region a tight-knit group, the entire racing community appears to have each other’s back. Autographed memorabilia appearing in the silent auction and live auction was all the evidence needed to support the conviction. World famous jockeys Pat Day and Gary Stevens autographed numerous objects specifically for the benefit, and rodeo legend Ty Murray (who grew up in a horse racing family) added several items for the cause. Despite their stature, the trio returned Castor’s phone calls faster than a … well … faster than a racehorse exploding out of the gate.

“I got tremendous response from Ty Murray, Pat Day and Gary Stevens,” stated Castor. “Stevens’ number was a little tough to get now that he’s a movie star (playing a large role as a jockey in the successful feature film, ‘Seabiscuit’),” she said with a laugh. “But I got his number and he called me back within 30 minutes.

We just started getting donations and they’re coming in right and left,” she continued about the support leading up to the May 26 benefit at Arapahoe Park. “Of those eight families (devastated by the tornado), this is for them. We’re going to have a committee that is going to go in and look at what each family suffered, we got their professional appraisals, and then we’re going to try and distribute it in a fair manner.”

All the hard work and effort is touching to the eight families targeted for help.

“It’s hard to talk about,” answered Rushton when asked for his feelings regarding the outpouring of financial assistance. “I’ve grown up in this industry. My dad was a trainer from 1964, and still is. I’ve grown up around these people … they were always a special group of people to us before. They are even more so now.”

No matter the breed involved, horse people are like family. Helping each other out is what family does.

Horsemen For Holly is still accepting donations to help eight families who experienced over $700,000 in tornado damage.

Checks made out to “Horsemen For Holly” may be sent to:

Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association (RMQHA)

318 Livestock Exchange

Denver, Colo., 80216

Fundraising Update:

As of May 30, 2007, over $25,000 has been raised through the Horsemen For Holly benefit, with donations still coming in from other racetracks and the general public. v


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