On the evening of May 29th, Pam Kuster had just come home from a Special Olympics meeting with her son Scott. Her husband Eric was home already, and as they began sorting the mail a thunderstorm rolled in.
For Pam, Eric and Scott, home is a special place—they share their property with the 44 horses of Worthmore Equestrian Center, a riding, boarding, and therapy center they started in 2003.
Worthmore and its facilities have withstood two hurricanes, constant high winds, and countless sudden thunderstorms. So when Wednesday’s storm hit, Pam wasn’t too concerned. In fact, the horses were all spending the night outside in the paddocks and pastures, as is normal in good weather.
And then a tree came down over her porch.
“I turned around and looked out the back door… and I’m watching our big honey locust… Just so you have perspective, we have been here through two hurricanes. We were here for Isabel. We were here for Sandy. And I’ve never seen that tree move like that.
“The bushes… I’m surprised they actually stood back up because they were laying on the ground. And the rain came horizontal.
“And I saw sheet metal fly.”
Watching stunned from her kitchen window, Pam immediately assumed the roof was coming off the old barn, which has stood on the property for 80 years.
But when she opened the door to get a clearer picture, she received a total shock.
Their indoor arena was totally gone.
“Eric yelled, ‘Don’t even think about going out there,’” Pam recalls. Of course, he knew she was thinking about the horses in the 10 paddocks downwind from the indoor, completely out of sight.
“It was awful…knowing that the horses were out there in this mess.”
Genna Kuster, Pam’s daughter who works and teaches at Worthmore, remembers getting a call.
“Mom called me and she said, ‘Genna, the indoor has gone down and I can’t see the horses over the wreckage.’ And I pictured…” Genna gestures down an imaginary hill. “…dead horses. I thought that BP, Fancy, Musette, Byz… were gone.”
“We have to go to the side paddocks, because we have horses out. And to come through that barn and to see that first paddock, and all the metal in that first paddock… and there was no horse in the paddock.
“There was so much metal, it was like, ‘Okay, he’s got to be dead under the metal.’ Where else are you going to go?”
The horse they were looking for was Trojan Fan, a 12 year old gelding owned by a family in Tennessee.
Miraculously, Trojan had managed to escape the paddock and was several yards away, standing near the other horses.
He hadn’t escaped without injuries, though.
Pam immediately called her vet, who made it to Worthmore in 5 minutes and spent three straight hours giving Trojan hundreds of stitches.
“He was incredible. He just stood. You know, after 2 hours of suturing to then say he started to get a little dicy? That’s an amazing animal.
“The first day we really weren’t sure if he was going to make it. [But] I’m feeling really positive. He’s going to come through.”
Worthmore isn’t just home to Pam, Eric, Scott, and the horses. It’s a second home for many others on the Eastern Shore as well.
Dozens of special-needs children from six local schools come to the barn weekly through the Kent Association of Riding Therapy (KART) program. Dozens more, both with and without disabilities, take private lessons as well. Disabled adults spend time with horses each summer through KART’s Easterseals Camp Fairlee. Bridges at Worthmore serves veterans and their families, at-risk youth, and children of incarcerated families. KART and Bridges also work in partnership to run programs for the Kent Center and local veterans. Kent County Parks and Recreation runs programs at Worthmore for kids that have never been around a horse. And for adults who haven’t been around horses, Worthmore serves as an Equine Discovery Center, which provides guided and supervised horse experiences.
And amidst all of these programs, countless people seek out Worthmore’s horses to ground themselves in the midst of a busy, sterile, technology-filled world.
All of those people and programs relied on the indoor arena.
The indoor arena is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It allows programs to run rain or shine. It contained lighting, fans, a video security system, a ramp and lift to allow wheelchair-bound people to ride, and large mirrors on the walls to let riders evaluate their posture. Private horse owners and students of Worthmore alike used the arena constantly.
And while insurance will cover the replacement of the building, they won’t cover many of those lost assets, nor the lost revenue from programs that won’t be able to run while construction is underway.
“Normally we do all of our sessions in the indoor,” Pam said. That means that with the indoor down, there’s no conceivable way they can run Camp Fairlee. As for their other summer camps and their regular lessons, they’re hoping to find a way to continue them.
But they will have to reimagine what that will look like without the indoor arena.
“That building has changed more lives than I can even tell you,” Pam says.
She doesn’t have to tell you—it’s easy to see. On Friday, people brought donuts, coffee, muffins, soup, and homemade lasagna all in the space of an hour. The wall outside the office is stacked with water bottles and iced tea. On Saturday, only two days after the news got out, people are chopping up felled trees, taking over horse chores, sharing the story on social media, and pooling their talents and connections for future plans. Volunteers are clearing debris with whatever they have, whether it’s their hands, their trucks, or a backhoe.
Avery, a Worthmore riding student who’s on the spectrum, called Pam in hysterics, saying “We have to rebuild. This has to happen. Nobody understands.” She offered Pam her life savings—$500 in a lock box—to help rebuild the arena.
“I am honestly so thankful for the people I’m surrounded by,” Pam said with quiet honesty. “Because it really was like a death, where you’re kind of wandering. You can’t really think about what you need.”
By Saturday afternoon, people had donated over $5000 through Worthmore’s GoFundMe campaign. Worthmore is hoping to eventually raise up to $200,000, not only for the rebuilding costs that insurance won’t cover, but also to keep the horses fed and cared until they can get their programs running again.
And, of course, to help pay for Trojan’s ongoing medical costs.
On Saturday, Trojan was bright-eyed and moving around his stall, looking to visitors for scratches and munching from a huge pile of hay. He seems to enjoy being the center of attention now that he lives in the stall closest to the office.
The worry at this point is that the numerous drugs in his system will ruin his appetite and his health will start to deteriorate.
“In retrospect, one injury out of 44 animals… it’s a godsend. I chalk it up to God. I really honestly do. All I have to say is, ‘Well, I’m not exactly sure why. It’s not important that I know why. But he’s got something else going on.’ But seriously… I always look at it for a higher reason. There has to be something. Why else are we here?”
But that higher reason won’t happen without continuing support.
“We appreciate anything—anything—anybody can do. Whether it’s five dollars, whether it’s a donation of a mounting block, whether it’s a donation for a lesson for somebody, or a therapy session for somebody. Hands on deck are going to be really important over the coming weeks.”
Worthmore will be posting updates and instructions on their Facebook page and website (www.worthmoreequestrian.com) for those looking to volunteer.
As for Scott, who has autism, it took him a while before he was able to process the big change.
“Indoor arena X X,” he told his mom on Friday morning.
To Scott, X X means “destroyed.”
“Yes. Indoor arena X X,” Pam replied. “But we’re going to build a new one. We’re going to fix it.”
“Indoor arena X X… fix it,” he repeated.
And with the help of the community, they will.
For those looking to donate, please visit www.gofundme.com and search for “Worthmore Equestrian Center,” or make a check payable to Worthmore Equestrian Center and mail it to 11570 Still Pond Rd, Worton, MD 21678.
Links to their GoFundMe page and their Venmo can also be found on their Facebook page. 2Follow their progress on Facebook or at www.worthmoreequestrian.com.