After flood, club vowed to ‘saddle up again’ – and did
Friday, April 20, one year after the roaring floodwaters of Lick Creek swept away virtually everything at the Gainesville Saddle Club arena, cowboys and cowgirls pulled their trailers into town for a rodeo. “The very hard work from so many people paid off,” said Shawna Herd, former president of the club. “From the cleanup to fundraising to planning and rebuilding ... we made it. It really did my heart good to see all the horses, livestock, cowboys and cowgirls back in our little town.”
It’s been a long haul for the saddle club members, who had worked hard making improvements to the arena. Shortly before the flood, the club boasted a new announcer’s stand and cook shack, along with other additions made over the past few years.
With all the improvements made by the members, the Missouri High School Rodeo Association chose Gainesville as one of its rodeo locations, bringing hundreds of people into town. Trucks and trailers would fill the field next to the arena as cowboys and cowgirls, along with their families, arrived for a long weekend of rodeoing.
All those people, their trucks, trailers and horses were scheduled to be in Gainesville for the Missouri High School Rodeo on April 29-30, 2017. They would’ve been directly in the path of the raging Lick Creek. Ongoing rains had made the arena muddy, however, and saddle club officials canceled the rodeo for safety reasons on April 25. “What a blessing that we did not have all the high school rodeo trailers packed in there when the flood happened,” Herd said. “We could never have gotten them out in time.”
On April 26, the Missouri High School Rodeo Association posted a screenshot of the weekend weather forecast for Gainesville on Facebook, along with a colorful radar image showing the deep orange indicating heavy rain in the area and issued a note of thanks to the Gainesville rodeo committee “for making a responsible decision in order to keep everyone safe.”
As Lick Creek began overflowing its banks that Saturday, it swept away fence, pulled big boulders into the field and arena, piled trees and branches into the chutes and picked up the cook shack and carried it away. A video of the cook shack trailer riding the raging current went viral on social media and made the national news when ABC aired it with reports of flood damage in southern Missouri.
After the waters receded, the amount of damage was overwhelming, Herd said. Bleachers were torn up, and two of them completely gone. Giant trees were piled under the old, original announcer’s stand, which was mercifully still standing. Fence was twisted, and parts of it were gone. It was a mess: years of hard work, memories and dreams swept away.
In just a few days, though, fundraisers were planned, community donations started rolling in and people started showing up to help. One group spent a long day clearing brush after an anonymous person came in with a chainsaw to start the process. A family quietly brought in new sand for the arena, and many more spent untold hours working around the arena. “There are so many who helped in so many ways, we couldn’t possibly name them all,” Herd said. “We live in a great community.”
In addition to those who donated their time and labor, benefits were planned and desperately needed donations started coming in. A pulled pork supper was held at The Center. Cactus Ridge Resort and Cantina in Pontiac held a benefit dinner and concert. Other saddle clubs offered to help. “Caulfield allowed us to use their arena for the final rodeo of the year,” Herd said. “That helped us out so much.” Malina Berning sold T-shirts featuring the slogan “We will saddle up again!”
And they certainly did.
On Sunday, June 1, 2017, just one month after the devastating flood, club members held a fun show, with most of them proudly wearing their new T-shirts. Riders saddled up and competed in events like egg and spoon, musical poles and barrel racing. Keith Herd and Konnie Plumlee cooked hamburgers, everyone pitched in to help and it didn’t rain. “We had a great time that night. We have an awesome saddle club,” Herd said. “We know how to come together and how to improvise. No flood will take us down – we did ride again!”
Gainesville Saddle Club is holding a fun show at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 27. Stop by and see the progress they’ve made and maybe have a hamburger from the new cook shack.