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<em>Journal</em>

An Oso Strong Horse Community

A small Washington community, including AQHA members, comes together to provide aid to displaced residents and grieving family after the recent deadly mudslide.

By Malee Powell
The American Quarter Horse Journal
April 9, 2014

The ranch crew at Rhodes River Ranch packed down the arena dirt to allow space for tables and chairs during a fundraiser for displaced victims of the Oso mudslide in Washington. Photo courtesy of David Etsell.

On a typical day, Rhodes River Ranch in Oso, Washington, is a facility dedicated to raising, breeding and training American Quarter Horses for performance events, including 2012 AQHA senior reining world champion Whizkey N Diamonds. But this past weekend, the ranch cleared the arena for a cause: the Oso Strong Mudslide Benefit Fundraiser.

Bonnie Rose, the executive chef and manager of The Restaurant at Rhodes River Ranch, knew she needed to do something after the March 22 mudslide tore through the small community of Oso.

According to Q13 Fox News, rain is the main blame for the 1,500-foot-wide segment of hillside sliding, which left 35 people dead and 10 missing.

“It is mind-boggling what happened,” Bonnie said. “We have employees that have lost family members.”

And with a major highway blocked, many Oso and Darrington residents are cut off from their jobs and sources of money, Bonnie said. The fundraiser, held on April 5, aimed to help those affected by the mudslide, with all the proceeds from the event going to the Oso Volunteer Fire Department so they can disperse the donations among the community members in need.

AQHA member and reining competitor David Etsell of Arlington, Washington, made an observation as he poured beer for fundraiser attendees Saturday night.

“There has been a lot of praying, a lot of crying and a lot of stress,” Dave said. But the fundraiser enabled a different emotion to emerge. “It was like the beginning of the healing process.”

Although organizers don’t know the final amount of donations collected, Bonnie said the facility welcomed nearly 1,300 people to the event. Donations came in the form of cash and time, as well as items and services for the live and silent auction.

Dave said donations included everything from horseback-riding lessons to brand-new, high-quality tools, and even a custom chrome fire extinguisher with “Oso Strong” powder coated on it, which brought in more than $10,000 for the cause.

What started as a small, simple event, Bonnie says, turned into a fundraiser bigger than organizers ever imagined.

“We had donations come from everywhere,” she said. “It was just a flood of our community saying, ‘How can we help?’ ”

The ranch crew seated people in the restaurant and even packed down the arena dirt so there was more space for tables and chairs.

“That really is commitment to the cause to pack down the arena,” Dave said. “They’ve probably got some of the nicest footing for reining horses in the country.”

After the mudslide, Rhodes River Ranch is the only accessible establishment in the small town of Oso, population 180. It has also become a main drop-off site for donations – horse-related or otherwise.

The fundraiser wasn’t the ranch’s first stride toward helping in the aftermath of the mudslide. With the ranch being only a couple of miles from the mudslide, it provided nearly 20 displaced horses with a pasture to stay in, Bonnie said.

“Oso strong,” Bonnie said. “That’s what we are here.”

Due to the success of this fundraiser, Bonnie said the ranch plans to host another smaller fundraising event May 2.  

To read more about Rhodes River Ranch or stay updated with upcoming fundraiser details, visit www.rhodesriverranch.com.