NICHOLS, N.Y. (WETM) – One week ago, today on Thursday Nov. 9, an accused arsonist set fire to a barn at Tioga Downs Casino. That barn was housing 30 horses, all of whom passed away.

Mindy Findling Repko is one of the several horse owners who are starting to settle into their new reality.

“There are no words. I am truly gutted that I am not waking up from a nightmare,” explained Repko. “I won’t be able to call and ask how my boys are today. It’s not going to happen.” 

As an owner of 5 horses who perished in last week’s barn fire, the wound is still so fresh. Currently, Repko is in Indiana checking in on her other horses in that state.   She describes the moment she heard the news.

“I heard my husband’s phone ring early in the morning and I wondered who could be calling so early. I heard him say the horse’s barn was on fire,” she explained. “As I was walking down the hall, I heard him say they were all gone. I froze. I can only imagine the look on my face of stark terror. I just got hysterical.”

On top of the unexpected losses of animals she has had for years, the guilt was also indescribable.

“I made a promise to these horses that they always had us. They always had a home. They would never have to worry about anything,” Repko said. “I could not fulfill that promise.”

Repko was heavily involved in the lives of Schlitz, Mac, Oliver, George and Larry. Her and her husband owned three and owned the other 2 in partnership. But they weren’t just horses. She describes them as a part of her family.

“My horses would lay their heads on my shoulder or wrap themselves around my neck,” explained Repko. “Another one of them loved getting his ear scratched.”

This tragedy has affected horse owners and trainers all across the country. 

Jessica Hallett is a fellow horse owner who spent years competing at Tioga Downs. She explains how the bond a horseman has with their horses is much deeper than the naked eye can see.

“They are like our children. They are a part of our lives that matter so much. We know them and their stories. We want to tell everyone they mean so much to us,” explained Hallett. “The most important thing to us are these horses. I’m still in a state of shock. None of this makes sense.”

While some may have questions that go unanswered for quite some time, the outreach and support from the community has been immense.

“I’ve had people reach out to me that I’ve never met before with condolences,” said Repko. “You compete on the racetrack but once the competition is over, you work together.”

“We have people contacting us from across the world. We don’t know them, but they’re there to help with this cause. It’s just amazing to see,” expressed Hallett.

While Hallett did not lose any horses on Nov. 9, she had an understanding of what these horsemen were going through. On top of owning horses, Hallett has always been a writer. After hearing the news, she wanted to write a tribute to Tioga Downs so people who are not a part of the horse racing community could have an understanding of who these horses were. She reached out to the owners asking them to share a few words describing their animals and the response was overwhelming. 

“I did not write it for views or followers, likes or shares. I wrote it to tell their stories,” explained Hallett. “They are more than just 30 horses. They are more than just race horses. They had nicknames and personalities. I think everyone should know that.” 

If you would like to donate to help some of these horsemen get back on their feet, there is a GoFundMe organized on behalf of Southern Tier Harness Horsemens Association that has raised over $180,000 so far.

According to another GoFundMe, a man named Sparky put his own life on the line and ran into the fire, trying to save any horses he could. He suffered multiple burns and injuries. The GoFundMe raising money for Sparky states, “No amount of money can ever bring back their equine family, but it can help them rebuild, get back on their feet and help with medical bills.” 

The 30 horses that perished in last week’s barn fire have been given a proper burial on the back stretch of Tioga Downs. 

Below is the list of names of the 30 horses who passed away:

  • Always Smooth, 2
  • Better Call Saul, 11
  • Birdie Three, 3
  • Blazin Mooss, 4
  • Buzzards R Flying, 2
  • Da Boogie Man, 6
  • Danzon Hanover, 5
  • Diamond Express, 2
  • Fireside Tail, 1
  • Grant Me This, 8
  • Hall It Off, 6
  • Hot Shot Joe, 3
  • Hunts Point, 4
  • Ideal Chance, 6
  • Its Rigged, 7
  • Karpathos, 22
  • Lone Wolf American, 4
  • Market Mayhem, 5
  • Mc Mach, 9
  • My Delight, 8
  • Payara, 5
  • Pineapple Sundae, 3
  • Pocket Watch N, 7
  • Prairie Dutchess, 5
  • Ruff Montana Lane, 3
  • Sd Watch Me Now, 5
  • Silverhill Misty, 8
  • Slave Labour, 4
  • Violence, 4
  • Unnamed Yearling, 1