A barn employee and 16 horses have died as a result of a barn fire Thursday that destroyed grand prix jumper rider Karen Cudmore’s Heartland Farms in Bennington, Nebraska.
Groom Nate Dietrich, 32, has been identified as the person who died in the fire, reportedly while trying to save the horses. A firefighter was transported to a local hospital and was treated and released.
On Thursday, Feb. 3, nine horses were reported dead, and 10 were being treated for injuries. As of Feb. 7, all but three of those rescued had succumbed to their injuries. Among those who died were the Holsteiner stallion Southern Pride and Cudmore’s grand prix show jumper Coneja.
The fire started around 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 3, and firefighters worked until that afternoon to extinguish it. About 120 people battled difficult conditions in single-degree weather.
An investigation is ongoing, but 3 News Now Omaha reports the cause of the fire was accidental. The station broadcast footage from the fire:
About 50 horses live on the property, and the structure, which also contains three apartments and an office, was about 35,000 square feet. The farm breeds Holsteiner and Holsteiner-Thoroughbred crosses and stood the Holsteiner stallion Southern Pride.
The farm is owned by Cudmore and her husband, Blair Cudmore, who’ve been in the area for 30 years. Daughter Brooke Cudmore is also a professional rider at the farm. Karen represented Canada at the 2003 Pan American Games (Dominican Republic), two FEI World Cup Finals and the 2002 FEI World Equestrian Games (Spain) and most recently competed homebred Coneja in grand prix classes.
Karen and Brooke were in California competing at the time of the fire, but Karen and Blair’s other daughter, Kiley Cudmore, was on site to help with rescue efforts.
“All 10 horses that were pulled from the fire went right next door to Serenity Ridge where they received 24-hour, around-the-clock care from veterinarians as well as several volunteers,” said Dannee Risler Urban, a trainer at nearby Flying Change Farm. “Unfortunately as of this morning [Feb. 7], only three of the horses have survived. They were stable enough to move over to Nebraska Equine Veterinary Clinic where they’ll continue their treatment, and hopefully these ones will pull through.”
Urban grew up in Canada watching Karen ride on TV and at Spruce Meadows, and she got the chance to work at Heartland Farms 17 years ago. She’s had several students buy horses from the Cudmore family, and she says they’re an integral part of the Omaha horse community.
“They’ve not only bred and raised horses to the top level of our sport, but they’ve also bred and provided well-tempered and kind horses to become partners to riders of all ages and abilities,” she said. “Throughout the years they’ve also mentored many aspiring riders and trainers who are now professionals in the industry all over the country.”
“Karen’s one of the nicest, toughest people I think I’ve ever met,” she continued. “She’s always one to lend a hand to anybody that needs it. She’s just always friendly and positive and helpful. If this were to happen to anybody else, the Cudmores would be stepping in to help. I think it’s important we all help them right now.”
A GoFundMe has been set up to help with costs. Omaha Equestrian Foundation also set up a fundraiser to help the Cudmore family and Dietrich’s family.
Calls and messages to Karen and Brooke have been unanswered.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated Feb. 7 with new details.