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Suspicious fire levels indoor horse arena

A couple often called upon to rescue abandoned horses are in need of help themselves after an overnight fire leveled their indoor horse arena early Monday.

The blaze -- which has been deemed suspicious -- struck a barn used for training at the SMC Equestrian Riding Center, at 6110 Robinson Road, at about 2:30 a.m.

Owners Christopher L. and Shannon M. White were distraught Monday afternoon as they surveyed the smoldering remains of the 1950s-era barn, which they had been renovating into a full-time riding stable for the past two years.

"It may not look like much right now, but that's what we got," Christopher White said. "We were trying to rehab this whole place. We were just getting there. And this [riding center] is such a big part of what we do."

He said a new electrical system, which had not been not hooked up yet, new jumps, a new viewing lounge and fencing were lost in the fire. Two lawnmowers outside the barn melted from the intense heat.

There was no insurance for the more than $70,000 in losses, because the couple couldn't get any until they completed the renovations, Christopher White said.

"I'm not usually so emotional, but the kids have worked their butts off so long to get their horses ready," he said. "Their first big horse show is this upcoming weekend, and literally all their stuff was inside the arena when it burned down."

His wife said she awoke early Monday "and the entire living room was bright from the fire."

Investigators were called in from several police agencies, as were K-9 units. Christopher White said investigators told him "there was no way it could have burnt the way it did" if the fire wasn't deliberately set.

"You hate to think that someone could have done something like this on purpose," he said.

He said that as the business has been rebuilding over the past two years, its online advertising has been flagged and people have posted nasty comments on the Internet.

White, 48, and his wife, 34, met a few years ago through their shared love of horses. They married in January and live on the family farm that she grew up on and inherited from her grandmother.

The SMC Equestrian Center -- SMC stands for Shannon, her grandfather, Mel, and Christopher -- derives nearly 80 percent of its business revenue from the riding center, the couple said.

Intermediate string overflow Cannot justify line They also open their center to troubled youths who need to complete community service work and offer free riding lessons to young people who help out at the center.

Now the Whites are looking for help. The couple said they especially need help erecting a fence along Robinson Road. They also are looking for someone to donate or lend them jumps, so their riders can practice. Anyone able to help is asked to call Christopher White at 785-7495 or visit the center's website at smcequestrian.com.

"This is going to take some time," Christopher White said, "but we will figure it out. I don't quit."

email: nfischer@buffnews.com