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Q&A: Lightning Survivor Shares His Story
Scott Knudsen Shares the Power of Positivity

Just ahead of lightning safety awareness week, we caught up with Scott Knudsen. He is a lightning survivor, 5th generation Texas cowboy and inspirational speaker. In 2005, his life flashed before his eyes after being struck by lightning, despite the clear blue skies above him. Since then, Scott has dedicated his life to bringing awareness to this natural phenomena that can cause serious bodily harm, and in some cases, be fatal. To learn more about his journey, take a look at the Q&A below.

Scott Knudsen with his American Quarter Horse “Hippie Hollywood” (better known as “Vaquero” around the barn) and his dog, Dusty, home on their range at Lightning K Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Credit: Scott Knudsen

Q: What ran through your mind once you realized that you had been struck by lightning?

A: It is always a joke you hear, but you never think is true—as good a chance as being hit by lightning. It wasn’t raining and there were hardly any clouds. There was a storm about 10-15 miles away. Then, we heard the loudest bang and saw the brightest light.

It took a while for me to realize anything. All I saw was a bright light and a loud noise. When I could almost process a thought, I was first concerned about my family and the ranch animals. It was my daughter’s first birthday and we were at the barn. I was holding her in my left arm and my wife was on my right side.

The lightning went in front of my wife, hurting her ears and eyes. It went in my head and out my hand—the same arm I was holding my baby in. It hit the ground, raising the water pipes in the backyard (more than 300 yards away) and blowing out the electricity. It was incredible. When we could talk, we couldn’t believe what just happened. It was like a dream—a bad dream. Once we made it to the house (about 400 yards from the barn), I tried to dial the hospital. My computer was next to the phone and I was trying to dial the landline from my keyboard!

The goal was to get help as soon as we realized what happened. I didn’t want to be a negative statistic. I wanted to survive. We were in the ER room most of the night. We were blessed that our daughter was fine. Not a bruise. My wife did get better. I had to learn to read and write again.

Q: After sustaining such serious injuries, how has the recovery process been coming along? And what advice do you have for others who are looking to overcome such a traumatic experience?

A: Find the positive and go with that every day. It took a while until I could work, drive, read and write again, but I was able to spend time at home with my wife and baby. I wouldn’t have had as much time with them if I wasn’t hit. It took many months before I could drive. They would take me down to the barn, so I could be with the horses. It was tough. We overcame what happened. It made us closer as a family. It taught me to slow down – some. Believe me, I cherish every minute of every day. It’s also where our Lightning K brand and the ranch name came from. I didn’t run away from the test. I used it to advance my life and my business.

I learned a lot about the power of being positive from being hit.  Even though I had some memory loss, I learned new things and how to pay attention to every minute. And, maybe others can benefit from what I went through by learning from what happened to me. I will never say my recovery is complete…it’s not. I will say, I am in a very good place and working every day to be better.

Q: In 2018, you founded the Extreme Trail Horse Association, which is home to more than 30 parks in the U.S. and Canada. How have you been using this platform to bring awareness to lightning safety?

A: If people have more information about lightning storms, there is a better chance that they will have a plan to avoid them, or at least survive. It is something we talk about. The more people are talking, not only about lightning, but extreme weather events as a whole, the safer everyone will be.

Interestingly, when we’re on the road with Cowboy Entrepreneur, the lightning story has become part of the most popular talks I do across the country, particularly since COVID hit. People always ask, “Did it hurt? Do you remember anything?”  People ask what the brand of the ranch means, where it came from, and how we got the name of the ranch. It’s another way we’re trying to bring awareness to the severity of lightning strikes.

Q: As a lightning survivor, you know that extreme weather can strike at any time even when the skies are blue directly overhead. What safety and preparation tips would you give to those looking to enjoy an outdoor sport like horseback riding?

A: Always be aware. I was raised outdoors. The key to being outdoors is to be aware of your surroundings. The weather is always changing, especially here in Texas, and even on a clear day you need to be aware.

In a way, your horse is your personal weather alert system. When you’re out riding, especially when there’s no cell service, listen to your horse. They pay attention to all the little details—that’s why you’ve got to listen to them.

When you’re riding, you can feel a horse getting tense. Their body gets tight, they elevate their necks, and their ears start twitching. What they’re doing is trying to figure out what’s going on and alerting the other horse—and us, too, if we listen to them.

I know that the work that the National Weather Service is doing is so great and saves lives. Hopefully, I can help be a voice for that.

Note from the editor: And always remember, when thunder roars, go indoors or if you see a flash, dash inside. Check the forecast before you head out, and if the forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone outdoor activities until it is safe. If you are outdoors and you hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning. Immediately seek indoor shelter.