On September 29th, 2022, the state of Florida was hit by one of the most powerful hurricanes in history. With the hurricane being a category 4 and bringing the threat of severe flooding and 155-mph winds, Floridian horse owners scrambled to find a safe place for their animals to ride out the storm. Impacts of the hurricane were going to be felt statewide, which meant thousands of people and animals had to evacuate immediately.
Welcomed With Open Arms
The World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida made the quick decision to open their facility to horses and other animals that needed to evacuate. On the night before Hurricane Ian was going to make landfall in Florida Vinnie Card, the director of operations at WEC, said they didn’t even need to advertise that they were opening up their facility. Between word of mouth and social media, WEC had filled to capacity with 3,000 horses and other animals in less than 48 hours.
While WEC is primarily known for its high-end equine facilities, they didn’t hesitate to let other animals find a safe place to stay. In addition to horses of all breeds, there were goats, kangaroos, donkeys, miniature horses, and even a tortoise who went to WEC to find shelter.
“We didn’t want anyone to have to leave anything behind that they cared about and loved,” said Vinnie.
They also had a veterinarian from the University of Florida on-site to help take care of the animals. Anxious horses were given gastro supplements and anything else they needed to stay calm and settle into their new environment.
Read More: 8 Tips To Prepare Your Barn for a Hurricane
Coming Together in a Time of Need
In addition to its concrete block barns, the World Equestrian Center offers hotels, houses to rent, restaurants, a large animal veterinary hospital, shopping, and more. While the facility was closed to the public during the storm, they did make room for emergency response teams and became a home base for FEMA to set up and provide support to the area.
“We have all of our essential staff here, plus a lot of staff decided to stay and help because we have our hotels filled with Duke Energy workers who are here as part of the emergency response teams. Our hospitality team decided to stay to make sure our staff, emergency responders, first responders, and evacuees get fed. They put their needs aside to be here at work instead of home with their families to help all of these people out,” said Vinnie.
Putting Horse Owner’s Minds at Ease
Because the World Equestrian Center is a newly-built facility and in the center of the state away from the coast, horse owners felt comfortable knowing their animals were going to be able to ride out the storm in the safest place possible.
“We are so grateful to WEC for opening their doors to us during Hurricane Ian. Not only is it a beautiful place, but the hurricane-rated barns really put us at ease when evacuating our horses,” said Jacqueline Penny, who took two of her older horses to WEC to evacuate.
Many of the evacuees stayed in the hotel during the storm, and some are still staying there because their homes and barns were destroyed in the storm. Because some of the horses were able to go home soon after the storm hit, WEC has been able to take in more horses and horse owners who lost their homes during the hurricane.
“It’s nice to be able to help out the community and the most important thing is helping out horse owners and making sure their horses have shelter and are in a safe place,” said Vinnie.