While most evacuating Floridians loaded food, toiletries and gas into their cars as Hurricane Irma approached the U.S. coastline two weeks ago, some were more concerned about packing hay, tack and stall shavings into their horse trailers as they looked for a dryer place to evacuate their equines to.
For a few, that place was Auburn, Alabama. Monique Carlone, who attended Auburn University, owns and operates her boarding, training and lesson business, FHG LLC, in Naples, Florida. Her farm is about two and a half miles from the beach.
With Irma’s projected path set to come directly through Naples, Carlone needed to evacuate three of her horses. She contacted Stephanie Counts, trainer at Silver Lining Equestrian Center in Auburn, whom Carlone knew and had worked for during college.
Tania and Steve DiCarlo, owners of Benchmark Equestrian, also located in Naples, brought 37 horses from their hunter/jumper training facility to H & G Horse Quarters, a 130-acre equestrian center in Auburn.
From a Facebook post and other communications, word spread that H & G was accepting evacuated horses, and they eventually received 130 from Florida.
“We’re set up,” she said. “We’ve got 150 stalls in a show barn, and they were just sitting empty ready to take evacuees.”
H & G brought in over a thousand bags of shavings, about 300 bales of hay and hired some extra help in preparation for the Florida horses.
The trek from Naples to Auburn was a long one for all the evacuees, but especially for those pulling horse trailers. Carlone said. She packed up her “whole life,” horses and all.
“They brought up 27 horses in the first run, and then the guy had to go all the way back,” Kimball McIlvaine, a boarder at Benchmark Equestrian and a good friend of the DiCarlos, said.
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The first trip was 17 hours. Carlone said she left with her three horses ahead of the weather, but not the traffic. What is normally an eight hour drive became 10.
She made a stop in Ocala where she was able to find stalls for her horses to stay at the Florida Horse Park, but no place for herself. She slept in the back of her truck.
“I get to Ocala, no hotel rooms,” she said. “Nothing between Gainesville to almost Tampa. Nothing. Not a single room.”
“The following morning at 2 a.m. we were up, and we had horses on a trailer at 3:30 a.m.,” Carlone said.
The most stressful part was the stress it would put on the animals. Fletcher said for the horses that had been on a trailer for more than twelve hours.
Leaving Florida has been a costly trip for all evacuees and feeding and stabling horses adds an even greater expense. Carlone spent $60 to keep her horses in Ocala for two nights.
One of the trailers Benchmark Equestrian brought down was completely filled with horse feed and gear. Many of the horses from Benchmark Equestrian are show horses and are taken to competitions often.
The evacuees are assessing the damage back home as they decide how long to stay in Auburn. Fletcher said besides Benchmark, most of the evacuees they received have returned home.
“On my street, there wasn’t a lot of structural damage, but there were a lot of limbs down, trees down, power poles as well as some fencing damage,” Carlone said. “Three power poles on my street snapped in half.” At Benchmark, there was no structural damage to the barns.
“So many of our friends, they’ve lost their barns,” McIlvaine said. They have stayed a total of two weeks and spoke highly of Auburn calling it “heaven on Earth.”