Prepping for Hurricane Irma: Horse community unites to stay safe

Source: Text by Whitney Wilson and Mackenzie Patterson

The calm before the storm at the Bradac Ranch South.

For the second time in less than a month the horse community is reaching out to help each other in the wake of adversity.

In late August, a major relief effort — consisting of both monetary and supply donations — was coordinated to aid horses and their caretakers in Texas and Louisiana impacted by Hurricane Harvey’s catastrophic flooding. The Category 4 hurricane, set a Continental U.S. record, dumping 51.9 inches of rain.

And now, Category 5 Hurricane Irma is on a perilous path toward the United States with Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina already declaring a state of emergency.

“It has become more likely that Irma will make landfall in southern Florida as a dangerous major hurricane, and bring life-threatening storm surge and wind impacts to much of the state,” the hurricane center said.

South Florida residents should take shelter by Friday night and stay there, with the outer bands of Hurricane Irma expected to arrive Saturday morning, bringing hazardous winds and the risk of tornadoes, the National Weather Service said.

Horse owners in that area are making tough decisions about their own safety as well as the safety of their beloved animals. Many are working feverishly preparing to stay and try to protect their livestock and property. Others are heeding the warnings and traveling to safer locations. All over the United States there are offers to help those in harm’s way with stalls, pastures, apartments and even transportation.

Kerry Bradac has decided to stay.

Bradac has 40-plus horses at her Bradac Ranch South in Ocala, Florida. She said her decision to stay and ride out whatever the storm brings is based on the difficulty involved in moving such a large operation.

Extra generators to keep horses watered.

“We have three generators and hopefully are picking up the fourth, that I ordered online, to keep the horses watered and we have more hay getting delivered,” she said.

In addition to making special preparations to care for the horses, Bradac is stocking up on other necessities, like gasoline, batteries, water, diesel fuel and food, for the farm and house.

“With all that said, I’m scared,” she said. “It shouldn’t flood here. The biggest worries are trees and tornadoes.”

Most of the Augsberger family, on the other hand, decided not to stay. Andrew and Lori Collier Augsberger own Pinetree Quarter Horses in Loxahatchee, Florida.

“If it comes in like they are saying, it is going to be wicked,” Lori said. “It looks to me that the eye is going to go right over us. They issued Palm Beach to evacuate. That’s us.”

The Augsbergers have unfortunately seen this before. In 2005, three hours after returning from the Quarter Horse Congress in Ohio, they received the news that they were in the path of Hurricane Wilma.

“That was supposed to be a Level 1 storm, but turned out to be a Level 3,” she explained.

They stayed home for that. But this time, once they got the news that Hurricane Irma is headed their way, they called upon Jay and Kristy Starnes, in Manning, South Carolina, for help.

“We kept our eyes on this hurricane and listened to the updates every three hours,” she said. “Yesterday morning it made a little turn. That’s when I called and said ‘come get us.'”

Jay was expecting her call.

“Kristy and Lori had been talking on and off about things and I had told Andrew (Augsberger) that if they needed anything to let me know,” Jay said. “I kind of had the idea that we would need to go down there and help. Yesterday morning Lori called and asked if I could come down there to help them move horses.”

Long lines at the gas pumps.

Jay told Lori he just needed to grab a few things and that he and Kelby Hutchinson would be on their way with their 12-horse rig.

The Augsbergers took advantage of the time it took Jay to travel to Florida to board up their own home. Once Jay and Kelby arrived in Loxahatchee, they all pitched in to load 23 horses, seven dogs and two cats to make the trip north.

Lori’s father remained at Pinetree to ride out the storm there. She said he will stay in the bathroom and closet of the boarded-up house if the storm hits and her brother will ride out the storm in Palm Beach.

“We have big turn buckles in our barn, which is hurricane coated. We just hope to God that it all stays,” Lori said. “If it comes in at a Category 4 or 5 we are done. When we left home, we didn’t know if we would come home to anything. Our house is cement, it is block so I feel like our house will be there, but I don’t know about our barn. It’s wood.”

The trip north was long and nerve wracking, to say the least.

“This morning at 1 a.m. there was a line about three miles long of people waiting to get gas,” Lori said. “We had five trailers and I am pretty sure everyone driving had road rage because of the traffic.”

The caravan finally arrived in South Carolina on Thursday afternoon, where preparations were being made to secure the Starnes property, since the storm could have an impact there as well.

“There is a race track about 20 minutes from our house and that is where most of Lori’s horses will stay,” Jay said. “Another five or six horses will stay at my mom and dad’s place and then some will stay at our barn. We will probably board a few windows up this time. I think it will be a little stronger than last year’s storm (Matthew).”

Kristy Starnes has her own set of challenges during the storm preparation. She had previously committed to judging a show in Connecticut on Thursday and Friday. She flew out of Charleston, South Carolina but anticipates problems returning to Charleston on Saturday.

The Augsberger cats made the trip north.

“Even if I could fly in Saturday, the problem wouldn’t be the plane getting there. The problem would be all the traffic,” she explained. “Normally it takes an hour and a half to get to our house from Charleston, but it will take six hours if they have already started giving evacuation orders.”

So, Kristy plans to catch a connection from Charleston to Charlotte, North Carolina, and have her mom pick her up there instead.

Jay and Kristy just returned from a family trip to Disney on Monday and Kristy said she started then preparing for the storm by loading up on groceries and other things.

“All the boys said I was crazy for getting extra stuff,” she said. “Well, look who’s crazy now.”

They also stocked up on fuel, propane and extra feed for their horses and the Augsberger horses.

“The biggest deal for us will be cleanup after the storm,” Kristy said. “I went to Tractor Supply Wednesday and bought the biggest chainsaw they have. That is the stuff people don’t think about is the aftermath.”

Last year Hurricane Matthew uprooted a few very large pecan trees on the property, leaving huge holes in the ground and preventing the horses from being turned out.

Now when a storm is predicted they spend a whole day preparing by picking up items that could potentially blow around.

“We put labels on the mares’ neck collars with phone numbers in case they get loose,” she said. “We have our stakes on our feeder to try to keep them down. It is just kind of odd that you can do all of that and it is perfectly fine out right now. You’re just waiting on it.”

Dean Bogart owns and operates Dean Bogart Performance Horses in Delray Beach, Florida, right in the projected path of Hurricane Irma. He too decided to evacuate his facility and called upon Carl Yamber for help.

Yamber took two trailers south to pick up a total of 12 horses and take them back to his own facility in Roberta, Georgia.

“I left at 2 o’clock in the morning from his place and it’s 4:30 (p.m.) now,” Yamber said. “I have only been 500 miles so far. Traffic is going 20-30 miles an hour, stop and go for 500 miles. It’s been like driving in downtown Dallas the entire time.

Most, like Kerry Bradac, are stocking their pantry with food and water.

Cole Baker’s family will remain in Dunnellon, Florida, to ride out the storm.

“We live in the more western part of the state, so we aren’t in the direct path,” he said. “They say we are going to get quite a bit of rain and some wind here, but not as strong as what they will get on the east coast.”

Still, they are taking the necessary precautions.

“We kind of stay prepared for these things over the years,” Baker said. “We have generators that run our wells and when things are built down here they are built with these storms in mind. Right now, we are just kind of buttoning everything up and picking everything up so nothing is blowing around.”

And they try to think ahead.

“We are getting the horses exercised before the storm gets here so they won’t be jumping around, cooped up in their stalls when the storms hit,” he said. “We have extra hay, feed, diesel fuel for the tractors, and just preparing as best we can.”

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Animal Industry, has temporarily suspended the intrastate movement requirements for the transportation of animals from the areas expected to be impacted by Hurricane Irma.

In addition, the following states have waived their interstate import requirements for Florida, pets and livestock leaving the expected impact areas of Hurricane Irma: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Any person transporting pets or livestock must stop at the Department’s agricultural interdiction stations and present any required movement documentation. A transporter that fails to provide the required documentation will be issued an Advisory Notice, which must remain with the livestock during transport to Alabama, Georgia, or Mississippi and the return trip to the original Florida destination.

For movement of regulated wildlife, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 850-488-6253.

Please visit, or call 1-850-410-0900 for more information.

This temporary suspension shall expire on Sept. 30, unless extended or rescinded.

The Florida Agricultural Center & Horse Park (FHP) located in Ocala, Florida is currently providing shelter and boarding for 126 horses displaced due to the imminent threat of Hurricane Irma. After receiving the initial inquiry last week, FHP immediately began to accept evacuees. The facility can host up to 160 horses at capacity and encourages those seeking lodging for their horses to make reservations immediately. In addition to these stalls, 37 recreational vehicle/trailer hookups with electric and water are available. While reservations are required, the FHP presently is not charging a reservation fee during an emergency of this magnitude.

“It is a privilege that we have the opportunity to serve the equine community. We feel like it is part of our mission to use the resources we have been given to help the public,” said Jim Payton, Executive Director of the FHP.

For availability and reservations, contact the Tenley Struhs, Assistant Executive Director at 352-307-6699.

Many offers for accommodations went out via social media, from all over the country.

The Virginia Horse Center Foundation (Lexington, Virginia): “While it is too soon to know if or when Hurricane Irma will impact Virginia and surrounding states, the Virginia Horse Center, as always, will accept evacuees, subject to availability of stalls and the needs of other previously scheduled events. All horses must be current on vaccinations an have a current negative Coggins test. Please contact the VHC Stable Office at”

 World Equestrian Center, of Wilmington, Ohio: WEC in Wilmington, Ohio has stalls available for horses being evacuated due to Hurricane Irma. All health documents must be presented with horses (Negative Coggins, Proof of Vaccinations, Interstate Health Certificates). Please call WEC GM Brandon Saxton to make reservations at (216) 554-2049. Onsite housing can be booked by calling 937-382-0985 ext. 3

 Mike Carter and Charlene Carter of Shackle Island, Tennessee, 19 miles outside of Nashville: “Anyone in the path of Irma I have 12 stalls available in Nashville Tennessee. NO CHARGE.”

 Gumz Farms of Morganfield, Kentucky: “We have 3 empty mare barns that have 125+ stalls plus 3 empty apartments. No charge. Might be a bit far but all evacuees welcome.”

 Thurston Quarter Horses of Tarboro, North Carolina: “We are a nine hour drive up I95 from Ocala. I will make room for as many horses as needed. Three 30amp hookups. Please don’t wait on this one.”

 Alan Fisher Performance Horses of Eastover, North Carolina: “We are just off I 95 50 Miles from the South Carolina border if anyone needs a place to evacuate to! We will make room to help whoever we can!”

 Jason English Show Horses of Madison Georgia: “Although we don’t have any stalls available we do have several turn out lots and pasture that we could put horses in for anyone in the path of hurricane Irma.”

Here’s What You Need To Know:

 Live Stream Updates of Hurricane Irene:

Evacuation Zones:

Hurricane Preparedness For Horses:

Federal Disaster Assistance:
1-800-621-FEMA (3362); TTY 1-800-462-7585; 

Resources for evacuees, contact American Red Cross

Florida Shelter Information:
Contact the local American Red Cross or call 1-800-GET-INFO or 

Services available for evacuees in Florida: 

Finding loved ones 1-877-LOVED-1S: 

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