Saturday morning as hurricane Irma approached, Jim Welsh of Elite Horse Transport was headed north on I-95 with his last load of evacuated horses from south Florida. Since Tuesday he had transported more than 160 horses to farms in or en route to Lexington, Kentucky, that had opened their doors to evacuees.
The polo community was part of the exodus—and also part of the solution. Facilities with strong structures in Wellington, Florida, including Valiente Polo Farm, took in local evacuated horses. Facebook was filled with offers from farms in other polo locales including Aiken, South Carolina, but the problem was that you had to get there. Welsh got all his booked horses to safety and charged normal (non-emergency) shipping rates, but he, like other shippers, only had so much capacity and faced a shrinking window of time as gas shortages and gridlock set in.
Polo pro Matt Coppola of Wellington had to deal with a last-minute evacuation of his string last year in the Houston, Texas, flooding. The storm was not predicted to hit his area, but suddenly without warning it did—and with a vengeance. Everything flooded at his barn: the stalls, feed room, tack room, and as shown in the cover photo, even his trailer.
The scene Matt Coppola was faced with when evacuating his horses from Houston in April 2016
Coppola immediately reached out to polo friends and found stabling for his horses on higher ground. But by then the waters had already risen so high that the only way in and out of his barn was on a boat. With the help of polo legend Tommy Biddle, Coppola and his crew had to swim the horses to safety.
“The water is really dangerous. Don’t take it lightly,” said Coppola. “Even if the reports don’t say you’re in the direct path of the storm, prepare as though you are. It’s not too late to keep preparing. Do anything you can for as long as you can.”
His parents, Tony and Jesse Coppola, spent the past week helping customers at The Tackeria in Wellington prepare as much as possible by buying flashlights, batteries, first aid supplies and identification tools. The Tackeria has everything ranging from tack to stable supplies, so be sure to stop in for all your equine needs.
Tony Coppola’s advice for those whose rigs are parked in the path of hurricane Irma: “If you have trailers or trucks on your property, you must park them east to west. If you park them north to south, the wind will knock them over. If you park them east to west, you have much less chance of things flipping over because of the way the winds are going.”
Photo courtesy The Tackeria.
LAST-MINUTE SAFETY ADVICE
If you were unable to evacuate in time, here are some important safety measures you can still take to protect your horses:
-Put 12-20 gallons of water per day and a minimum of 72 hours (or ideally seven days) of feed and hay as high as possible in a storage area.
-To ensure the water is uncontaminated after the storm, use two drops of chlorine bleach in every quart of water and let it sit for 30 minutes. This enables the bleach to sanitize the water and prevents the spread of disease.
-Have your horse's Coggins, full body photos and close-ups of any identifying marks to prove ownership in case you are separated.
-Put identifying information on your horse, including your name and phone number. This can be done with a luggage tag attached to the halter, a collar with an engraved plate, or write your name and phone number on both sides of your horse with waterproof chalk. If you don’t have waterproof chalk you can use clippers to clip your phone number into your horse’s coat.
Cover photo courtesy Matt Coppola