TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — For horse owners on Florida’s east coast in the path of Hurricane Dorian, there’s a safe haven here in Tampa Bay.
The Bob Thomas Equestrian Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds is opening its doors to evacuated horses. The center offers 471 stalls, one of the largest equine facilities in the state.
As of Monday afternoon, roughly 35 horses were settled in with more than 100 stalls reserved.
“We’re here, standing by ready to accept horses 24/7,” said Mike Rogalsky, the fairgrounds’ chief operating officer.
During Hurricane Irma, Rogalsky says each and every one of their concrete block stalls was full.
Kathy Inks and her husband boarded up their Dundee home and hauled in their three horses to the fairgrounds Monday afternoon.
“We figured if everyone from West Palm was headed this way, we wanted to make sure we had a spot with the horses,” Inks said. With Dundee and eastern Polk County still threatened by tropical storm strength wind and rain from Dorian, Inks figured better safe than sorry.
The facility’s concrete block stalls provide peace of mind for Tiffany Blackman, of Winter Park. Her daughter Victoria and their horse Bentley competed at the Southeast Medal Finals in Tampa over the weekend and decided to stick around until they know it’s safe to head home.
“A lot of flooding, a lot trees have been in standing water so we’re worried trees will come down,” Blackman said. “Of course, we want the horses inside safe.”
Blackman says strangers have become friends, teaming up to take care of all the horses as they wait to see what Dorian may bring.
“It is scary,” Blackman said. “We all just try to wait it out and be patient, and just see what happens next.”
Florida and surrounding states have waived interstate livestock travel requirements in light of Hurricane Dorian to ensure that animals can get out of harm’s way quickly if needed.
The Bob Thomas Equestrian Center is still taking reservations for equine evacuees. Stalls cost $25 a night, with preference given to horses coming from the east coast.
Registration paperwork can be found at FloridaStateFair.com under Equine Hurricane Evacuation. Paperwork can be emailed to Clay.Crosby@FloridaStateFair.com.