It all started with Kelly Moore. She used to board her horse with Kathy Genth in Englewood, before moving to the Horse Capital. Moore knew that, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Genth was in trouble, with fences demolished, her barn roof ripped off and her hay and feed wet and washed away, she had no way to provide for her 32 horses. There was no immediate help in sight and no feed stores open, even if she could safely traverse the flooded roads and downed power lines. Moore knew of me from Facebook and so she decided to message me about the plight of these horses. And so it began.
From the moment I asked Tamara Fleischhaker, my VIP at the CEP of the Equine Initiative presented by Pyranha, could be mobilized to help the horses of south Florida, she was all in. Tamara, who is a lifelong horse person herself, knows the immediate needs of livestock owners. She reached out to our CEO, Kevin Sheilley to confirm being able to use the Foundation for the CEP for donations and so it began. With the title ‘horse capital of the world’, who else is more qualified to assist those in need in South Florida with their horse needs, in the aftermath of a hurricane like Ian.
Removing the concern and burden from owners of how to provide for animals in a disaster allows people to be able to focus on self-preservation and also prevents them from taking risks to get the supplies they need. This helps first responders to focus on humans and rescue efforts. Hurricane Ian ripped through South Florida with winds well over 150 mph and with a massive storm surge. Those in low lying areas like Englewood, Arcadia, Fort Myers, North Port, Pine Island and other areas where horses live were in dire straits. Barns and fences were gone, feed supplies destroyed and in many cases they had no water and horses were standing chest deep in flood waters.
I knew I could always count on the kindness of Richard and Peggy Larsen at Larsen Hay, so I reached out. As expected, Richard immediately asked his marketing manager Betsy Bevacqua to help me in any way possible, donating a large amount of hay to the cause. Betsy, being Betsy, jumped right in and offered to drive me south into the hardest hit areas. We coordinated a safe route with our local police department and made sure they were aware of our journey. After our first trip south safely avoiding dangerous rising flood waters, we saw such devastation and upon our return, we made another phone call. Richard Larsen doubled his original hay donation. Others in our incredible community jumped right in and a team formed, providing fencing, delivering it and building fences to enclose horses with no place to go. Tamie Leedy, Danyelle McGinity and their team from the Florida Mounted unit jumped right on board with us, ready and more than qualified to assist. We were able to establish several locations willing to distribute down in south Florida for us. All three of these locations were well-spaced apart within the hardest hit region. We then partnered with the State of Florida Department of Agriculture to coordinate with them as soon as they had boots on the ground. The outreach and the grateful hearts showed humanity at its very best. A very large donation came in and we started planning to purchase more fencing and yet more donations arrived. The faces and relieved tears of the recipients of the delivered feed and hay made each trip more and more valuable to us. We were there to relieve their greatest fear, being unable to provide for their animals.
Jason Reynolds, Executive Director of the Florida Horse Park, as always eager to help in any way that he could, allowed us to use the park as a drop-off point for animal related supplies and donations poured in. A GoFundMe was set up for monetary donations and checks started coming in from all over, including a very generous donation from Brad Bolen at Lip Chip LLC and from the Quarter Horse Congress. The outpouring and generosity of humanity in times like these is heartwarming. T.T. Distributors donated thousands of dollars of supplies to the cause and upon running into Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse at Ocala Breeders Sales (OBS), he generously put another large sum on his account to us at Ocala Breeders Feed Store, and that didn’t include the hay and feed OBS had already donated. Another top thoroughbred trainer, who keeps her finger on the pulse of the horse world, Susan Montagne, followed needs on social media for us and kept regular messages coming in from those in need, while also assisting with donations.
We formed a team to deliver the most needed supplies. Jessica from Procyon Training, Jorge from Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses and Jake and Stephanie from Pear Tree Ranch all joined in to help us with logistics and all took their time and expense to help us transport more down south. Manny Termini, with his huge heart, was a big part of the success of our missions, as the owner of White Horse Farm, which was our most important delivery and distribution point. We were also grateful to Kim Farrell at Fox Lea Farm, allowing us another important delivery site in Venice, a more northerly location. A top equestrian, Kylie Manke, who boards two horses of her own at White Horse Farm in North Fort Myers took it upon herself to load her own horse trailer up to deliver to a totally demolished saddle club farm who she knew of in Cape Coral. Kylie also rescued some dogs and two parrots from Pine Island by boat for an elderly lady, in her spare time.
Hurricane Ian was devastating for all. It is overwhelming and heartbreaking to lose everything, but to know that your horses, livestock, dogs, cows and goats are taken care off, allows those in the hardest hit areas to concentrate on recovery without the added concern of their animals. To most of us our animals are our family. They do not get left behind and we feel a great responsibility to also provide for them before we even take care of ourselves.
I am so grateful to work for an organization which backs me undertaking such an important task and understands the needs of horse owners and supports me in this team endeavor. It takes a village and we really do have the BEST and most qualified team in the horse capital!
If you would like to leave a check at the CEP made to the Foundation for the CEP, and mark it equine disaster relief, 100% of it will go to the cause.