Krissy Wilson loaded up her trucks, grabbed her son and one of his friends, and started charging towards Miami last Wednesday.
From the opposite direction, Hurricane Irma was on her way to the Sunshine State. Wilson, who has been training horses for more than 30 years, had a goal to get as many horses out of the storm’s path as she could.
“I thought that the Homestead and Miami area would get hit the hardest, so I was just trying to get horses out of that area,” said Wilson, a resident of Marietta. “It’s a community, and I just had this really strong feeling I needed to go and that people needed my help.”
Wilson rescued 19 horses from southern Florida. She dropped 10 off at a friend’s farm in Ocala, Florida, and then brought the remaining nine to the Alpharetta Equestrian Center.
But Wilson’s horses aren’t the only hurricane evacuees having a temporary stay in Wills Park. Matt Casey, the center’s manager, said more than 90 horses from Florida and Georgia had come to the center to escape the path of the storm.
Casey, who has been the manager at the center for 14 years, says this isn’t the first time it has transformed into a shelter for horses.
“Pretty much in any natural disaster we try to open our doors,” Casey said. “We had a lot of flooding some years ago and housed more than 150 horses here for more than a month.”
The fear of flooding is what brought Wilson and the horses she is caring for to north Fulton County. She owns Wilson Show Stable in Marietta, but her land is lower and near a creek. The Alpharetta Equestrian Center sits higher up and isn’t as susceptible to floods.
Wilson also brought horses from her facility in Marietta to Alpharetta, along with the ones from Florida.
She says she went to help horse owners because many people don’t have trailers, and it’s not nearly as easy to travel with a horse as it would be with a cat or dog. So, Wilson, her son and a friend went down to Florida with a three-horse and a five-horse trailer, and made runs until they couldn’t drive anymore.
“I wanted to get more, but after three nights of hardly no sleep, I was done,” Wilson said. “Everyone was teary-eyed and so grateful. And I was crying the whole time, just of joy, just being able to help.”
Many folks brought their horses to Alpharetta because, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the center waived all of its fees and opened up its stables for free to displaced horses. Casey said that local groups and feed stores have also pitched in to offer free or discounted supplies for both horses and humans.
The center also provides power, water and hook-ups for campers and RVs. And of course, it has plenty of apples, carrots and other snacks for hungry horses.
“I would say that this event has really brought the whole equestrian community of north Fulton together,” Casey said. “And I would say that the equestrian center here has never been stronger.”
Casey added that many of the horses staying in Alpharetta during the storm are from Miami-Dade County. A good chunk of those were brought by Taryn Sport-Vincent.
She, Lauren Taylor and Kristin Dyrdal — who all work at a farm owned by Sport-Vincent — made the trip up to Alpharetta on Wednesday with five dogs and 15 horses.
Sport-Vincent’s first instinct was to go to Sarasota — which would end up being damaged by the hurricane — but Taylor’s mother lives nearby in Johns Creek and alerted them to Alpharetta’s Equestrian Center. Twenty hours after leaving Miami, they arrived in north Fulton County.
“The people here have been more than accommodating and wonderful and we’re really thankful they opened their doors to us,” Sport-Vincent said. “A lot of people in Florida were charging quite a bit.”
Each horse is in its own stall with a roof over its head. Although the worst of the storm hasn’t hit metro Atlanta just yet, Sport-Vincent isn’t too worried about how that weather will affect the horses.
“The chances of (the storm) being something significant by the time it gets here are small,” she said. “Even if it gets bad, it’s not going to be what it would be in Florida.”
Sport-Vincent grew up in Florida and then left the state for a bit, but has now lived there since 2008. This was the first time that she or her horses had fled the state to escape the wrath of a hurricane.
“This one was different,” Sport-Vincent said. “Just the intensity, the size and the scope of it. It’s a lot bigger than (Hurricane Andrew), which we went through.”
And it’s not easy to transport 15 horses. Sport-Vincent put three in a horse trailer, but had to put the other 12 on an 18-wheeler.
“It’s a lot of logistics, to coordinate the evacuation of horses,” Sport-Vincent said. “We have to depend on the clients to do the right thing and pay for their horses to leave. We had quite a bit of damage on our farm, with some big trees down.”
Sport-Vincent said that the horses will likely stay in Alpharetta for another week.
For Wilson, a departure time is a little more up in the air.
“When everyone tells me they’re ready to have their horses back,” Wilson said. “I’ll load them all up and take them home.
MORE HURRICANE IRMA COVERAGE FROM THE AJC...