Hurricane Season Is Coming - Are You Ready?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005
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For anyone that lives in a coastal town whether it is the Gulf Coast or the Atlantic Coast, the months of June-October have significant meaning to them; Hurricane season. With 11 hurricanes predicted for this season, Floridians are still smarting from last year's experience. Smart horsemen have a plan. DressageDaily thanks Jodie Kelly of Southern Cross Farm in Destin, Forida for sharing their 'routine'.

Mary Phelps, a Markel Equine Insurance Specialist also points out, that you should not wait until a hurricane (or forest fire) is headed in your direction, before you begin thinking about an evacuation plan or insurance for your horses. "We cannot place insurance on horses when there is a know hurricane or fire approaching, so be sure to think ahead." Mary explains. "Even when horses are being safely evacuated, the trip and storm can cause added stress, and you should be sure to consider protecting your horses and investment with mortality and medical surgical coverage."

An evacuation plan is also required as proof of doing your 'due diligence' as a farm owner or trainer who have horses under their care, custody, and control. "Having horses under your care, custody, and control, is an important responsibility, Phelps adds. "By having an evacuation plan, you assure your clients, your insurance company, and yourself a proper plan is in place. Thanks to Jodie Kelly for sharing her experience. I am sure it will help others develop a plan of their own."

Jodie Kelly of Southern Cross Farm, Destin Florida Shares Their Hurricane Evacuation Plan

We know of no other family who are better prepared and better organized than the Kelly's of Southern Cross Farm, in Destin, Florida. Located in the beautiful beach resort town in the mouth of the Gulf, on Florida's western coast, Southern Cross Farm is just one block from the ocean, and has survived every attack mother nature has dealt so far.

DressageDaily thanks Jodie Kelly, veteran Young Rider Medallist for sharing with us their "hurricane routine". With her own teaching and training business, Jodie runs the family farm that has been a part of her life for 21 years.

My family, lives in the beach resort, Destin, in Northwest Florida. With my Mom (Laurie Kelly) being the property manager of a private, 76 unit condo on the beach, my Dad (Brant Kelly) being the owner of two charter boats, and the captain of one of them, and our family owning and operating a 36 stall training and boarding barn less than a mile from the beach, our lives revolve around hurricane season. This lifestyle means no family vacations during these months and if for some reason one family member must leave town during these months, if something does brew in the gulf, we come rushing home, towards the storm.

Over the years having so many horses so close to the water, we have come to learn how to get them out of the path of a dangerous storm quickly and safely. Our preparation starts at the beginning of each hurricane season, long before there is even a storm in the gulf.

Because my mom has obligations at her office and my dad has obligations with the boats and not to mention our home, we get the horses on the road first. It is much easier on the horses if we leave before the weather starts to get bad and the people start to get panicky.

We all stare at the weather channel for days and do nothing, then when the decision to go is made, it is a whirl wind until the horses are settled in their stalls at our evacuation site. It could be any time of the day or night, Mom and Dad come to the barn to help pack, wrap and load all of the horses. I leave with my 4-horse and the transport and a majority of the boarders. My parents stay behind to take care of the condo, the boats, the house and all of their other responsibilities.Once all is done, they come with our fifth wheel camper, which will serve as home base during our evacuated days.

Getting Out

Destin is surrounded by water on three sides, and the fourth side is a road that runs directly down the beach. So, in the event of an evacuation, the only way out is over one of two bridges and when we are under mandatory evacuation, they open up all lanes of the bridges going OUT. So, when we leave, we are gone for good, all of the horses must be gone in the first trip.

  • We first asses the number of horses we have, compared to the number of trailers we have, compared to the number of trucks we have available, compared to the number of drivers we have for each vehicle.
  • We have a form that goes out to every boarder where they can check what they will have available in the event of a storm. Truck, trailer, manpower, or ideally, all of the above. Surprisingly, very few check the “all of the above” box.
  • We have some boarders that load up their horses in their trailer and take off with no ties to the barn what so ever. This is fine with us, we just need to know in advance who will be doing that and who we will be responsible for.
  • We spend agonizing hours over getting everything else matched up. Which horses will ride in which trailer, and who will be driving them.
  • Additional Transport - When counting the competition horses and the young horses and the retirees, we have more horses than we have trailer space. We have also found that it is very important to have a good relationship with a transport company. We do not have the transport come back to bring us home, we usually make a couple of trips back and forth.

We are lucky enough to have BD Transport very much on our side and always looking out for us. It is a unique situation because when we decide to leave, it is only a matter of a day or so that we have to get things rolling. So, we give BD a heads up at the beginning of every season and let them know how many trucks we will need if we have to leave. Unfortunately, BD is based out of Pennsylvania, so if it is looking like something is headed for us, we call and get the trucks headed our way. If, it goes the other way, we are happy to pay for their trip half way and send them home. If something makes an abrupt turn and heads for us at the last minute, BD has always been great about finding another transport that is closer to get us out of there quickly. Every once in a while, if there is something in the Gulf, BD beats us to the punch and calls us first to see what we are thinking.

Where to Go

With our plan set of HOW to get out, we next have to secure WHERE we are going. There are not that many barns that can house 36 horses at the drop of a hat.


  • Our usual destination is a western barn in Marianna, Florida. It is not too far, but it is inland and the barn is a center isle, cinder block barn. We sign a contract with the owner of the barn every year and send a $20 deposit per stall to hold those stalls for us for an evacuation. If, we don’t evacuate that year, then the money is his. We are HAPPY to make the donation! If we do evacuate, the $20 pays for our first night there.

With all of these arrangements made, we go about our normal life and pray that we wont have to look at those plans ever again. Unfortunately, we usually have to take a look at them a few times in the season. We don’t always have to put them into play though. Depending on the size, strength and direction of the storm, we decide if we are leaving or staying. Sometimes we are not given a choice and it is mandatory.

Packing List

As if it is not enough to get all of the 35 horses wrapped and loaded, we have to get buckets, hay, grain, and shavings for all of the horses going. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you do the math;

  • 3 buckets per horse
  • 5 bags minimum of shavings
  • at least 2 bales of hay per horse
  • 5lbs of grain per horse/pony per day.

It comes out to be, 108 buckets, 180 bales of shavings, 360 lbs of feed (that’s just for 2 days) and 72 bales of hay!!!! It is A LOT of loading!

Evacuation Mode

Once all of the people and horses have arrived safely, the work has only just begun. With a barn full of working horses that are used to being turned out, cooping them up in a stall with the stress of a storm coming is often more than they can handle. To keep them half way sane, we hand walk them all twice a day.

Headed Home.... For Now

After the storm blows through, we go home in reverse order of which we went. My parents head back first to check the damage and make sure we even have a barn to go home to. So far, in the 11 years we have had our boarding barn, we have never had any structural damage.

Usually, it is tree clean up and fence mending that needs to be done. Last time, Destin’s water was contaminated and we had to stay gone for nearly a week until the water was safe to drink again. We do not have the transport come back to bring us home, we usually make a couple of trips back and forth.

It is a stressful time and many ask why we live here, but one trip to the beautiful beaches and you will realize immediately why we do it. After this past hurricane season, I am sure most Floridians have a hurricane story or two and if you didn’t have a plan before, you have one now.

I have many friends that end up in the same situation as us when a storm comes to the Florida coast. I was in close contact with the Poulin family last year as they ran from a series of storms with more than 35 horses too.