The largest equestrian complex in the nation opened its doors Tuesday to shelter more than 3,000 horses and other animals from Hurricane Ian – and they did it for free.

As Hurricane Ian intensified and knocked on Florida’s door, horse owners began arriving early in the morning to set up their animals in 25 barns across the center’s 600 acres, according to Vinnie Card, operations manager of the World Equestrian Center. Since the center’s schedule had plenty of open space in its barns, Card said, the facility was happy to take in animals in need of shelter.

“The love for the animals, that’s why we do what we do,” Card said.

As horses and a variety of other animals found shelter the center began to feel like a modern-age Noah’s Ark.

One barn will shelter Turbo the tortoise, 46, and a kangaroo named Spanky, both from The Peeps Foundation based in Ocala, mere steps away from the Equestrian Center. And another barn with a separate owner will house donkeys.

Josh Dolan, founder of the miniature horse rescue, said Hurricane Ian will be the organization’s first hurricane since moving to Ocala a year and a half ago.

Without the space at the World Equestrian, he said, more than 50 miniature dwarf horses and other animals under his care would have been moved to Georgia to avoid the storm.

Laura Casati and Bill Lacy sat with four horses and their dog, Rihanna, in a barn Tuesday afternoon. They were just across the street from the on-site hotel where they will stay during the hurricane.

Card said the facility’s staff began preparing for extreme weather Friday. Although space for boarding horses is filled at WEC, each barn is temperature controlled and outfitted with a back-up generator. He said the facility is unlikely to lose power for more than a few minutes.

“It’s one thing we can control,” he said.


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