Horses finding a haven from Hurricane Florence’s threat in Aiken

September 12, 2018

The threat of danger from Hurricane Florence is bringing herds of horses from coastal areas to Aiken.

They include approximately 40 hunters and jumpers from the Seabrook Island Equestrian Center near Charleston.

Their temporary home is Rick and Cathy Cram’s Highfields Event Center.

“We’re on a barrier island, and I would always much rather evacuate and come back to a barn with no damage than to think, ‘Well, we’ll sit this one out and we might get lucky,’” said Charles Hairfield, the Equestrian Center’s head trainer, on Tuesday. “This isn’t a business where you take risks. It takes lot of hard work and money to keep these animals happy, and they rely on us to take care of them.”

The horses arrived on Monday, and Hairfield doesn’t know yet when they’ll leave.

“I wish I knew that answer,” he said. “Obviously, it will depend on what happens with the storm.”

In the meantime, Hairfield is happy that he’s in Aiken instead of back at Seabrook Island, even though Florence appears to be headed toward a landfall in North Carolina.

“We’ve been welcomed with open arms, for which we are extremely grateful, and the horses are out of harm’s way,” he said. “They’re going to get ridden every day, and there also is a little paddock that we are renting for them. They think they’re at a horse show.”

In all, there were more than 100 equine evacuees at Highfields on Tuesday, and Office Manager Wanda Shepard reported more were on the way.

At Barry and Cyndy Olliff’s Stable View, equine evacuees had filled 30 or so stalls as of Tuesday morning. “We have the capacity to take another 60 horses,” Cyndy said.

The first evacuees arrived Sunday.

“We have a loyal group (of horse owners) that comes here from Charleston to shows, and they get on the phone and call us as soon as they think something is going happen down there,” Cyndy said.

Janis McGhee of McGhees’ Mile was expecting 60 or 70 horses to arrive from the Charleston area.

The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare’s staff was preparing Tuesday morning to receive 10 canine evacuees from the Charleston Animal Society.

“We have two people on their way to Charleston right now to pick them up,” said Albrecht Center Operations Manager Sarah Neikam. “We’re doing this so that the Charleston Animal Society has more availability at their shelter to take in either animals from smaller rescues on the coast or people’s pets. Most likely, we’ll keep the dogs here and adopt them out.”

The Aiken County Code Enforcement department canceled its plans to open a shelter for animal evacuees at the Aiken Fairgrounds on Tuesday afternoon after S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the mandatory evacuation order for several coastal counties.

Friends of the Animal Shelter and Team Stinkykiss were scheduled to assist with the shelter’s operation.

“We didn’t open it because the shelter (for human evacuees) didn’t open at South Aiken High School,” said Code Enforcement Director Paige Bayne. “We had everything set up, and we were ready to start accepting animals. We still have it set up, and we’re not going to tear it down until after this thing (Florence) makes landfall. We’ll just wait and see what the governor and the state EMD (Emergency Management Division) mandates.”