While the icy wonderland that has blanketed the Bluegrass region left more than 600,000 Kentuckians without power the week of Jan. 25, Thoroughbred farm managers are doing all they can to keep their operations functional and safe in spite of property damage and lack of electricity.
“We learned from the ice storm of 2003 and had generators and spotlights on hand in case of a power outage so we could still foal out mares,” said Jen Roytz, a spokesperson for Robert Clay’s Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Ky.
In addition to losing several trees, and having phone lines down in the main office, there have been power outages in several areas of the farm, including the yearling division.
“The farm looks like it’s been through a tornado with all the limbs down,” said Richie Donworth, broodmare manager at Three Chimneys’ Old Bradley Place division. “Last year, we planted a bunch of new trees, and about 20 of them are in the shape of an ‘M’ touching the ground.”
While plowing through the ice on the roads that wind around the farm has been difficult, as has clearing fallen tree limbs out the horses’ paddocks, Donworth said so far the farm sustained no other major damage and no horses had been injured.
“The mares that are outside during the day, and we feed them lots of hay to try and get them to stay warm, because they obviously can’t get to any grass,” said Donworth, who noted he had been bringing the mares back in their stalls earlier than usual due to the harsh weather. “We’re also letting (our staff) go home early so they can get home safely to their families, especially in these conditions the last two days. We’re just trying to keep everything safe.”
Eric Hamelback, general manager of Adena Springs, said the Paris, Ky.-based division of the farm was mostly without power.
“The foaling barns are a bit of a rough go at night, of course, trying to balance between using generators and not having too much noise going on, but having some light available for us during foaling. We did have one foal last night. So it’s been a little bit difficult—trying to get everything as safely organized as possible—both for people and horses.”
Hamelback said engineers at Kentucky Utilities estimated that the farm, which is owned by 2008 Eclipse Award-winning owner Frank Stronach, could be out of power for four more days.
“The office is of course next to a stand-still with only partial power,” he said. “We were able to get our server going, but the ability to do contracts and talk to clients comes to a big halt, unless you’re doing it via cell phone and just taking notes until you can get up and going. As for the rest of the farm—basically you’re doing everything you would on a normal day, just at a slower pace.”
So far, Adena hasn’t any freezing problems with its water system for the horses. “We’re trying to keep our fingers crossed,” Hamelback said. “We have pump houses stationed throughout the farm with kerosene heaters in to try and make sure we don’t freeze up.”
Even when electricity is restored, Hamelback said his has some fears of a possible power surge. “Just because the electricity comes back on doesn’t always necessarily means you’re out of the woods yet,” he said, “But so far, (the ice storm) has just caused a lot of inconvenience instead of monetary expense.”
Tim Thornton, general manager of Airdrie Stud near Midway, said “the last couple days haven’t been good” in reference to the power outages, fallen trees, broken fences, and treacherous, icy landscape at the farm. Airdrie is owned by Brereton Jones, whose Proud Spell just collected an Eclipse Award as 2008 champion 3-year-old filly.
“It’s tough—at least we have generators for the foaling barn and stallion barn where we really need light,” said Thornton, who noted that one of the major problems resulting from the storm was that the electric water system for the horses was down. “Now we’ve got to haul water to the horses which is tough, but the most important thing is for them to have water, so that’s our major concern right now…then, it’s trying to fix all the fences.”
Repair work could take a month, Thornton said.
Garrett O’Rourke, manager of Prince Khalid Abdullah's North American division of Juddmonte Farms near Lexington, said Jan. 30 about 80% of his operation was out of power. He noted a long list of other complications that had developed as a result.
“We’re using flood lights in the barn, just to try and get the mares foaled at nighttime, and unfortunately, there’s plenty of them to foal at this time of year," O'Rourke said. "Horses are getting sick, and we’re trying to treat them in the dark; we’re getting the vets out, but they’re not able to use ultrasounds; we’re trying to get the horses fluids and the fluids are freezing in the lines; we’ve considered taking horses to the clinic, but not knowing whether we can get the van out on the roads or not.”
Though farm employees were able to clear the roads after three days, O’Rourke said it would take months and would cost a fortune to clean up all the tree damage around the farm. He predicted it would cost at least $100,000 to $150,000 to clear enough limbs to make the farm safe.
“We do some (the work) ourselves, but it’s too high of a risk from a liability point of view," he said. "It takes professional crews to take care of the specific damage. Up until today, we were constantly chasing our tails—we’d get one thing fixed, and have something else go out. Now, the biggest fear is we’re going to (see a rise in temperature) and all the water lines will burst.”
Though Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has declared a state of emergency, and President Obama declared federal disaster emergency for Kentucky and Arkansas, American Horse Council president Jay Hickey said it was too early for farms to receive any federal disaster relief from the ice storm. In order for farms to request monetary help, the United States Department of Agriculture has to first set up a program, he said.
“They have to define the parameters—for everybody, not just horse people, and then people would apply," Hickey said. "But we’re talking about sometime down the road. It’s not like a disaster is declared, and then money falls from the sky.”
Hickey said he could not predict when or if such a program would become available.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture, at the request of Gov. Steve Beshear, is gathering information as to how local farms have been negatively impacted by the winter storm.
The Kentucky Thoroughbred Association is in contact with the Federal Farm Service Agency as well to see what assistance may be available to farms in need.
David Switzer, executive director of the KTA, said Thoroughbred farm managers and owners should email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with a list of problems the storm is having on their operations.