Florida National Guardsmen and volunteers distribute ice, food and water at a FEMA staging area in the wake of Hurricane Frances.

Florida National Guardsmen and volunteers distribute ice, food and water at a FEMA staging area in the wake of Hurricane Frances.

AP/Wilfredo Lee

Ocala Horsemen Cope With Power Outages, Minor Damage Following Frances

Horsemen in Ocala were coping with downed trees, damage to barn roofs, and widespread power outages Wednesday during the wake of Hurricane Frances, which pounded Central Florida with heavy rains and strong winds over the Labor Day weekend.

"We got very lucky," said Francis Vanlangendonck of Summerfield Farm. "It (the storm) basically skirted us and we had 50- to 60-mile-per-hour winds instead of 80- to 90-mile-per-hour winds. Shingles and tin were blown off roofs, and people have told me about horses that got hurt from things falling on them and stuff like that. They (the horses) had scrapes and cuts, but no serious injuries. There were limbs down at our farm, but we didn't have any structural damage (to buildings)."

Vanlangendonck, who was preparing to ship horses to Kentucky Thursday for the Keeneland September yearling sale, said he had to hook a generator to his well-based system to supply water to the farm. His wife Barbara set up a temporary farm office at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. (OBS), which did not lose power, so she could process paperwork and handle various arrangements for upcoming sales in Kentucky, Maryland, and Ocala.

"Everybody is pretty well coping with it and going on," Francis Vanlangendonck said.

OBS served as a shelter for horses in the path of Frances. Five hundred to 600 horses, primarily from Florida's East Coast, were stabled there while the storm passed through the state, according to Tom Ventura, the OBS director of sales and general manager. Approximately 100 head still remained on the grounds as of Wednesday morning.

The OBS sale and off-track betting complex suffered only minor damage.

"One of the barn roofs peeled back a little bit," Ventura reported.

Downed trees, fence damage, and loss of power were the primary problems Ventura heard about at area farms.

Hap Proctor, the manager of Leonard Lavin's Glen Hill Farm, scratched four yearlings from the Keeneland September auction because of various problems that Frances caused. Four of the horses were scheduled to be sold on the auction's first day (Sept. 13). Approximately 20 trees at Glen Hill were blown down, which damaged fences and one barn, and the farm's main driveway was flooded.

"About 100 yards were under 1 1/2 feet to two feet of water, and I was concerned about trying to drive a van through it; it would have been a little spooky," Proctor said. "We were also in a jam because there was a lot of debris and we were trying to clean up everything without any electricity. It just didn't make sense for all of us to take off and come up there (to Kentucky)."