How One Family Saved Their Horses from Hurricane Irma

With a hurricane bearing down on their West Palm Beach home, the Moritz family came up with an unusual way to protect their eight therapy horses.

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- Posted on Apr 18, 2018

By the time weather forecasters realized how intense Hurricane Irma was going to be, it was too late for many people in Florida to evacuate—including the Moritz family in West Palm Beach. They worried that the wooden paddock on their property wouldn't be enough protection for their eight therapy horses. "We had plans to bring them to a pasture or a resort in Tennessee, but when we heard from friends who were having trouble getting gas and were stuck in traffic for hours trying to leave the state, we knew we couldn't risk such a long trip," Yvonne Moritz says.

They made other arrangements. "Irma shifted back east, so we agreed to transport the horses to a 120-acre ranch just an hour from us in Okeechobee, Florida." But the storm changed direction and was forecast to hit Okeechobee as a Category 5 hurricane. Their plans were thwarted again.

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There was no plan C. Right before the hurricane tore through their neighborhood on September 10, 2017, Yvonne convinced her husband, Drew, to bring the horses inside the one building on their property that they knew was hurricane-proof—their house. The couple and their three daughters moved the furniture out of their living room, put down rubber mats and covered them with 12 bags' worth of wood shavings. They used metal gates to create stalls and brought in Gideon—the biggest horse, at 1,500 pounds—first. The other seven followed.

The horses were cooped up in the house for 32 hours, but Yvonne believed that if any animals could handle their unusual conditions, they could. Their little herd works with special-needs kids and their families through Horses That Help, a nonprofit ministry the Moritzes started. The horses' calm and loving dispositions help bring the kids physical and emotional healing.

"Those animals trusted us," Yvonne says. "At first, they didn't realize what was going on, but in the heart of the hurricane, when branches and objects were slammed up against the cement walls of the house and the power was flickering, they understood." The whole family—humans and horses—made it through the hurricane safely.

Once the skies cleared, the horses made their way back outside and cautiously checked out the damage around the house. "The one by one," Yvonne says, "they each came up to us and gave us a nuzzle." A thank-you more powerful than any storm.

Read more about the Moritz family's ministry and their eight special horses at horsesthathelp.org

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