Georgia Horse Farm Damaged in Flash Floods

Recent flash floods in Georgia killed nine people and caused the region to be declared a federal disaster area. Willowbrook Equestrian Center in Villa Rica, Ga., sustained significant damage including the loss of two horses. Willowbrook is owned by U.S. Dressage Federation silver and bronze medalist and U.S. Equestrian Federation “R” rated judge Leslie O'Neal Olsen, who runs the farm with her sons Drew and Christopher and her brother Terry.

Nine horses were in the barn and three of them escaped; one survivor was found grazing a half-mile away and was evacuated to a nearby facility with the other six horses. Two horses died: a 7-year-old Quarter Horse that was found soon after the flooding, and barn manager Karen Mackay's 12-year-old Andalusian/Lipizzaner gelding, found several days later.

Olsen's brother Terry O'Neal, who acted as night watchman at the farm, was asleep in his trailer behind the barn when he was awakened by his dog around midnight with about a foot of water on the floor. The water rose quickly as the trailer was swept from its foundation. O'Neal managed to break a window and escape with his dog. He grabbed a branch as he was swept downstream. He spent the night in a tree and was rescued the following day. The dog was later found alive and well.

The farm features a large barn, a covered arena, two outdoor arenas, and paddocks and fields. Olsen and her sons lived in an apartment upstairs in the barn. Mackay said that stalls had several feet of mud on the floors, heavy stall doors were ripped off their hinges, and the lounge was full of mud and furniture was swept away and ruined. Walls that remain are now water damaged and moldy. The floods also left several feet of sand in the pastures, while fencing was swept away in the storm and arena footing was demolished. There are concerns about the spread of Escherichia coli because so many septic systems were washed out in the storm. (Read more: "After the Flood: Returning Horses to Sodden Stables.")

Olsen is a popular judge and clinician in the Southeast and Mackay said that there has been an outpouring of support from neighbors and horse people. Plans for benefit days, cleanup, and rebuilding are in the works.

About the Author

Amber Heintzberger

Amber Heintzberger is a journalist, photographer and award-winning author of Beyond the Track: Retraining the Thoroughbred from Racehorse to Riding Horse (Trafalgar Publishing, 2008). She lives in New York City.

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