Rising Fawn Arena Prepares for Horse Refugees

Horses graze in one of the pastures at the old Preserve at Rising Fawn arena. These are regular tenants, boarding or belonging there; but dozens more will arrive shortly, evacuated from hurricane-torn Florida.

Since the Preserve at Rising Fawn ended in a land-fraud trial, two jail sentences and an ocean of foreclosures, the 58,000-square indoor/outdoor horse arena that was its symbol and one of its few completed buildings has mostly loomed huge and lonely off Newsome Gap Road, puzzling newcomers as to how it may have gotten there.

But this weekend, the equestrian facility in Johnson's Crook is expected to be hopping with life--or rather, galloping, trotting and whinnying--as dozens of horses flood in from Florida, taking refuge from Hurricane Irma.

“By last night, every stall was booked, and we’re having to make more stalls out of corral panels to harbor more horses in the arena,” said Lacy Stoglin. “We have literally been busting our butts getting all these stalls ready. I could barely move this morning, I am so sore.”

Ms. Stoglin, she explained, is a regular employee at the horse arena, but by “we” she meant herself, her employer, the horsetrainer Sabastian Formby, and the flash-mob of volunteers who have mobilized to help them transform the arena into an emergency equestrian shelter. Ms. Stoglin said about 15 people have showed up to help so far, and more are expected.

The volunteers have up to this point been readying the stalls, but as horses arrive they will also be responsible for feeding and watering them. And there will be other animals to care for, too, such as dogs and cats. “We actually have two parrots coming, and one pig so far,” said Ms. Stoglin.

Lacy Stoglin poses with equine friend Mads in the stables of the Rising Fawn arena.

She said the fire marshal had visited the day before and determined what the arena’s maximum capacity was. Ms. Stoglin didn’t have that number, and the proprietor and his small army of volunteers had recessed for a quick meal; but she was pretty sure that despite all the bookings the arena hadn’t maxed out and could accept more refugees. “We have 64 stalls,” she said. “We can stall around 30 in the arena itself and then we have three pastures and two round pens. And any animal that can be caged--parrot, pig, dog--we can put them anywhere.”

The crew and volunteers are still building more stalls and have appealed for contributions of fencing corrals, the metal panels from which temporary enclosures can be built. Hay and other feeds are also needed. If you can contribute, the corrals, hay, et cetera may be delivered to the hulking facility at 1379 Newsome Gap Road--rest assured, you can’t miss the place--or call proprietor Sabastian Formby for more information at (205)532-6653. Don’t worry about bothering him; Ms. Stoglin says a volunteer is manning the phone.

How did all this come about? Ms. Stoglin said that Formby, who only moved his business, Southern Wood Arena, from Alabama to the Rising Fawn facility about a month ago, became concerned about horses displaced by the storm and posted on Facebook that he would open the arena up as a shelter. “We had 940 shares within two hours,” she said.

The posting made it all the way down to the affected area in Florida, she said, and some officially-official person she believes was employed by the state of Florida shortly called to make sure the offer was legit. Formby confirmed, and bookings began pouring in. “We’re expecting the first ones any minute now,” said Ms. Stoglin. “One lady has picked up 11 horses on her way up.”

How long will the horses stay? That’s open-ended, says Ms. Stoglin. “As people lose their homes, then I guess they’ll stay a little bit longer until they can get their horses to safety,” she said. “We don’t mind how long they stay.”

Ms. Coglin and her employer are grateful for all the volunteers, but they also hope Dade County and neighboring residents will keep turning up after the crisis. The first rodeo of Southern Wood’s “Li’l Bits Jr. Rodeo Series” is Oct. 14. The rodeo will be for children up to 18.

Ms. Coglin describes Formby as a prodigy horse trainer--“He can walk up to anything and put a halter on it”--who colt-starts horses for everything from barrel-racing to hunting/jumping or Western pleasure. He offers boarding and lessons and can teach either Western or English riding.

Formby leases the Rising Fawn arena from Deborah Johnson, widow of Eugene Johnson, whose sale of his Johnson's Crook acreage to Marion (Tenn.) County developers The Southern Group was the genesis of what became The Preserve at Rising Fawn scandal. Johnson held a mortgage on much of the land, and when The Southern Group's no-money-down-no-mortgage-payment scheme collapsed in 2009, parcels of the failed development reverted to him, and later to his heirs.

Readers may learn more about Sabastian Formby and the services he offers on his Facbook page. Here’s a link: https://www.facebook.com/sabastian.blaiseformby.

For more information about how to help with the Hurricane Irma crisis, please call the above-listed phone number.

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