Ocala to decide fate of city's aging horse statues


Artist Maggie Weakely is shown in an Ocala warehouse in 2001 with the two horses, Horsefly, left, and Celeste for Ocala's "Horse Fever" event. Hers were two of the 52 horses created by area artists that were positioned around Marion County.

ALAN YOUNGBLOOD/Ocala Star-Banner
Published: Monday, January 5, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 4, 2004 at 9:18 p.m.
OCALA - The five life-sized, painted horses at Ocala's downtown square have endured a lot during the time they have decorated the core of the city.
They've been tackled, cracked, scratched, and jumped on. They've suffered freezing temperatures, heavy rains, and the scorching Florida sun.
And now, they may have to be put out of their misery.
On Tuesday, the City Council will get an update about the thousands of dollars the city has spent for maintenance and repair costs to the colorful equines, along with four options to handle the damage.
"These horses are art objects. They're very thin fiberglass. They're not designed for people to get on," said Jim Dalke, Risk Management director. "People could have the best intentions when they put their little six-year-old on the horses to take a picture, but if you do enough of those, it will eventually affect the horses."
Dalke sent a memo to Assistant City Manager Bill Looney in October about the problems with the horses since the city put them on display in March of 2002. Dalke presented four options:
  • Keep them on display and continue to let the city absorb the maintenance and repair costs.
  • Build a barrier, such as wooden fence, around each horse to limit contact.
  • Permanently relocate all of the horses or relocate some of the horses and rotate them among alternative display sites such as the city' golf courses, Ocala Police Department, City Hall or Municipal Complex.
  • Return the four horses to owner William Schettine and display the two remaining city-owned horses "in a manner felt most appropriate."
    The fiberglass figures are among the popular "Horse Fever" herd. Schettine spent $54,000 at the Horse Fever auction for the horses Life Force, Aggie, Scenic Wonder, and SkyDancing and loaned them to the city for display on the square.
    The other two horses, Travels and Golf were donated to the city. Golf sits in front of City Hall.
    "We were so happy when they first brought them all out. I don't think I would like to see them go," said Irene Marquis, sitting at the square with her husband and dog. "But what can you do?"
    The city has thought of ways to protect the horses, such as erecting small, white fences around the horses at events that draw large crowds to the square. Dalke said they can't assess if the tactic works, but he said he does not "know of any incidences that have occurred when the fence was up."
    On April 3, 2002, the first sign of damage was found when city officials discovered cracks in the upper surface of Scenic Wonder. The artist repaired the horse at a cost of $3,141. Five months later, damage was found on the leg of SkyDancing. That cost $808 to fix.
    Then last May, SkyDancing and Travels were found damaged. SkyDancing is estimated at $204 to repair, while Travels will cost $864 to repair.
    To date, the city has spent $5,017 in repair costs. The money has been paid from the city's Self Insurance Liability and Property Funds.
    Dalke suspects most of the damage happens when people visit the square during the day and party downtown at night. In May, the city found dark streaks on the upper and side surfaces and chips in the paint surface on the horses at the square, indicating that people are climbing, and "riding" them, he said.
    The horse at City Hall did not show any of these marks.
    All the horses, however, show early signs of weathering and fading. Dalke said local paint professionals have advised routine cleaning and waxing will prolong the life of the paint, but not ward off deterioration. Applying a "clearcoat" finish as often as every two years could also help to reduce damage from the sun - a measure that could tally $100 per horse, per application.
    "We just wanted to let Council be aware of what's going on and the potential exposure to the horses, so if something does happen they would know about it ahead of time . . . They can decide what they would like to do, if anything," Dalke said. "It's Council's decision."
    Marion Cultural Alliance sponsored Horse Fever two years ago. Paula King, board chair, said having the horses displayed on the square has been wonderful for the city and the community.
    "I'm glad the city wants to look at this issue, but I hope they will do it in a way that allows the people of Marion County to still enjoy them," she said. "Let's keep in mind how much people love them and try to preserve them and provide access to them. I think we can get a little creative and find locations where the public can still enjoy them, but receive a little less wear and tear."
    Fernando Del Busto, in town for weekend camping, was on the square Friday night with his kids taking pictures of the horses. "It'll be a shame if they left," said Del Busto, a Miami resident. "It attracted us here when we saw them."
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