America has been hit hard by natural disasters over the past few months, but few places, if any, have felt Mother Nature's wrath more than Puerto Rico. On September 20, in one fell swoop, everything collapsed. Not just trees, homes and other structures, but power grids, communications channels and dependable food and water sources. Not only were people's livelihoods gone, but in many cases their lives were hanging in the balance.
Never does a humanitarian crisis affect only humans. During times of natural disasters, animals also fall victim to nature's fury. For many whose livelihoods center around Puerto Rico's Hipódromo Camarero and the racehorses, pony horses and members of the jockey school who call it home, it is not only their own lives they are struggling to save, but their horses' lives as well.
While an estimated 300 horses were relocated by their owners to available farms and other areas prior to Maria making landfall, 800 horses rode out the hurricane in their stalls on the Cameraro backside. Since then, access to clean water, forage and even the most basic care has been hard to come by for many of these horses, just as it has been for their owners, trainers and care takers.
Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare's Kelly Stobie is on the front line of efforts to coordinate the intake of water, forage, supplies and care to many of the horses still left at the track.
“Many people are hauling in hay and water and are taking as good of care as possible of their horses. Most of the barns lost roofs and many of their caretakers' lives are in shambles or worse, so there are some horses who are not getting regular care, or any care,” said Stobie from a satellite phone on Monday. “Those are the ones we're focusing on.”
Stobie has been going stall to stall each day throughout the 36 barns on the Camarero backside, taking stock of which horses are being cared for, which need makeshift triage in their stalls, and which ones need to be taken, often on foot, to the equine hospital like this mare, who Stobie found in her stall eight days after the hurricane with a slice to her lower leg from a piece of metal from what was once her barn's roof (the video was taken by Stobie as she walked the mare to the clinic, where she was found to have a cut to her tendon. She is currently on penicillin and IV fluids and is said to be resting comfortably and baring weight on the injured leg)].
On Monday at 4:30 a.m., a plane operated by Swift Air carrying nearly 20 tons of alfalfa cubes and veterinary supplies departed Miami and landed 2 1/2 hours later in San Juan, where Stobie and others were waiting with trucks to transport the plane's payload to the racetrack.
“The forage was desperately needed,” said Stobie. “We had enough grain for the time being for the horses, but without forage and with water so scarce, there was potential for mass colic.”
Organizations including the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Foundation, TCA, The Jockey Club, Brookledge's Horse America, and the Texas Equine Veterinary Association (TEVA) worked closely with Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare and Ranch Aid, a FEMA-appointed organization that assists with logistics and care for large animals during natural disasters.
“It was an incredible challenge that was made possible by Terry Finley, Vincent Viola and the entire Swift Air team,” said Erin Crady, Executive Director of the TCA. “They moved heaven and earth for us and for that we are eternally grateful. Kelly sent photos last night of horses munching on some of the hay cubes. Knowing these horses now have something to eat has made these challenges all worth it. There is much more to be done and we are already working on what our next steps will be.”
Helping Stobie from the U. S. is her colleague and friend, Shelley Blodgett, with whom she formalized Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare in 2016. Blodgett assisted in keeping organizations and interested horsemen and women from the mainland up to date on the status of the Camarero horses and what Stobie was seeing via regular phone calls with Stobie and posts on the organization's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/horserescue) and her personal Twitter handle (@ShelleyBlodgett).
“We want to point out how much the American Thoroughbred industry is doing to help these horses. From The Jockey Club and TCA funding the plane and TRF devoting half of their hay drive to OBS working on another large container of feed and supplies, it's very heartwarming,” said Blodgett.
Stobie was quick to note that their goal is multi-pronged. While they are caring for the horses already retired and in the care of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare, they're also working to help those horses that are in need of retirement. Furthermore, Stobie, Dr. Ricardo Loinaz (sports medicine and surgery specialist at the equine hospital located on the grounds of Camarero) and others are working tirelessly to help get the racing industry back up and running so the many backside workers, including grooms, exercise riders and others can return to earning wages that will go toward rebuilding their own lives.
“The ultimate goal is to avoid losing as many horses as possible and be a resource in general for this track, its horses and the horsemen,” said Stobie. “We need people to muck stalls, check on horses and work as a team to get this track back on its feet. Riders, grooms – these people lost everything, and on top of that, right now they don't have a job to go back to because nothing is operational. We are raising money to hire workers to help us care for the horses and get the track back on its feet. Many of these horses will be able to race on, and for those that are in need of retirement, we are working on arrangements for them as well.”
To learn more and to donate to Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare, go to http://adoptcaribbeanottb.org/adopt/donate/.
To donate to the TCA's Horses First Fund, go to www.tca.org.
For breeders/former owners of horses that were stabled and or racing at Hipódromo Camarero and would like to offer a home and/or transport costs for them if they are in need of retirement, contact Shelley Blodgett via direct message on the Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare page or via her Twitter handle (@ShelleyBlodgett) or by emailing [email protected].
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. While she currently has no plans to build an ark, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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