Horses Saved; Rescuers Live the Highs and Lows

Eighty-nine equines rescued from areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina are alive and well and staying at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La. They are being cared for by a dedicated team of Louisiana State University (LSU) veterinarians, veterinary students, technicians, and other volunteers.

The center was quiet when The Horse finally got through for information to Dennis French, DVM, professor of farm animal management at the LSU veterinary school. Every equine refugee at the facility is currently medically stable. But, the serenity is sometimes broken. There is a surge of activity after each new trailer arrives, with the team working quickly and steadily to assess every animal's medical needs. Feelings of triumph, or loss, wash over the staff depending on how severely injured the animal is upon arrival and whether it can be saved.

Then there is the occasional tidal wave of emotion when an owner who was forced to evacuate and has lost everything sees that her horse is alive and well.

The Latest Arrivals
Nineteen of the evacuees are horse and mule survivors from Mid-City Carriage's herd that were extracted yesterday (Sept. 4) from New Orleans by the company's owner, drivers, and grooms, said French this evening (Sept. 5). He said one man identified only as Lucien, braved the storm and stayed for nearly a week without food or water at the stables, refusing to leave the animals in his care. They all lived through the water rising and barn flooding.

Lucien told French the story of how one of the mules at one point "decided that she was tired of being there and took off and drug him six blocks through water that was at times over his head, and he felt like he was skiing behind the mule. I imagine it was absolutely terrifying for the guy. He's sort of a slender young fellow, how he made it that long without anything to eat, I don't know."

There was no way for the owners or caretakers to contact the carriage company to check on the animals, but colleagues knew Lucien had probably stayed behind. New Orleans has been nearly impossible to navigate because of high water, lost street and building signs, and debris. But when they finally were able to gain access to the area, French said, all rescuers had to do was to go to the general area of the carriage barn and shout "Lucien," to locate him.

While 19 of the animals survived, 21 were transported to the Expo Center. One horse died en route (a Paint with a history of health problems), and another had to be put down shortly after arrival because it was suffering from severe shock. That horse was a gray Arabian cross that was a favorite of the carriage company owner's daughter.

When the carriage animals arrived at the Expo Center last night after a three-hour trailer ride, the veterinary students, technicians, and volunteers immediately set to work. "They got the standing ones unloaded while we were dealing with this down horse," described French. "One of the other personnel that had volunteered at the stables took the guy (Lucien) over to the human medical services and fed him and tended to him.

French said, "We have about five of them that have some pretty significant diarrhea, sort of blood-tinged. But they're bright and alert, and their problems are just because of the salt water and contaminated water they were forced to drink for the week that they were stranded in the French Quarter. We're slowly introducing them back to some grain rations, and they're responding pretty well."

As French was talking to The Horse, he checked on the five sick carriage animals and happily reported that three had formed feces in their stalls. "I know that's something odd to be excited about, but it means they're doing better," he said.

"As sad as it was to lose those two horses, the evening was pretty exciting…the teamwork that went on was pretty special, and I was really proud of all the students and people here volunteering."

The carriage animals were in addition to 63 that were evacuated from the New Orleans area on Thursday (Sept. 1). All 63 arrived "remarkably healthy," even though they were standing in about three feet of water when they were found. "They had very minimal trauma from the trailer ride up here and they have done just fabulously," said French. An additional seven miniature horses rescued from the Fulsom area of Louisiana arrived at the Expo Center on Saturday.

"We've got some minimal bandage changes, some minor cuts and scrapes, but the rest has been really simple," French said of the other horses.

French told The Horse that another three horses had been rescued from the Fulsom/Covington area of Louisiana and would be on their way to the Expo Center soon. The aid workers who found these animals were tracking two loose Thoroughbred mares that were stabled with the others. "They can see the mares' tracks, but they haven't found them yet," he added.

Learning As We Go
"While the VMAT (Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams) teams have experienced events like this before, we haven't," said French. "What I'd like your readers to know and what I'm most proud of is how the students of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine have responded to this challenge. The five senior students that I have on this service right now, I couldn't have asked for anything better--they are way beyond (the level of) senior veterinary services right now. Also, the Cantering Cajun and River Riders Pony Clubs have been very instrumental in helping us walk the horses and keep the stalls clean."

He knows there is a lot of work left to do, however, and it's difficult to know how many horses have yet to be rescued and how bad the injuries will be. "The sad, but true part of any disaster is that communications that you think are in place tend to fall apart. That's been our biggest challenge--communicating the wishes of state police, rescue groups, etc."

He said that LSU veterinarians, techs, and students have been able to help with small animals as well, with treatment centers at LSU and surrounding areas. "They've been challenged by small animal hospitals that have been flooded and have been recovering 200 dogs out of hospitals that are still living, but heat stressed and compromised, and so there are a number of vets there.

"From the equine side of things our biggest challenge is getting into places where we know are pockets of horses to get them feed and water…that's the big challenge because of the civil unrest and state police being more concerned about (getting in and finding) human life," he continued. French said he is split over the issue. "There's half of me that understands that, but then the other half I think it's just as important to get some of these animals out. I don't think (with our efforts to rescue animals) we've impacted their ability to (reach humans)."

Along with all of the frustration, there are poignant moments when French and his team are reminded of why they're there. A group of horse owners came in over the weekend after seeing a piece published in the Baton Rouge Advocate about horses that had been evacuated from their New Orleans-area stable on Sept. 1. "Some of the folks that had horses in New Orleans that tried to go back and get them and were turned away by the state police," said French. “They were coming back to Baton Rouge and saw the newspaper of the people they were staying with. They were just beside themselves that the horses were safe and sound. The look on their faces and knowing that they have nothing left except these horses…it was pretty special."

French said he hit his emotional wall on Saturday morning, and found himself driving down the road in tears. "It's so devastating to imagine that these people have nothing left except these animals."

If you have information about where horses might be still stranded in areas of Louisiana, please contact 225/578-9501 (LSU Horse Hurricane Hotline) or send a message to Stephanie Church, news editor, at

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About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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