Equine Groups Band Together to Provide Feed for Hurricane-Affected Areas

(Edited press release)

Five equine organizations joined together this week to provide 6,500 bales of hay to nearly 800 horses in Vermilion Parish, La., that were affected by Hurricane Rita. The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Foundation, and the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association (LVMA) Equine Committee Foundation combined financial resources to donate approximately $59,000 to the relief effort. The Equine Health Studies Program (EHSP) at the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and the Blue Devils Horse Platoon (BDHP) at the Walker Army Reserve Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., located the hay and coordinated delivery and distribution.

"Similar to the actual hurricane rescue operations last year, we were initially contacted and informed of the need by horse owners and volunteers in the area," said Rustin Moore, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, director of the EHSP and president of the LVMA Equine Committee Foundation."Once we had a clear understanding of the situation we simply worked together to find a solution. It has been amazing to see the number of groups that were willing to come forward with either monetary assistance or through their own efforts to see this shipment of hay come to fruition."

Shannon Gonsoulin, DVM, of New Iberia, La., Phil Deville, DVM, of Abbeville, LA, and Vermillion Parish Agriculture Extension Agent Andrew Granger were instrumental in assessing needs and will assist in coordinating the distribution of donated hay, feed and vaccines. Tetanus and encephalitis vaccines have been purchased with funds from the LVMA’s Dr. Walter J. Ernst, Jr. Veterinary Memorial Foundation and distributed to Deville for administration to Vermilion horses.

Most of the Vermilion horses are used to work the cattle in the area. Lying just north of Vermilion Bay, this was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Rita. Parish extension agents estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 cattle perished subsequent to this storm. Most of the horses were turned out of their stalls during the hurricane, and the majority survived; but many were caught in the tidal surge of the hurricane and perished.

The difficulty producers now face is not only the loss of livestock, but the severe saltwater pasture damage. Having already endured the loss of property, homes, and even livelihoods, it has become a heavy financial burden to feed and maintain their herds.

"When we learned of the ongoing plight of horse owners in these areas, we were able to get the word out through numerous avenues including the USEF, The Horse magazine and other media outlets," said Moore."The USEF and its senior vice president for marketing, Maria Partlow, were instrumental in helping us to get in touch with people regarding this need," Moore continued.

"Daily we hear on the news about the continuing challenges and struggles in the city of New Orleans, but the situations in rural areas are rarely reported on," said Partlow."When Dr. Moore contacted us (USEF) for help, we were able to respond…because of the generosity of thousands of donors to the USEF Hurricane Relief Fund. The BDHP and the Army Reserve deserve all the credit for sourcing the hay from Michigan farmers and getting it to the area."
Commission Warrant Officer (CW4) Richard Dyk and other members of the BDHP, Moore, and Keith Kleine, director of industry relations for the AAEP, recently met at the USEF annual meeting in Cincinatti, Ohio, and exchanged ideas about how efforts were coordinated and how they could be improved to respond to future disasters involving horses.

Following that meeting, Moore and Dyk worked to locate and arrange transport for the hay. The first 1,255 of the 6,500 bales arrived on two trucks in Kaplan, La., on Feb. 13. Two more trucks are being loaded in Michigan for subsequent deliveries during the week of Feb. 19. Approximately 11 trucks will be required to deliver the remaining hay."Additional hay has been located in Virginia and Maryland, and producers have indicated that they are willing to donate it for horses and cattle," said Moore, who is trying to find funds for transporting hay to other  affected areas.

Brenda Hebert, a volunteer with the Vermilion Animal Aid, and owner of the farm where the organization is based, said many ranchers who helped rescue cattle and horses from floodwaters were unable to claim any of the initially donated feed and supplies last fall before they ran out.

Nearly 20 people assisted with volunteer efforts to offload the hay this week including local farmers, trustees from the Vermilion Parish Prison accompanied by Deputies David and Reed Mouton, and several volunteers from Ohio.

Scott Esthay, owner of Premier Farm and Ranch Supply, volunteered forklifts and supplies, as well as storage space for the hay. Despite not owning any animals, Wayne Miller, a local friend and neighbor, donated his time.

Leslie Talley, an equine technician and technician supervisor in the LSU Equine Clinic, was instrumental in helping to coordinate the hay relief activity. She communicated frequently with Hebert to assess the needs and provided logistics for having the hay unloaded and stored upon its arrival.

Hay producers who agreed to supply the hay at a greatly discounted rate were Carol Woodman (800 bales), Tim Mason (667 bales), and Dave Mitchell (2,333 bales) of Byron, Mich., and David Yonker of Y-Knot Farms (2,700 bales) in Big Rapids, Mich. (2,700 bales)."Without these people, none of this would ever have been possible," said Dyk."We also wish to thank C&J Trucking of Mount Pleasant, Mich. for making their trucks available on such a short notice to move the hay."

While the onslaught of public attention during hurricane season has faded, the needs of horses and horse owners in southern Louisiana endure. New pastures must be planted, new fences and barns will need to be built, and the need for quality hay will continue until warmer days and spring pastures arrive.

Those interested in donating directly to the efforts to assist the Louisiana Horse Victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita can provide a tax-deductible monetary contribution to the"LVMA Equine Committee Foundation", a 501(c)3, (write "Horse Hurricane Relief" on the memo line). Please mail contributions to Dr. Sonny Corley, LVMA Equine Committee, 121 E. Gloria Switch, Lafayette, LA 70507 or call 337/235-9945.

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