New Beginnings

If you had never been to Louisiana before, you might drive through the southern countryside today, passing sugarcane fields and oil refineries, and across bridge after bridge spanning a seemingly endless swampland, without too heavy of a reminder that just last fall, nearly all seemed lost. While all is not normal or pristine, you can visit the occasional small town that survived or is rebuilding. And you can even drop in on New Orleans, with its ample supply of "I Survived Katrina" T-shirts in the French Quarter.

I suppose looking back at the chaos and the past five months of recovery, the ongoing battle for normalcy is beginning to weigh in favor of the people.

As a staff member of the Equine Health Studies Program at Louisiana State University, the hurricane experience was very close and very real to me and the entire team of faculty, staff, and students at our hospital. Having waded through muddy streets in search of lost horses, and having stood in the middle of a once-vibrant city that became abandoned neighborhoods without another human being around for miles, we gained a unique understanding of quiet desolation. Those temporary feelings of helplessness combined with the overwhelming anxiety of uncertainty have been branded in our minds forever.

But the awesome power of nature brought more to Louisiana than just a lot of water. The extreme devastation brought on by that unprecedented season of storms paled in comparison to the opportunity for goodness that was unveiled in simply coming together as people helping people. It has been a process recovering from that time, to be sure, but a process in the right direction.

I spent an evening last weekend at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, La. It was Premier Night for Delta Downs, one of two racetracks heavily damaged by the hurricanes that forced the tracks to hold race meets elsewhere. It was an incredible evening with a sell-out crowd, huge fields, and some of the best racing I've seen in Louisiana. A Louisiana homebred, Happy Ticket, a former Breeders' Cup contender, stole the show. There was the occasional comment about pastures coming back and some talk of how the sugar cane crop survived and what prices might yield this year, but the focus was on the horses. There was joy in racing and being together as horsemen.

Yes, this was a Delta Downs event, being run at another racetrack--another example of the ongoing ability to bend, not break. It is that strength and spirit of positive-minded individuals combining their efforts and resources to keep moving forward that made the hurricane sea-son endurable. It is that spirit of giving that brought thousands of dollars, and thousands of volunteers, to our doorsteps when we needed it. It is that strength that made those most heavily affected believe that they could survive.

The necessity and ability to rebuild continues. There is construction and reconstruction taking place everywhere you look; ongoing shipments of hay continue to be solicited to sustain affected herds until summer pastures begin to grow. There are new fences to be erected and new directions to be taken. The ability to endure has never been so dramatically manifested.

If I could say anything about the state of the horse industry today and about the entire hurricane experience, I would say, "Thank You." Thank you to the people of America, and to the horse industry nationwide. We couldn’t have done it without you. And it is because of you that we continue to move ahead. Regardless of the size of your contribution, you did what you could, and it made a difference.

If you look at the horses of Louisiana today, you'll see them standing in fields, or see their heads pop out of stall doors down carefully groomed shedrows. There are many good things happening, and so much yet to be accomplished. There are new foals to be born, new training to be undertaken, trails to ride, and races to run. Without a doubt we are built upon what we have experienced, but our future is shaped by what we can imagine.

About the Author

Ky Mortensen

Ky Mortensen is director of advancement for the Equine Health Studies Program at Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine.

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