Efforts mobilizing to help horses in Puerto Rico in wake of Maria

Equine organizations within the U.S. are attempting to organize relief efforts in the Caribbean for horses in need of care following the arrival last week of Hurricane Maria, which had especially devastating effects on Puerto Rico and its main racetrack, Camarero.

According to reports, the grandstand at Camarero was heavily damaged by the storm, though no human or equine deaths there have been reported as a direct results of the hurricane. The stable area has also been heavily damaged and flooded, and supplies for the approximately 850 horses thought to be on the backside are thin, according to officials with knowledge of the situation.

Efforts to organize relief from the U.S. have been complicated by widespread power outages across the island since the storm hit and the difficulty in maintaining consistent communication with people on the ground, according to Keith Kleine, the director of industry relations for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, which is attempting to direct help to horses in need across the Caribbean, in concert with other groups and governmental agencies that have been spread thin by the string of damaging September hurricanes.

"A lot of things are still under assessment, because we are having some communication challenges," Kleine said. "I do know that things are not good."

According to Thoroughbred Daily News, a Puerto Rican racing commissioner, Jose Maymo, told local racing constituents in an e-mail late last week that he had visited Camarero after the storm hit and found that "90 percent" of the stalls on the backside did not have roofs. Maymo said in the email that the racing commission would "coordinate everything related to food supplies and beds" for the horses, according to the TDN.

Kleine said that the AAEP is working with the United States Department of Agriculture on providing for supplies to the horses in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, including the Virgin Islands, where three racetracks also were heavily damaged. However, working with government agencies is not moving as swiftly as most people would prefer, in part because the scale of destruction has put a priority on organizing relief efforts for humans.

The affected islands also have a large number of horses that are used for tourism and as companion animals.

A number of racing organizations have contacted the AAEP about contributing funds or help, Kleine said, including The Jockey Club. An official of The Jockey Club, which administers the registry for Puerto Rico, said early on Monday that the organization would make its own donation, and it has also updated its website to direct visitors to the AAEP's fund-raising page for hurricane relief.

In addition, the United States Equestrian Federation is taking donations through its Equine Disaster Relief Fund, which was set up in 2005 after the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Kleine said that individuals hoping to help in the effort should donate money "to charities that they know and trust."

"For the time being, making donations is the best thing they can do while [equine organizations] set up the systems to manage the crisis effectively," Kleine said.