Hurricane Irene: Too Early to Assess Equine Industry Damage

Horse owners watched vigilantly as Hurricane Irene approached the Eastern Seaboard late last week, making preparations to protect their animals and their property. But now that the storm has passed, authorities are in the process of evaluating the damage caused by the Irene.

Several states have been able to preliminarily investigate the damage while others remain without power and the resources needed to make proper evaluations. TheHorse.com is striving to bring you the most up-to-date information regarding the status of the equine industries and horses in the hardest-hit regions and, at press time, had obtained the following information:

Vermont: A report from Reuters indicates that Hurricane Irene brought the worst flooding in more than 80 years to the state of Vermont, and that state officials called the "catastrophic flooding" the worst natural disaster since 1927. The full extent of the damage remains to be evaluated.

"What I can tell you at this time is that Vermont has suffered severe widespread flooding in the wake of Irene, and there are efforts under way at this time to reach out to individuals and organizations within the agricultural sector in order to obtain damage assessments," said Kristen Haas, DVM, Vermont's state veterinarian. "This effort is made more difficult by the fact that there are widespread power outages and communication capabilities are limited. It will likely be a bit more time before we have a full understanding of the extent of the damage.

"The agency of agriculture got notice out to pet and livestock owners last Thursday and Friday to take appropriate measures to protect themselves and their animals, and we are hopeful that they heeded the advice," she added.

Delaware: "To date we have not received any official reports of injuries or deaths to equines due to the hurricane," said Anne Fitzgerald, chief of community relations for the Delaware Department of Agriculture. "We did provide an off-farm shelter at the Delaware State Fair for horses. At 3:50 p.m. on Saturday, we had 18 horses and one dog there." State veterinarian Heather Hirst, DVM, later confirmed that at press time, there had been no reports of any equine injury or fatality related to Irene.

John Wayne, executive director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission, added, "At Delaware Park, every horse was evacuated to high ground due to great effort on the part of the stable hands.   No horses were injured and no deaths." Delaware Park also canceled its Thoroughbred racing for Aug. 29-30 due to a lack of entries as a result of the hurricane, but is expected to resume racing on Aug. 31. 

Further, Hugh Gallagher, Delaware's harness racing administrator, noted "Most of the horsemen are reporting no serious problems at this time. So, for now, we have an all clear to report for Standardbreds."

New Jersey: Irene's damage is still being assessed in New Jersey, and according to Lynne Richmond, the state Department of Agriculture's public information officer, no reports of equine deaths have been reported at this stage.

"At this time, we have not had any reports of livestock losses, but we are still in the assessment stage, and there are still major flooding situations throughout the state," Richmond said. "So I would think we won't have any real information for a few days."

She added, "The Department of Agriculture was well prepared for the storm, and several of the County Fairgrounds were open prior to and during the storm to take in horses; however, there wasn't much utilization of those facilities."

South Carolina: Although the South Carolina coast was one of the first places Irene touched in the United States, the state escaped the brunt of the storm's damage.

"Fortunately, Hurricane Irene had little impact on South Carolina horses," explained Marsha Hewitt, equine marketing specialist for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. "We had a few calls from horse owners early in the week (seeking information), but no one had to move or needed shelter. The worst anyone reported was wind damage (a few trees down) and rain along the coast."

Massachusetts: Suffolk Downs, the East Boston, Mass., Thoroughbred racetrack, remained closed on Aug. 29 due to power outages caused by Irene; however, racing is scheduled to resume on Aug. 30.

New York: Despite some fallen trees and branches caused by Irene's heavy wind and rain, Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., reopened Aug. 29 after being closed the previous day to weather the storm. A BloodHorse.com report indicated that the only adjustments to the card were the running of three turf races that, due to the heavy rain that fell on the grass track, were held on the main track instead.

Additionally, a report from TimesUnion.com indicated the majority horses stabled at Saratoga handled the wind and rain relatively well.

TheHorse.com will continue to provide updates on how horses in the affected regions fared as more information becomes available.

Hurricane Recovery Content

Although the storm has passed, Irene's lasting effects are being dealt with up and down the East Coast. Horse owners in many areas from North Carolina to Maine will be faced with keeping their horses happy and healthy amidst standing flood water and structural damage. TheHorse.com has compiled several articles that could be helpful to owners dealing with the aftereffects of Hurricane Irene:

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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