The images are hard to take. But they don’t even come close to the reality.
“It is a complete disaster,” says Daniel Bedoya, a grand prix show jumper, trainer and owner of Bedoya Training Stables in Magnolia, Texas, who is helping in equine rescue efforts. “Pictures and video don’t do it justice. What used to be pastures are now rivers and lakes. Roads you drive every day are under 12 feet of water.”
Bedoya spoke with COTH while driving his truck and trailer on a mission to rescue at least two more privately owned animals left trapped in floodwaters. On Monday, he and fellow hunter/jumper trainers Trapp O’Neal and Dylan Harries helped to evacuate 28 horses to safety, moving many of them to their own facilities, which are dry and now completely full. By Tuesday, widespread flooding made a trip that normally would take 15 minutes last two hours. But an additional horse is now safe due to those efforts.
“There was another barn down south [of Houston, where flooding has been the worst] with 50 horses who were standing in water that no one could get to,” says Bedoya. “Some people are just letting their horses free, hoping that they can swim and find higher ground.”
In spite of the horror of the situation, there are many examples of equestrians and other animal lovers doing just what Daniel has—reaching out with offers of rescue, shelter and supplies.
Amy Uniss is the general manager of the Great Southwest Equestrian Center, a major horse show facility located in Katy, Texas. The facility is currently housing 275 evacuated horses, and still has space to take more. Uniss’ own home has been flooded for days, but despite this she continues to try to assist horse owners whose facilities are in imminent danger of flooding. She says that they won’t turn anybody away.
“This is something that happens, but it doesn’t happen here,” says Uniss. “It is really, really bad, but the Equestrian Center is currently high and dry. My crew has been amazing—Val [Garza, operations manager] and Carlos [Aguilar, maintenance manager] have been absolute godsends. They are good, and smart, and they are taking care of people.”
The animals that are housed at the Equestrian Center remain under the care of their owners, though in a few cases other people have had to step in to assist. Uniss says that while many evacuees are running low on staples, like hay and grain, the staff is going to wait at least another 24 hours to watch the levels of abutting Parker Reservoir before allowing supply trucks to send relief.
“The part where the barns are and the horses are stabled should be OK,” said Uniss. “Once we are sure, [the Equestrian Center] is going to be a place where people can bring hay and feed, and we are working to figure out how to get it to the people who need it.”
Uniss has also been working with feed companies Cargill and Purina, who are staged and ready to ship supplies, as well as local vets like Dr. Bill Stone of the Katy Equine Clinic, to secure aid. The Texas Veterinary Medical Association is working to set up a fund where financial donations can be collected for use in purchasing supplies as the needs become clearer.
Bedoya says that the devastation has been overwhelming, but the offers of support and assistance have provided some hope. “There are so many boats that are being pulled into the city,” says Bedoya. “You need to be familiar with the area to safely get around, and people have just been saying to take them. There were a bunch of cattle people who went in to rescue another 50 horses at a facility. People are willing to help.”
On the flip side is the stark reality of the situation. Bedoya said that a horse that they picked up yesterday could barely walk after standing in the floodwaters. “Most of the big barns evacuated early,” said Bedoya. “[Many of] the horses we are rescuing are the backyard horses. The owners are scared to let go of them. How those people are going to rebuild, I really don’t know.”
Many of the horses needing rescue have never been on a trailer. They have no Coggins tests. No health papers. And with supplies beginning to run low, even those whose facilities are staying above flood stage are going to be looking for help.
“I think it is going to get worse in the next few days,” said Bedoya. “There is not much people can do for us right now, because it takes forever to get around, but start collecting the supplies and have them ready. We are going to need hay, shavings, feed, basic supplies. Thrush Buster [and veterinary supplies] too; all the horses will have been standing in water for days. And after the water goes down we will need fly spray, because the mosquitoes are going to be a big problem in the next few weeks.”
Despite her own worries, Uniss remains positive that the horses currently sheltered at GSWEC will be OK. “The horse community is fabulous about stuff like this,” she said. “I know that people are going to come through.”
For rescuers like Bedoya, this is a long way from his usual routine, training top hunter/jumper horses and working with clients. But he says that it is the right thing to do. “We are some of the lucky ones, that our farms are okay,” said Bedoya. “We’re just trying to help other people.”
The Sam Houston Race Park has also opened its stables to any equines needing shelter, free of charge. Representatives were unavailable for comment at this time but those in need can contact their Security Office at 281-807-8790. The Texas Animal Health Commission has compiled a list of equine holding facilities and shelters.
How Can You Help?
Equestrians across the country are responding to the need for both immediate and long-term assistance for the horse owners of the greater Houston area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Until the floodwaters begin to subside, most trucks carrying supplies are being turned away from the Houston basin due to inaccessible roads and lack of storage. However, those on the ground report that the need for essentials like hay, bedding and feed will be great in the days and weeks to come. Additionally, regular supplies like halters, lead ropes, buckets and basic first aid supplies like bandages, ointment and thrush treatments will all be in short supply. Many local equine organizations and tack stories are taking up collections of donations for these types of supplies and sending truckloads to the area.
- On Facebook, the public group 2017 Houston Flood Horse Rescue/Help Group has become a clearinghouse for both requests for and offers of aid. Another resource with an active Facebook feed is the East Texas Equine Evacuation/Disaster Relief Network. The Horses For Harvey Facebook page is publicizing fundraising efforts by top riders, such as a Kyle Carter coursewalk at the USEA American Eventing Championships and other riders offering to donate the funds raised by lesson days to the effort.
- The Houston Dressage Society has started a Google Doc, available on its Facebook page, where those offering equine shelter or other aid can load their contact information. They report that offers of assistance have come in from many neighboring states, including Florida and Oklahoma, offering to take horses.
- The Texas Veterinary Medical Association is coordinating the receipt of cash donations.
- The Texas Animal Health Commission has set up a Harvey Hotline at the Animal Response Operation Coordination Center for those looking to volunteer or make a donation; wanting to offer shelter for animals; or needing to report live or dead animals: 512-719-0799.
- The Texas Animal Health Commission also has an emergency page with a lot of information about resources and donations.
- And the Texas A&M Foundation has a Veterinary Emergency Disaster Fund set up that will assist in response and relief operations as well as to offset medical and other costs that arise after a disaster with significant veterinary impact.There are several larger equine-specific disaster relief funds that you can donate to that will support the efforts of emergency response groups and organizations that are helping horses impacted by the flooding.
- U.S. Equestrian Federation Equine Disaster Relief Fund: Developed in 2005 during the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, the USEF Equine Disaster Relief Fund was formed to help ensure the safety and well-being of horses during trying times. Since its inception, over $370,000 has been donated to aid horses across all breeds in disaster-related situations. All money donated to the fund is strictly used to benefit horses and horse owners, and the USEF will be working with the Houston SPCA to help animals that have been displaced. To donate to the USEF Disaster Relief Fund: https://www.usef.org/donate
- American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation Equine Disaster Relief Fund: The AAEP Foundation will work with agencies and veterinary members in Texas, Louisiana and other affected states to identify the needs of the equine community. Supplies are not being accepted currently as the catastrophic storm is still occurring. Once the Foundation receives an assessment of need and distribution protocols from the agencies and veterinary members in the afflicted areas, the Foundation will work to support them with supply needs as well. To support the impending needs of these equine victims, please donate online. If you wish to offer assistance with supplies or other resources, please email Keith Kleine at firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be contacted with further instructions.
- Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International Disaster Relief Fund: The fund helps centers in need due to catastrophic disasters not normally covered by operating insurance. This includes flooding. The fund was started in 2005 to help centers with the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. To donate, click here: Donate to the PATH Intl. Disaster Relief Fund. Additionally, if your PATH Intl. Center needs disaster relief, click here for information and to download the Disaster Relief Fund application.
There is always the Red Cross and the Humane Society of the United States, which are both active in human and animal rescue and relief efforts. Additionally, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that will accept tax deductible flood relief donations and will be administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation.