When our customers in Puerto Rico need to keep supplies moving to and from mainland USA, we make it happen. So when Kelley Stobie, co-founder and CFO of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare (CTA) reached out with a special request, we knew we could find a way to help.
Kelley’s not-for-profit organization rescues and rehomes thoroughbred racehorses, returning them to health and finding them safe, peaceful adoptive homes. As you can imagine, funding this important operation is an ongoing challenge. Kelley recently secured funding for a load of hay but had to find a way to get it to Puerto Rico.
This month, Trailer Bridge donated a 53' container and waived all shipping costs for our equine friends at the award-winning Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare Inc. rehabilitation and aftercare program.
Kelley explains, “This donation from Trailer Bridge is incredibly valuable for our business. It’s going to give us about 5 months of hay, so I won’t have to struggle to find 5 bales here and 10 bales there.” says Kelley, “With Trailer Bridge donating the transport and the $3,000 grant we received from After the Finish Line toward the cost of the hay... it’s amazing. Otherwise, we just can’t afford to do it.”
Rehabilitating racehorses on the island of Puerto Rico
Preparing horses for a new home (rehoming) is time-consuming and resource-intensive. Kelley’s organization retrains and rehabilitates thoroughbreds when they end up injured or facing retirement in Puerto Rico. CTA manages their veterinary care, coordinates funding to support their rehabilitation, secures their new home, and then ensures they make it to that final destination safely.
“We do a lot of groundwork because many of them have been abused, so we need to teach them not to be afraid. Once they’re more chilled, we’ll begin riding them—no jumping, just flatwork," Kelley says.
It takes a lot of love and hard work. And as CTA is the only thoroughbred aftercare program on the island, they are often overloaded with horses from the nearby Hipódromo Camarero, Puerto Rico’s only flat racing track.
“The farm is at my house, and it’s a 24/7 job. Many horses come to us so sad and broken, and they need time to learn how to be a horse again,” Kellie says. “Our clock is ticking with some of them, because we cannot keep them forever. We can only take on 20 horses at a time, so we need to move the horses out as quickly as possible.” Kelley says.
She added that it takes about one year to rehabilitate a racehorse.
CTA’s facilities are small – Kelley and her husband own five acres of land and rent a similarly-sized parcel they’ve fenced in. The quality of pasture available in Puerto Rico just isn’t there, though.
“Unfortunately, the grass and hay are of poor quality in Puerto Rico,” Kelley explains. “It’s not like the grass in Kentucky, so we cannot rely on it as a food source. Importing feed is just far too expensive.”
Shipping hay from the mainland is something CTA always wanted to do, given that it would enable Kelley to bring in larger quantities and build a bit of security into her rescue’s food supply. However, the cost to ship the feed to Puerto Rico is simply out of reach for this small nonprofit organization.
Despite these challenges, what Kelley and Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare have been able to do is nothing short of incredible.
Hurricane Maria and the life-saving work of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare
In 2017, Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island of Puerto Rico, and the island’s horses did not escape the devastation. Maria swept ashore as a Category 4 hurricane and demolished the infrastructure at the Camarero racetrack, leaving all 800 thoroughbred racehorses at the facility exposed to the elements, or worse—trapped in the wreckage. The entire roof was shorn away and it was near-impossible for owners to access their stables and tend their injured horses.
In the first minutes of this video, you’ll see the extent of the crisis at Camarero:
Keep watching, though—Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare leapt to the rescue. Despite the obvious danger and the fact that she had sadly just lost her mother, Kelley went to work fighting her way through debris and breaking locks to get fresh water to the horses. Her CTA co-founder, Shelley Gagnon-Blodgett, immediately launched an awareness campaign to rally assistance from the industry and coordinated relief flights of feed and much-needed veterinary supplies from the mainland.
“The whole island was in such chaos; people couldn't even get to the racetrack to help their horses. We found horses three and four days later, still alive that hadn't been fed and had only drunk rainwater or from puddles on the floor," Kelley recalls.
As a result of CTA’s bravery and commitment to the welfare of racehorses, Kelley and Shelley earned the prestigious Eclipse Award and for the first time, this prize was presented to an aftercare facility. The CTA team has also been awarded the Founders Award from the Classic Legacy Thoroughbred Aftercare in Sarasota, Florida.
Leading with love: giving new life to thoroughbreds, post-racing career
Kelley’s love for horses runs deep and prior to founding CTA, she had her first experience rehabilitating horses injured by a hurricane. In 1995, she was working on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten when Hurricane Luis struck.
“We needed medical supplies for our horses, so I got in touch with someone in Puerto Rico to help out. Through that experience, I met a couple who ran a training centre for thoroughbred horses where they took them off the track to retrain and sell them as jumpers. I accepted a job with them in 1996, and helped them start the ‘Save the Horses’ aftercare program. I ran that program for them initially, but about eight years ago I saw that their program had become inactive,” Kelley says. She adds that she realized a lot of horses were being euthanized at the track.
And so in November 2016, Kelley and Shelley incorporated as Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare and became accredited with the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance in Kentucky (2017).
Today, injured horses receive a full health evaluation of their condition by Dr. Ricardo Loinaz and/or Dr. Randi Armand, two veterinarians Kelley credits as major contributors to the ongoing success of her program. “They do all of our vet evaluations for free at the racetrack including x-rays and scopes. They provide all medications at cost and give us a substantial discount when they have to come to the farm,” she says.
Some horses require stall rest, while others can be hand-walked or go directly into training. Training often involves walking and socializing with one of the older horses.
With limited space at the farm, CTA looks at two main options to find new homes for the thoroughbreds. When a horse arrives at their farm, they contact the original breeder or a previous contact to ask if they can provide residence or funding to support the horse. The second option is to request assistance from another TAA-accredited aftercare association or find private agencies.
The logistics of thoroughbred aftercare—and making it happen
Aside from the expense of bringing supplies to the island, Kelley notes that trying to rehome horses to locations outside of Puerto Rico can be a logistical nightmare. In a previous interview with Thoroughbred Daily News, she estimated the cost of shipping a horse to the mainland at a minimum of $3,294.
Kelley used to work as a shipping agent, so she already knows quite a bit about the maritime business. She used Trailer Bridge's services in prior roles when they used to have supplies shipped in from Canada.
"They've always been very professional. Sometimes in big companies, it's really hard to get anyone on the phone, but Trailer Bridge is great. They are so responsive, and their customer service is just great. Getting merchandise cleared through them is always quick and easy," said Stobie.
Even so, it was a CTA board member’s suggestion that she reach out to Trailer Bridge and ask for a discount that inspired her to get in touch.
Ann Jones, Director of Customer Experience here at Trailer Bridge, says, “As soon as I heard her request, I just knew we had to help. The work Kelley and her team are doing is so critical, and Puerto Rico is an incredibly important part of our community.”
Ann reached out to CEO Mitch Luciano to see if they could discount the service. “Yes! Why not?” he said—and gave the go-ahead for his team to not only discount but to provide the shipping free of charge.
And with that, the decision was made and wheels set in motion to get this 53’ shipping container of essential supplies and five months worth of food to the Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare facility in Puerto Rico.
“We got two pallets of Timothy pellets, two wheelbarrows and some pitchforks… it came to about $8,000 and that’s just a lot of money for us,” Kelley says. “We are incredibly thankful.”
The future of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare and how you can get involved
CTA is a federally approved 501c3 registered nonprofit, accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA). The organization relies on grants and donations to survive. Private and corporate donations and the generous veterinary staff help with free evaluations, X-rays, scopes, and medications at cost. Every bit helps to support the horses.
Kelley hopes that with more funding, CTA can create a small sanctuary for those horses that can’t be rehomed to live out their lives in comfort. Her goal, she says, is to make sure that every horse has a happy retirement. And you can help.
There are a few different ways you can support the important work Kelley and her CTA team are doing in Puerto Rico: