Wise Horse Owners Expect the Unexpected to Keep Horses Safe during Disasters

Horse caught on wrong side of river after cyclone Wilma
Horse caught on wrong side of river after cyclone Wilma Flickr.com - M Francis McCarthy

With the continuing threat of wild fires, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, cyclones, and hurricanes and floods and the threat of upcoming flash floods, heavy snow,and damaging winds, much of the U.S. has the potential of facing natural disasters that may raise havoc for horses and humans.

In addition, the possibility of man made emergencies including gas leaks or propane spills, breaks in pipes carrying oil, and barn and stable fires are ever present.

Practice makes perfect when trailer loading your horse

Practice makes perfect when trailer loading your horse

During hurricanes, earthquakes, wild fires, floods and other disasters, having a plan in place will save you time and money and possibly the lives of your horses.
© 2015 by Nancy Kerson

These potential disasters force the upheaval and relocation of local residents and their animals leaving many horse owners wondering what will be coming their way next.

No one is immune from the possible effects of a disaster, no matter what the season, but preparing ahead of time and having an emergency plan in place before disaster strikes will help to keep our horses safe and out of harm's way.

Plan it Out

Being aware of the possible risks in your region is the first step toward preparing for any possible disaster that has the potential to cause a short term or long term disruption to you, your family and your animals. Is your area prone to flooding? What about tornadoes or blizzards? If the roads are closed, how do you get food to your horses?

The next step is to plan for any possible extended disruption of services. Authorities usually recommend having at least two weeks supply of feed/hay on hand, and kept stored in a dry area. Top off all water tanks and buckets before an impending storm, and store additional water in plastic trash cans secured with lids in a safe place.

If you bring your horses out of the barn and just turn them loose, most likely the horses will try to run back into the barn. That's where their haven is.

Consider having well-maintained generators on hand to provide emergency power, and have enough fuel to keep them running for several days. Always keep an up-to-date emergency care kit that includes vet wrap, bandages, medications, flashlights, batteries, etc. Having an envelope set aside with emergency cash, the amount depending on your budget and needs will also come in handy for times such as these.

In the case of an evacuation, while you might be able to take the family pet along with you to a hotel, it's not the time to start calling around to find a safe location to move your horses. Prearrange an evacuation site for your horses and map out primary and secondary routes in advance.

Develop a buddy system with friends and neighboring barns. Don't hesitate to ask for help when the time comes. Also, make sure your horses are trained to easily load and unload from a trailer. If evacuation is not possible, decide where on the property to safely store your horses.

Micro chipping, branding, or tattooing, along with registration with online identification agencies, provides a permanent form of animal identification. As an alternative, ensure that your horses are equipped with some form of identification such as a halter tag, neck collar, or leg tag that contains your contact information, should you have to leave them behind.

1. Plan

Decide where you will be sheltering your horse during the natural disaster and how you will get there, and then share that plan with everyone living in your home and anyone who may care for your horses in your absence. Make sure you have at least two routes to get to your evacuation site in case of road closures. Plan to begin transport as soon as authorities issue an evacuation of your area, if not before.

2. Prepare

Put together an evacuation kit for your horse that includes a checklist of what tack you will need to bring with you, paperwork proving your ownership and health of your horse (branding papers, microchip papers, photographs, veterinary records, Coggins test) and an emergency first aid kit. Consider teaming up with a neighbor for evacuation; pooling resources such as a trailers and supplies may make the process more efficient.

4. Teach

Teach your horse to load in your trailer under calm conditions, since you want him to be on autopilot in an emergency situation. Ideally you will practice loading your horse into the trailer in which you plan to evacuate him and make sure your evacuation trailer has room for all your horses. Once inside the trailer, tie your horse or horses, to keep them from hurting themselves or others during transport.

5. Provide hay and feed for horses

Take at least one bale of hay and a bucket for water, more if you have multiple horses,as well as any special foods for senior and special-needs horses. You may not have immediate access to hay and buckets wherever you are sheltering your horse.

There may be times when taking your horses with you is impossible during an emergency. So you must consider different types of disasters and whether your horses would be better off in a barn or loose in a field.

Human Safety Comes First

In the case of a natural or man-made disaster, it's important that the safety of humans come first, says District Chief Victor MacPherson of the Adjala-Tosorontio Fire Department. "Make sure that you and your family are safe before assisting your animals," he says. "In the case of a fire or flash flood, this is where emergency preparedness comes into play. If the barn is on fire or flood waters threaten your property, what do you do? What do you do with your livestock?"

Protecting horses and humans during disasters

Protecting horses and humans during disasters

In addition to Mother Nature's list of natural disasters such as flash floods and tornadoes, horse owners need to consider other potential dangers to horses such as the possibility of man made emergencies including gas leaks or propane spills.

"My advice is, if it's safe to do so, try to get them out. However, if you bring your horses out of the barn and just turn them loose, most likely the horses will try to run back into the barn. That's where their haven is; what they consider to be their safe place. People should have a location in mind ahead of time to safely keep them together, such as a field or another barn far away from the fire or flooding."

As is often the case in an emergency when people call 911, firefighters are usually the first responders to the scene. Because of this, many firefighters are now receiving training in how to handle animals in emergency situations.

Preparedness is Essential

While it's impossible to prepare for all conditions, don't let an emergency situation catch you off guard. Having a basic plan in place ahead of time for either the evacuation or sheltering of your horses allows you to handle an emergency with less stress and a clearer head.

"Pre-incident planning is crucial for any farm owner," says Chute. "Farms by their very nature contain many hazards to humans, animals and the environment, and careful planning before the event of an emergency can save lives and property."

"Local fire departments are usually quite happy to assist in developing pre-incident plans and can give further advice on fire detection and suppression systems that can be retrofitted or installed in new buildings. Regular inspection and repair of all human and animal housing and fencing will go a long way to keep you and your animals safe."

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.