Caution: Disaster Ahead

Don't delay! Make an emergency-preparedness plan for your farm, your horses and your clients' horses today.

Don’t delay! Make an emergency-preparedness plan for your farm, your horses and your clients’ horses today. Be sure to check out our slideshow.

If a wildfire came roaring through the canyon behind your farm, a tornado came barreling up your street or a flash flood came pouring down the creek on your property, do you have a plan for caring for the horses in your care? If you don’t, this could be the most important article you read this year. Natural disasters are becoming more prevalent, and even if you don’t live in an ice storm-prone area, coastal hurricane region or earthquake zone, you and your clients need to be prepared.

Develop a farm-specific emergency-preparedness plan and work with your clients so they understand yours and can develop their own using these six steps:

1. Familiarize yourself with possible disasters and options for surviving each.

If given ample warning of a disaster and evacuation orders are served, get your horses out immediately.

“The biggest misconception, which has been disproved, is that animals can fend for themselves if left behind,” says Humane Society of the United States director of disaster response Niki Dawson. “If an evacuation order is given, grab your go-kit, your horse and leave. Owners need to prepare to care for themselves and their pets for at least 36 hours. Do not expect that resources will be provided to you by local or county government agencies, which will be overwhelmed with requests for help. With a forecasted event, such as a hurricane, allow 48 hours before impact to evacuate,” says Dawson.

When evacuation is not an option, one big question horse owners have is whether they should keep their horses indoors or turn them out when a weather-related emergency is on the horizon. The answer, according to Dawson, is it depends: “Horse owners need to evaluate each possible event and determine, using research and common sense, under which circumstances horses should be sheltered in place inside the barn or when it is safer to turn out. For example, during a wildfire, which could take over a structure, survival chances are nil. Therefore, turning a horse out, removing all nylon … and metal, will increase chances of survival. … In a water event, horses should be given access to the highest possible land point to avoid flood waters. Horses have a unique instinct to escape danger, so access to large fields during a possible tornado, hurricane or wildfire increases chances of survival.”

2. Keep an updated emergency contact list posted in the barn.

“A minimum of two-deep call-down list or phone tree should be maintained for stable staff as well as [horse] owners. This means that the owner must provide emergency phone numbers not only for him/herself, but also one additional contact, such as a friend or relative, who can make decisions on behalf of the horse owner in an emergency,” says Dawson.

3. Develop an emergency kit for each horse, and require your customers to keep these updated.

The emergency kit includes items needed to evacuate with your horse, including “a halter—remember nylon melts!—and lead rope, water bucket, feed in an airtight container, medications and instructions, … flashlight and equine first-aid kit,” says Dawson.

Water is also essential in an emergency, in the event you lose power or evacuate to a place without a water source.

Also include microchip and tattoo numbers, documents, and photos to identify the horse, should you become separated during a disaster. “Take numerous pictures of you with your horse, showing all sides with any clearly identifying scars or features. Ensure copies of relevant papers, including up-to-date vaccinations, health records and Coggins tests, are kept with pictures,” says Dawson. “Purchase fetlock bands or identification collars so your horse is clearly marked, or put your contact information in a plastic bag and tape it to your horse’s halter.”

Keep all emergency kits for all horses in one place that’s accessible by you, your staff and your clients.

4. Develop an evacuation plan.

All horses must know how to load in the trailer to evacuate successfully. “Trailering quickly should be practiced numerous times throughout the year in different conditions—at night, in inclement weather, et cetera,” says Dawson.

Discuss trailering options with your clients, should an evacuation become necessary. “While it is the responsibility of barn managers/owners to provide for the safety of the horses in their care, the individual horse owner must recognize the challenges of evacuating a large number of horses quickly. Owners should have a plan to have an emergency trailer/transportation option in case a manager/owner cannot accommodate his or her horse in an evacuation. Manager/owners should ensure horse owners know evacuation routes, and managers should stage practice drills a few times a year to familiarize individual horse owners with the evacuation process,” says Dawson.

Discuss evacuation-route options with your local law enforcement agency, and develop maps for you and your clients.

Know where to bring horses in the event of evacuation. Often, shelters are set up at fairgrounds and showgrounds, but these can fill up, so have your own sheltering plan in place. Know the vaccination and documentation requirements for the sheltering area, and be sure your horses meet these requirements.

5. Prepare your property.

Make sure fire extinguishers work, trucks and trailers are properly maintained, flammable hazards are not stored in the barn, and a firebreak is maintained around the property perimeter by removing vegetation and flammable material. Ensure fences are in good repair, and remove debris that could become projectiles in a high-wind event.

6. Review your plan annually.

Look at your emergency-preparedness plan and ask clients to update their horses’ files each year.

Chances are good that you will not need to put your emergency-preparedness plan into action, but if you do, having one can mean the difference between disaster and survival for the horses in your care.

Be Ready

Read more emergency-preparedness advice for large animals from these organizations:

American Association of Equine Practitioners

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Humane Society of the United States

University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service






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