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Preparing for Extreme Summer Weather

Understanding the potential for extreme weather in your area and having an emergency preparedness plan will help keep both horses and humans safe during these events.
Extreme summer weather can be dangerous for horses and humans on a farm; therefore, having a plan is vital for safety. | iStock

Smoke-clogged air, tornado warnings, and days where temperatures spike to 115 degrees. When extreme summer weather hits, a stable manager’s already hectic schedule shifts into overdrive preparing the farm, caring for the horses, and updating owners.

Research the Weather

From wildfires in the Northwest to hurricanes on the East Coast, extreme summer weather varies across the United States. Understanding what type of weather is common in your region will help you learn what to expect during the summer.

Julie Burns, owner and operator of Christina Dora Equestrian LLC, in Apache Junction, Arizona, finds microbursts, heavy rain, and extreme heat are the biggest summer weather threats to her facility and horses. In addition to running her stable, Burns served as a firefighter for 26 years, during which time she learned the importance of preparation and understanding seasonal weather patterns.

Outside of the typical weather applications and news, you can reference the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration and local emergency services to understand potential weather emergencies. “(Stable managers should) know what types of disasters are prevalent in their area to be prepared when they occur,” Burns said.

Shawnee McAninch owns and operates the nonprofit McAninch Farms, in Penrose, Colorado, where she battles strong winds and wildfire threats during the summer. She recommends stable managers talk with other local horse owners to learn about weather challenges they’ve experienced. She’s found her chamber of commerce to be a helpful resource when it comes to searching for people who know the area well.

Once you understand the summer weather you might face, McAninch advises revisiting the facility’s insurance policy. She says she has experienced up to $14,000 of damage to her farm from a single windstorm that ravaged fences, doors, a greenhouse, and the siding and roofing on several buildings. McAninch recommends researching insurance policies to find a plan that meets your facility’s needs based on the region’s weather risks.  

Prepare for the Weather

As soon as you know what kind of weather your region delivers during the summer, it’s time to plan for the possible event.

Heavy rain and winds from summer storms and hurricanes require preparation to keep both humans and horses safe. Burns recommends securing stall awnings and any items heavy winds can move, trimming trees near paddocks or stalls, and securing lids on feed barrels to avoid rain damage.

She also encourages managers to make looking for safety concerns a daily habit. This way, when bad weather (or anything else) comes with little warning, you’ll be ready.

As soon as the rain stops, summer heat returns to Arizona’s valley floor, where temperatures soar above 100 degrees. During extreme heat, Burns provides salt and mineral blocks in turnout locations, checks horses’ gums, skin, and manure for signs of dehydration, and encourages her clients to provide their horses with electrolytes.

Constant access to water is essential. Burns provides her horses with two separate water sources (one automatic and one manual) to ensure they always have a clean water option.

In McAninch’s region of Colorado, past encounters with windstorms have taught her to fasten down anything the wind can move. To get her facility ready for high winds, she closes barn doors, secures loose items around the property, brings horses in from the pasture, and prepares the horses’ feed early. Because the barometric pressure changes can be extreme, she also monitors her horses for signs of colic after the storm.

As her area’s fire danger increased, McAninch realized she didn’t have enough trailers on-site to evacuate all the animals. This spurred her to develop an emergency evacuation plan for her stable and reach out to organizations that offer safety audits for equestrian facilities. McAninch recommends all stable managers find a qualified organization to audit their facility for both safety risks and emergency plans.

This year McAninch is preparing a 100-by-200-foot arena to become a designated evacuation space for wildfires. It has no fuel sources around it and has a water spigot located nearby. In the event of a fast-moving fire, McAninch can place people and animals in the arena.

When it’s safe, both Burns and McAninch remind stable managers to do walk-throughs of their facilities after the bad weather clears. They recommend looking for dangerous debris and checking horses for injuries or signs of distress.

Communicate About the Weather

Extreme weather impacts horses in many ways, so it’s only natural for horse owners to express concern when during bad weather. Effective communication from stable managers can help set owners’ minds at ease or alert them to any concerns.

Both Burns and McAninch welcome communication from their boarders by phone, text, or email during bad weather. Note, however, that being available doesn’t mean sacrificing safety to take a call. On the contrary, McAninch said if she’s unable to answer the phone when it first rings, she will finish what she’s doing and then send a quick reply via text as soon as she can do so safely.

McAninch warns that cell service could become unavailable during a bad storm, preventing easy contact with boarders. In that situation, she recommends checking social media or email (if the internet is still available) to see if owners have tried to reach out in different ways. The bottom line: Communication is key.

Burns often cautions her boarders against coming to the facility during the bad weather to avoid becoming victims of an extreme weather event. Instead, Burns believes the best thing owners can do while a storm is in progress is to keep in contact with their stable manager and wait to come out to the facility until it’s safe. Boarders who risk their safety to come out to the barn during dangerous weather further complicate an already stressful situation.

Horse owners can also help stable managers do their job by avoiding a state of panic. To help prevent her boarders from unnecessary anxiety, McAninch familiarizes them with the barn’s protocol for bad weather. That way, when a storm is in progress, horse owners can quell their panic by knowing their stable manager is doing her best to follow protocols already set in place to care for the horses at the barn.

Moving Forward

While extreme summer weather can interrupt everyday operations, it doesn’t have to result in catastrophe. Not all weather-related emergencies are preventable; however, with research, planning, and communication, stable managers can be prepared to help their boarders stay safe while navigating summer storms.

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