enjamin Franklin once said that, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. If you are a horse owner, failing to plan properly for the care of your animals in the event of a natural disaster can be deadly for them.
Preparing your property for a disaster is serious business. When you are also managing the care for a large animal, such as a horse, the stress can magnify exponentially—especially in the event of an evacuation.
This summer, we all witnessed the potential destructive power of Mother Nature, whether it be from storm damage or flooding generated by three major hurricanes (Harvey, Irma and Maria), the wildfires that decimated the West Coast and Pacific Northwest, or the major earthquake that devastated Mexico City.
Disaster can result on a household level from smaller events such as tornadoes, winter storms that cause lengthy power outages and unnavigable roads, major rain events, drought, or forced evacuations due to the presence of hazardous materials.
Above all, being prepared is your best defense to safeguard your property, and your horses.
Not sure where to start? We have gathered information from a variety of authorities in the equine world, including the Humane Society, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the Center for Equine Health at UC Davis, to comprise this general guide on what to do before a disaster takes place. Because before a disaster takes place is when you should do most of your preparation and when you should make sure you have what you need on hand well before unforeseen events take place. Depending on the situation, you may have just a few minutes to evacuate.
Take A Look. Make an honest evaluation of your property. Where will be the best place to house your animals in the event of each type of disaster?
Safety First. You can take a few measures now to protect your barn and, with it, your animals, such as making sure fire extinguishers are readily accessible around the barn. Lightning rods or even a professionally installed security system can help mitigate the potential damage from a fire.
Identification. Make sure each of your horses are properly identified so that you can be reunited in the event you are separated from them. Microchipping is the recommended method of identification. Other options include attaching an ID tag to the halter of each horse or placing a plastic band around the neck of each horse with your address and contact information engraved upon it. You can even paint your name, address and phone number on the side of each horse, or write that info on a luggage tag and braid it into the mane. Owners are also encouraged to take multiple, detailed photographs of each of their horses, while noting the breed, color, distinguishing marks, and other significant features. Place these documents in a sealed plastic bag and make backups—either physical copies which are stored elsewhere or digital copies uploaded to a cloud server.
Halters. Keep enough halters and lead ropes ready and handy for each of your horses in the event you need to move or evacuate them in a hurry. Attach a luggage tag with the name of the horse and your contact information. These halters should be made of leather. Halters made of nylon or other synthetic materials are much more likely to break under stress, and can melt into the skin of your horse in the event of a fire.
Stay Up To Date. It is illegal to transport any horse across state lines without a current negative Coggins test. Many locations will not board a horse without this documentation. Make copies of these tests, other medical records, and vaccination records, and keep them in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box or safe.
Ready To Ride? Take time to examine your horse trailers. Are they well-maintained and ready to roll? Check the tires, floor and hitch, while also ensuring the truck that hauls the trailer is road ready. Keep at least half a tank of gas in the vehicle at all times. Will all your horses fit on your trailer safely? If not, you need to plan accordingly. If you own horses, but do not have a horse trailer, make arrangements to borrow one quickly in the event of an emergency. Practice loading and unloading them in the trailer. This process will be more difficult in times of stress, so it is important to train them on loading and unloading now.
Find Safety. Determine now where you can take your animals in the event of an emergency evacuation. Identify at least two different routes you can take to reach this destination. A good location is an area belonging to a friend or fellow horse owner that can serve as a safe shelter where your horses can be stabled, with this location preferably being a substantial distance away from the area that might be affected by the disaster. You can contact your veterinarian, local animal control department, or emergency management office for information about shelter options for horses in your area.
Be Sure To Back Up. Having a plan is one thing, but when you are a horse owner, you need multiple plans in the event of a disaster. What if an evacuation is needed and you simply don’t have time to load all your horses? Also, depending on the disaster, your horses may have a better chance if they are turned out into a field. Your backup plans should include what to do in the event your horses are unable to evacuate or would be safer being left behind.
Communication Is Key. Make sure your friends and neighbors know your plan in the event of an emergency. We suggest posting detailed instructions and details of your plan in several places on your property, including your horse trailer and entrances to your barn, so they can be seen by emergency workers in the event you must evacuate and leave your horses behind.
Stock Up. Keep enough fresh water and hay on hand to sustain all your animals for at least 72 hours. Be sure to set aside some buckets that can be used to hold water. Prepare multiple first aid kits—one that can be taken with you in the event of an evacuation and one in the barn. These first aid kits should include bandages, antiseptic, plastic gloves, wound tape, duct tape, tweezers, etc. Prepare a general emergency kit that includes items such as water buckets, tarps, scissors, wire cutters, a sturdy knife, and an extra halter and lead rope.
Know Your Policy. Contact your insurance provider to determine what is and is not covered, in the event of a disaster.
Act Early. When you first receive news a disaster may be imminent, round up all your horses as soon as possible. If any disaster that you can anticipate is on the way, such as a hurricane, evacuate early . . . whether an official evacuation order has been given or not.
Get Your House In Order. You can prepare your stable or barn by unplugging all electrical appliances and transferring water to sturdy troughs or large, heavy bowls that will not tip over due to wind or water. Stow and secure any flammable or poisonous chemicals, removing their threat from the habitat of your horses. If flooding is imminent, move your horses to higher ground where food and water can be accessed.
However, if you must leave your horses behind, be sure to take photographs, proof of ownership, copies of medical records, and their latest Coggins tests with you—ideally, this information should be gathered in a sealed plastic bag.
And always be ready to check with local, state, federal, and non-governmental organizations for information in cases of emergency. Each plan will be different for each situation, so be ready to customize and adapt.
Be prepared, equipped, composed, willing and able. Your horse is depending on you.
If you are not in a natural disaster, but are fortunate enough to help those who have been affected, be an informed donor. A good place to start is by visiting an independent charity assessment organization such as charitywatch.org or charitynavigator.org, where you can learn more about various charities, find organizations with top ratings, get tips on giving or volunteering, search by state or event, and much more.