How To Prepare Your Horse For A Hurricane

And other natural disasters

In some parts of the world hurricanes are a way of life and something that you just have to deal but a little bit of thought and preparation beforehand can, in some cases, be a life saver! And when you consider that the hurricane season generally lasts for seven months (from mid May to the end of November) it’s easy to see why it’s so important to be prepared.

Preparation doesn’t take long to do but it can save you a lot of time when a hurricane is on the way and you need to act fast. If you intend to evacuate your horse or horses during a hurricane then it’s also a good idea to rehearse it a few times. This might sound silly but doing this while everything is calm will help the evacuation run smoothly when you need to do it for real. 

Horse evacuation plan

You might think that you don’t need to worry about having an evacuation plan if you don’t live in an area susceptible to hurricanes but it’s always a good idea to have some sort of plan in place. You might not be at risk from hurricanes but there are plenty of natural disasters that you should be prepared for, things like flooding and lightening strikes. Then there’s always the risk of fire and when you consider the fact that most stables are made from wood (or at least contain amount of wood) and have an area for storing hay and or straw this risk can be quite significant.

If your horse is kept at a boarding stables or livery yard then they should already have a plan in place for such occasions but it’s important that you know and understand it fully.

Calling

You should keep a list of important numbers that you need to call in case of an emergency. numbers such as all of the horse owners, the vet and if you have them trailer drivers. It doesn’t hurt to have copies of the list in various prominent places around the yard just to be safe. 

Loading

You might think that you just need to put the horses in trailers as quickly as possible and while that is the case it’s a much quicker process if you’ve planned it out already. After all, do you really want stallions and mares to be traveling together? Some horses will load better in slant loading trailers while others prefer straight loaders. It’s also worth considering which horses travel better together and those that are better to be kept apart. It’s far easier to plan this out when everything is calm but in an emergency, if you don’t already know who goes where, this can become very fraught.

Driving

Make sure you know in advance who is going to be driving which trailer, if possible it’s also a good idea to have reserve drivers lined up. If your drivers need to travel to the yard then a natural disaster could make this difficult for them to do but with reserve drivers you’re minimising the chance of this happening.

Destination

Finding suitable destinations can take time to organise but if you do it now then you won’t need to worry about where you’re going to go when the time arises. Make sure you have a list of yards, farms, show (or recreational) grounds and other safe areas that you know you’ll be able to go to if necessary. Check with your local authority as they may already have a list of safe areas for horses.

Route

It’s one thing to know where you’re going but another thing to know how you’re going to get there. It’s important to have a number of routes you can take because any one of them could be blocked. Don’t rely on your phone’s GPS as the phone masts can go down, instead make sure each trailer has a map of every routes.

Supplies

Make sure that each trailer has an emergency equipment kit on board, you might need to leave in a hurry so having this onboard already will save a bit of time. Things such as buckets, halters, first aid kits don’t take up much space but are essential. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have a flashlight and battery powered radio as well as a camping stove or generator. Hurricanes can often take out power supplies so you’ll want to be able to look after your horses and yourself until the power I restored.

Monitor the news

If you live in an area prone to natural phenomena such as hurricanes or flooding then it’s always advisable to keep an eye on the news and weather reports. They’ll often alert you to any conditions that could cause problems which means that you’ll be able to prepare in advance. You might not get a lot of warning but even a couple of minutes can make a big difference.

Horse identification

All horses should ideally carry some form of permanent identification such as a microchip, tattoo or brand/freeze mark, this isn’t just important for evacuation purposes though. As part of your evacuation plan you should also attach a luggage tag with your name, address and phone number to your horse. You can attach it to a leather halter, his tail or even use a fetlock tag to attach it to his leg. You can even use an animal safe spray paint to paint your number on the side of your horse, this will stay on him until it’s shampooed out.

Vaccinations 

You should always have your horse’s vaccinations up to date, if you have to travel across state or county lines then you may have to prove that he’s been vaccinated against everything.

Horse evacuation kit

As well as making sure the trailer has buckets, halters and first aid kits on board you also want to have an evacuation kit that you can easily pick up and take with you. If you have to travel over state or county lines or even to another country they might require you have all of your horse’s paperwork with you. Make sure you have his health and vaccinations certificates, proof of ownership, a negative Coggins test and passport. Along with anything you think could be necessary – it’s better to have too much paperwork rather than not enough.

What should you do if you’re not able to evacuate (or don’t want to)?

For a range of reasons you may not be able to (or might not want to) evacuate your horse, but don’t worry with a bit of pre-planning you can still look after your horses and keep them safe.

How do you keep a horse safe in a hurricane

While most of the preparations should done before a hurricane (things like making sure all of the gate secure and that all emergency tools and generators are working) there are still a few things that will need to be done when you know a hurricane is on the way. Put all loose objects such as jumps away or make sure they’re properly secured and won’t come loose and cause damage. It’s also important to turn off the electrical power, leaving it on will pose a fire risk from lightening strikes or power surges.

You should have at least four days of food in reserve just in case roads are closed and you’re not able to get fresh supplies in. The food should be stored off of the ground and while grain should be kept in water tight containers the hay should be covered under a waterproof tarp.

Water may also be in short supply during a hurricane so store as much water as possible beforehand. As well as filling all water buckets and troughs you can also use garbage and storage bins to temporarily keep water in.

What do you do with a horse during a hurricane

A lot of people aren’t sure whether they should turn their horse out or leave them inside during a hurricane. If you have a pasture that doesn’t have many trees and no overhead power lines then it’s a good idea to turn your horse into that pasture. It’s important though that while the pasture should have strong sturdy fencing it shouldn’t be secured by barbed or electric wire as these can come loose and injure your horse. They can also pose a risk to a horse that is panicking, they may not see them as clearly as they would otherwise and possibly run into them. If the pasture has a shelter make sure that it’s not likely to be blown down during a hurricane as this can easily result in a horse becoming trapped inside. If you can change the structure of the shelter to a brick built one that has foundation this will help it to keep upright.

What should you do if you’re evacuating horses due of a fire?

The process for evacuation horses due to fire is the same as any other except you probably won’t have as much time to prepare and evacuate. Of course the most important thing to do first is make sure you, or somebody else, has called the fire department. After that it’s time to start to evacuate the yard. 

You might not have time to load the horses and move them away, if this is the case don’t worry the most important thing is to get them as far away from the fire as possible. The best thing to do is turn the horses into a field away from the fire, starting with the ones nearest to the source of the fire. If you have a jacket or old sack to hand you can place it over your horse’s face to help keep him a little bit calmer – although don’t waste too much time doing this it’s more important to get them away from the fire.

If you have no other alternative then you can turn the horses loose in the yard, although this is not recommended because it can not only hinder the fire department but they could possibly get onto the road. This must only be done as an absolute last resort though.

It’s also important to shut any doors if it’s safe to do so, especially stable doors. This will not only help to contain the fire and slow its spread but it will prevent any horses returning to them in an attempt to get away from the fire.

How should you deal with horses in a tornado?

Unfortunately tornados aren’t as predictable as hurricanes are so it’s unlikely you’ll have much time to prepare for those but there are still a few things you can do in advance. Make sure that you keep an ‘emergency halter’ close to the stable door as well as some animal safe spray paint. An emergency halter is a leather halter with a luggage tag attached to it that has your name, address and number on it.

If and when the time comes and a tornado is on the way the best thing is to put the halter on and turn your horse loose. This might sound counterintuitive to do but a horse will be far safer if he’s able to run free. This is where the spray paint comes in as you’ll need to make sure he’s clearly marked with your details and what better way of doing that than by spraying them on his side.

How to look after horses in a flood?

Large parts of the world are suffering more and more from flooding so it’s always good to know what the best course of action is. Evacuation isn’t always the answer in a flood (especially if the flood isn’t expected to last) as large areas can be effected and you may have to travel for a long time to get to a non-flooded area. Instead the best thing to do is get your horse to as higher ground as possible and certainly well away from stables and stalls that could collapse. If you can try not to let your horse stand in the flood water for too long and make sure you wash the water off properly after to reduce the risk of skin infections and irritations.

Make sure you horse has access to clean water if you can, he’s unlikely to drink the flood water due to the chemicals that are likely to be in it.

How do you look after horses in an earthquake?

When it comes to looking after your horse during an earthquake a lot of the preparation is the same as it would be for hurricanes and other natural disasters. For example don’t turn your horse out in a field that has a lot of trees or overhead electricity lines, both of these could cause a lot of harm to your horse if they came down. It’s also a bad idea to keep your horse inside during an earthquake, stables can easily collapse, causing your horse to be trapped inside.

You might not think it but it’s important to listen to your horse, the vibrations caused by the tectonic plates rubbing together can be felt hundreds of miles aways and being prey animals means that horses can pick up on these vibrations. That’s not to say that all horses can always predict an earthquake but if your horse is acting nervously out of character then he may have felt these vibrations.

Do I need a phone tree?

Regardless of whether you’re evacuating or staying it’s important to have a phone tree, this is a simple plan of who is going to call who. If you don’t have a phone tree then one of three things will probably end up happening:

  1. One person will call everybody and not have time themselves to prepare to evacuate.
  2. People will everybody they can think of, this will result in some people being called multiple times and other people not being called at all.
  3. Nobody calls anybody presuming somebody else would have already done that.

Instead if you have an organised phone tree with each person calling five people, then everybody will be called (or texted) and alerted in a relatively short period of time. Owners, vets, farriers and drivers if you’re planning on evacuating should all be on the list.

NEVER use a nylon or other synthetic halter!!

In an emergency you should only ever use a leather halter for your horse, being a natural material it can break if your horse gets stuck. There have sadly been plenty of cases where a horse has got his halter caught and because it was made of an unbreakable material such as nylon webbing the horse wasn’t able to free himself. They might be more expensive but are without doubt the safest and best option.

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