Equine Disaster Plans

by Matt

Do you have a disaster plan for your horses?

Government agencies advocate having an emergency plan in place for your family, but if you own horses, you know: you have family members that you can’t just bundle into the backseat if a natural disaster is looming.

No matter where you and your horses live, there is the potential for a disaster that could force evacuation or the possibility of living without supplies or electricity for a period of time. Whether it’s a hurricane, a flood, a tornado, or a wildfire, it pays to have a plan.

A disaster plan has three essential parts: horse identification, emergency supplies, and an evacuation plan.

Identification: Whether fences came down, horses were set free to protect them, or there was a mass evacuation to a group holding point, owners must have a decisive way to prove a horse belongs to them.

Common semi-permanent identifiers include microchips, tattoos, and brands. (Keep in mind that lip tattoos fade and are often difficult to read.) The paperwork that matches these identifiers should go with your important papers. If your horse doesn’t have any of these, keep photographs: front, rear, either side, and special markings.

But don’t stop there. If disaster threatens, mark the horse with your contact information as well. Luggage tags attached to a leather halter with all of your contact information is the first step. You can also braid a luggage tag into a horse’s tail or mane. In every case, be certain to use leather that will break if your horse entangles the halter or tag in debris. You can also use a non-toxic paint pen or marker to write your phone number and address on your horse’s hoof. Always include your address; telephone service, in particular cell phone service, is often disrupted in a major disaster because of loss of towers or over-use.

Emergency supplies: A foreseeable weather event, like a hurricane, spurs residents in its path to stock up on emergency supplies to get by without electricity or passable roads for a week or more. Horse owners must do the same with equine supplies. A first aid kit, packed for every eventuality that an owner is capable of handling, is a must. Don’t assume that a vet can get to your farm immediately after (or during!) a hurricane or other natural disaster. You’ll also need extra stores of grain and hay, keeping in mind that shipments to local feed stores might be delayed by road closures and damage elsewhere.

Evacuation: If you are told to evacuate, your horses need to be evacuated as well. A situation too dangerous for people is too dangerous for horses.

The most important element of evacuating horses is a horse that will load on a trailer. Any trailer. With anyone. Treat trailer-training as you would any other basic skill you would require of your horse. Last-minute evacuations from disasters such as wildfires are tense, frightening situations. With smoke in the air and fire truck sirens wailing, will your nervous horse get in a strange trailer? Be sure ahead of time.

Where will you go? Networking before a storm or disaster event is crucial to an orderly evacuation. There are many groups at horse sites or on Facebook which put horse owners in touch with potential evacuation sites, whether it’s a fairground with hundreds of empty stalls or a nearby stable that can offer corral space for a few displaced horses. If you don’t have a trailer, know ahead of time who you can rely on to come and pick up your horses.

Have a plan: The time to put all of these elements together — identification, emergency supplies, and evacuation preparation — is now. When a disaster threatens, it will be safer and more orderly for everyone if you already have a plan in place. Important documents, including a current Coggins test, vaccinations, and your identifying paperwork, should be up-to-date and easy to find. Don’t procrastinate if you know you’ll need more hay or grain. Supplies become hard to come by as more people begin to take warnings from authorities seriously. At the first indication of potential danger, make a decision about either evacuating, or purchasing supplies to shelter in place.

Preparing your horses for a potential natural disaster is part of horse ownership.  They’re part of your family and should be planned for as such.  Whether your part of the country is at risk for hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, tornadoes, or all of the above, it’s imperative to have an equine disaster plan. It’s for your safety, as well as your horse’s.

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