Texas Horses Move Inland as Hurricane Ike Approaches

Many Texas horse owners are moving with their horses out of harm's way as Hurricane Ike approaches the coast.

As of 1 p.m., CDT, Ike was a Category 2 hurricane, but the National Hurricane Center noted in a public bulletin that it was expected to become "a major hurricane" before reaching the Texas Gulf Coast. While the center of the storm is forecast to make landfall late Friday night, the bulletin noted that due to the size of the storm, weather along the coast is likely to deteriorate long before the center of the storm reaches the coast. The coastal storm surge is estimated at 20 feet, with 5-10 inches of rain forecast for the central and upper Texas coast. Some areas might receive up to 15 inches of rain.

Jennifer Williams, PhD, president of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, which has horses stationed in foster homes throughout Texas and Arkansas, said Houston-area residents have been watching the storm's forecast track for days.

Williams said the group is evacuating all the rescue horses situated along the coast, from Corpus Christi to Galveston. They expect to move about 20 animals, including horses in foster homes and those that have been adopted from the group. While no one has objected to moving the animals, Williams said some of the foster families have said they're staying behind until the forecasts become more definite about which areas will be impacted.

"You hate to make the wrong decision, either way," Williams said. "It takes time and money to move them, and stress on the adopters, foster homes, and volunteers. And I don't take any of that lightly--but then, of course, (what we take) even less lightly is the chance that we leave them here and it turns."

Hurricane Ike 3-day forecast path

Hurricane Ike's 3-day forecast path, as of 7 a.m. CDT Sept. 11.

In Brazos County, home of Texas A&M University, owners from coastal areas are streaming into Bryan, Texas, seeking refuge for their horses at the Brazos County Exposition Complex, which is serving as a large animal evacuation center. The complex offers around 200 stalls for equine evacuees, as well as areas for cattle, swine, sheep, and goats.

"So far we have 29 horses and we've got a lot on the way," said Complex Director Tom Quarles. "I think today will be our biggest day."

Although Brazos County is directly in the storm's path, Quarles said the new facility (which opened in October 2007) was engineered with storms in mind and offers a good option for those looking for a safe place for their horses to ride out the storm. Even so, some horse owners are using the facility as a stopover point as they head even further inland.

Quarles said the early arrivals are all well-prepared for their stay.

"They're loading up and bringing the necessary equipment and supplies they need," Quarles said. "So far they have feed and hay--if they don't, we have a list of suppliers so they can get that. A lot of these are horses that have been showed, so (their owners) are accustomed to being prepared to get up and move and be able to feed and take care of them when they're on the road.

"Some of those who are waiting a little longer to see where this is going could end up cutting it close, and then they could get in a lot more congestion and traffic with other evacuees that are leaving those areas. If that's the case, they may be under more stress and forgetting some of those things."

While this is the first time the facility has hosted equine evacuees, Quarles said the facility staff had a dry run when Hurricane Gustav threatened the area last week. While that storm changed path, staff were able to run through their preparations before having to do so in an actual crisis.

Quarles said the dry run helped them see what needs might arise that they might not have foreseen. "We're doing some different things and are even better prepared this time."

Numerous other evacuation sites are available. The Texas Animal Health Commission is advising those evacuating for Hurricane Ike to call 2-1-1 for the latest information on facilities available for emergency sheltering of livestock and pets.

But not all are moving to a designated evacuation site. Jeff Stapper, Nueces County extension agent, said he's advising horse owners to move their animals west of the southern coastal county. But for those who can't move their animals, he advises turnout.

"If they've got large acreage they can just turn them out and let them have free roam of the rangeland and hope for the best," Stapper said. "But if they're small-acreage land owners, the best-case scenario would be to move west."

If you plan to weather the storm at home, here are some general guidelines to follow, provided by the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine:

  • The choice of keeping your horse in a barn or an open field is up to you. Use common sense, taking into consideration barn structure, trees, power lines, condition of surrounding properties, and the likelihood of the property and structure to flood. Farms subject to storm surge or flash flooding should turn their horses out so horses are not trapped. Do not lock horses in stalls.
  • Remove all items from the barn aisle and walls, and store them in a safe place.
  • Have at least a two- to three-week supply of hay and feed. Wrap or cover hay in plastic tarps, and store feed in plastic water-tight containers.
  • Place these supplies in the highest and driest area possible, out of reach of floodwaters.
  • Fill clean plastic garbage cans with fresh water, secure the tops, and store them in the barn for use after the storm.
  • Have an emergency barn kit containing a chain saw and fuel, hammers, a saw, nails, screws, and fencing materials. Place this kit in a secure area before the storm hits so that it is easily accessible after the storm.
  • Be sure to have an ample supply of flashlights and batteries.
  • Listen to local radio stations in your area. If Internet access is available, access state-run Web sites that contain accurate status information (i.e., State Police, State University, State Department of Agriculture). Take all cautions and warnings seriously and act accordingly.

For further information on preparing for a hurricane, see:

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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