Commentary

It's All Academic Until it Happens to You

It's All Academic Until it Happens to You

Pat's boarding barn owner braided laminated identification tags into each horse's mane, just in case the animal needed identification.

Photo: Pat Raia

Veteran journalist and TheHorse.com reporter Pat Raia shares her experiences preparing for and weathering Hurricane Irma.

For years I've trekked out into blizzards, tornadoes, and hurricanes to collect stories from people who were either preparing for a disaster or had just come though one. I've told horse owners what emergency veterinarians advise for helping horses survive in the wind and rain, and whether they fare better in their barns or in their pastures.

I shared advice from contractors about building barns that can endure hurricane-force winds, and I've told readers what first responders say about establishing perimeters around barns, houses, and tree lines. Time and time again, I've written about the importance of having a disaster plan. But even single one of those concepts was academic until Hurricane Irma danced her way across Florida right under my nose.

Though I did not intend to evacuate my horse Santino, my barn mates, and our trainer and I did have a disaster plan. That's not to say that I didn't equivocate—after talking with Floridians from Miami to Tampa who were taking their horses and heading north, I wondered if I shouldn't load Sonny into a trailer and flee. But to where? To Georgia? That was in the storm's path too. And my horse-owning friends in the Carolinas were making their own plans to get out of Irma's way. I thought it better to stay put.

So we sheltered in place at Sonny's barn, which we had watched being built stick by stick last year according to hurricane-prone Florida's strict construction codes. According to the plan, our barn operator had filled the feed and hay rooms and had lain in enough bedding to last a month. She also had a working generator and a sump pump in case the horses went through the 20 55-gallon water drums on standby and she had to pump water out of the pond behind the barn. She braided laminated identification tags into each horse's mane just in case, and would bunk in the barn and walk the aisles when the weather got really nasty.

I was pretty confident that my horse be just fine. My own survival was another thing entirely.

By the time Irma moved on, Pat and her family were unharmed and Sonny was grazing happily in his paddock. All was well.

Photo: Pat Raia

I suddenly became obsessed with the price of plywood and gasoline’s availability. I stuffed the pantry full of peanut butter and cans of baked beans and olives, and I was prepared to empty the freezer and cook the contents on the grill outside. I filled every large pot, pitcher, and jug with potable water and filled the bathtub in case we ran out.

When Irma finally arrived, I listened to the howling wind and prayed that the trees would survive without ripping the lanai screens to shreds before drowning in the swimming pool.

By the time Irma moved on, the sun was shining, my family and I were unharmed, and Sonny was turned out and grazing happily in his paddock. All was well.

Even so, having had the experience has changed me. Now the advice from the veterinarians, first responders, and rescuers is very real. So is my responsibility to bring it to you.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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