Plan Now for Natural Disasters

Planning ahead for natural disasters can increase your horse's chance for surviving the storm. How should you prepare?

Be Prepared

All horse owners should develop an emergency evacuation plan to employ during natural disasters. Your plan should vary depending on the type of disaster encountered. Some situations might require you to leave your stock in place, while others might warrant taking your animals with you. Develop a plan ahead of time for each type of natural disaster possible in your area (flood, tornado, hurricane, wildfire, etc).

Regardless of the type of natural disaster you face, at a minimum you should:

  • Ensure your horses are always up-to-date on their vaccinations, Coggins test, and other state required testing;
  • Maintain files in an easily accessible location containing all testing, vaccination, and ownership records. Each horse's file should contain photographs of the horse, as well as a description of the horse's unique marking including brands, tattoos, and microchip number (if applicable);
  • Keep a first-aid kit for humans and horses stocked and on hand at all times;
  • Ensure all your horses load onto a trailer;
  • Make sure you always have at least a three day (72 hours) feed supply;
  • Each horse should have a correctly fitted halter (non-melting) and lead rope easily accessible at all times;
  • Keep portable water tanks and/or plastic trash cans with trash bags to fill with water during a natural disaster;
  • Keep your trailer ready for transport at all times or have an arrangement with a reliable transporter for emergency transport; and
  • Develop a plan for the order of evacuation for your horses.

Non-Evacuation Weather Events Typically during thunderstorms and tornados (i.e., those not requiring evacuation) it is best to leave your horses turned out away from the barn in a field with solid fencing, few trees, and no power lines. This way, if the barn is hit by lightning, straight-line wind, or a tornado, it is empty and, therefore, it's unlikely that your horses will become trapped within. Likewise keeping your horse in a field with limited trees and no power lines will help reduce risks should either fall. During turnout, it's possible your horse(s) might encounter flying debris, and during lightning storms there is a risk of lightning strike. Keep in mind that every location has risks and your goal should be to minimize the potential risks during natural disasters.

During flooding, if you are unable to evacuate your horses or if evacuation isn't necessary, it is best to move your horses to higher ground to try to keep them above the height of the water. Be sure to provide them access to at least 48-72 hours worth of water. It may be necessary to also provide them a forage supply if the area will be inaccessible to you during flooding.

If You Evacuate But Don't Take Your Horses If leaving animals in place or turning them loose (only under the direction of emergency preparedness coordinators or state/county mandates) during a natural disaster, it is important to ensure that they are marked somehow. Many owners place permanent waterproof identification tags with owner contact information on the horse's halter or neck straps. Luggage tags may also be braided into their mane or tail. Be sure to include any relevant information about special medical needs on the identification tags. In extreme circumstances, you may paint or write your phone number or other unique marker on the horse's body using livestock marking crayons.

Horses left at your property during a natural disaster evacuation should be provided enough water and forage for at least 48-72 hours. Do not rely on automatic waterers during a natural disaster. Often they rely on electricity to properly run and during a natural disaster water supplies may be interrupted.

Instructions for their care and your contact information should also be left at the barn so that emergency workers and/or volunteers can attend their care while you are away.

Horse Evacuation If you are evacuating your horse(s) it is vitally important to remain calm. Your safety must be your first priority. If at all possible, evacuate before the disaster strikes. This will help alleviate stress on you and your animals. Prior to evacuating any animals, make sure you have somewhere safe to take them and that you can carry enough hay and water to provide for their care for 48-72 hours. Follow the plan you set in place previously and work methodically through the process. Making certain that your horse is properly trained to trailer load well in advance of any emergency is critical for your successful evacuation.

Often during a natural disaster, livestock evacuation centers are established. Talk with your emergency planning officer(s) before disaster strikes so that you are ready.

Anytime you evacuate (with or without your horse), take your horse's health and ownership records with you. This will help you prove ownership of the horse and confirm that your horse is properly tested and inoculated if relocated. Thus, those documents should be kept organized and readily accessible.

Remember, recommendations for emergency evacuation during natural disasters can be a starting point for natural disaster planning, but are not a substitute for the exercise of reasonable care and may not be appropriate for all situations. Farm owners must comply with all applicable government regulations, should always purchase disaster insurance, and should follow all protocols required by their insurance carriers.

Article reprinted with permission from the Kentucky Horse Council.

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Kentucky Horse Council

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