Flood-Affected Horse Owners Face Long Road to Recovery

As flood waters in Colorado begin to recede, affected horse owners are facing new challenges on their road to recovery.

Nick Striegel, DVM, assistant state veterinarian at the Colorado Department of Agriculture, told The Horse Sept. 19 that the department doesn't yet know just how many horses were affected by the flooding that killed six people. "It's just too early to have any type of figures," he said. "We just don't know."

And while equine evacuations at the state level have been minimal, he said, local evacuations have been taking place with horse owners, farmers, ranchers, and other volunteers helping those in need. "That's happened a lot," Striegel said.

In some areas, like the flatlands and plains in the northeast quarter of the state, Striegel said flooding of the South Platte River and its tributaries forced owners to bring their horses to county fairgrounds, which served as shelters. At one time, several counties—including Weld, Larimer, Adams, and Douglas—had horses sheltered at fairgrounds. Now, Striegel said, only two main shelters remain.

"In some of the situations where flooding occurred in the mountains and foothills … some of the horses were able to get to higher ground, and it's still the time of year that there's still some pasture and grass out there," he continued. "Now, the tougher thing is accessing those roads, getting feed in, and getting people back in to take care of them."

Moving forward, Striegel said many horse owners will likely face challenges.

"For places that have been directly impacted by flood waters … (one question is) are they going to be able to bring their horses back in," he said. "If they had feed or hay stored there, has that been affected by the flood and will it be safe to feed?"

Other concerns include preventing digestive problems and colic that could be brought on by horses feeding on either something they're not used to or moldy feed; hoof problems caused by chronically wet pastures; and debris in pastures that could cut or injure horses, he said.

"The other thing would be availability of feed," Striegel added. "Some owners may need to tap into a feed bank at some point.

"(And) if there's damage to barns or structures … some financial assistance of low-interest loans might help, too," he said.

Meanwhile, Striegel said Colorado's wild and feral horse populations weren't impacted by the flooding in the northeastern part of the state.

"Most of those (horses) are on federal lands and on the western side of the continental divide, or in the south central part of the state," he said. "Those areas have not suffered the flooding."

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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