Record Snowfall Challenges Horse Owners

Record Snowfall Challenges Horse Owners

Many parts of the eastern United States were blanketed with snow from Winter Storm Jonas last weekend.

Photo: Jennifer Whittle, TheHorse.com Web Producer

Winter Storm Jonas, the first major snowstorm of 2016, buried several Mid-Atlantic states under several feet of snow and paralyzed others as far west as Ohio and Kentucky under dangerous conditions last weekend.

The National Weather Service's National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) reported that storm warnings were issued Jan. 22, just ahead of the high winds, record cold, and blizzard conditions in 14 states along the eastern seaboard. In the end, West Virginia received 42 inches of snow, Virginia recorded 39 inches, and Maryland received 38 inches, the NCEP said. Meanwhile, snowfalls of between 36 and 25 inches were recorded in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Kentucky posted icy conditions, high winds, and substantial snowfall.

The storm created complications for horse owners, especially those whose animals weathered the blizzard inside their barns. In Montgomery County, Maryland, a group of horses was trapped after the roof of barn in which they were stabled partially collapsed. Firefighters were able to rescue those horses safely, but similar incidents took place throughout the region.

So how can owners keep horses safe when severe winter weather threatens? Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, primary instructor, president of the Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, believes animals' safety begins with planning and attentive owners. She said owners must be attentive to storm warnings and other announcements made by local weather, fire, and law enforcement officials. They also must understand exactly where horses are safest.

She said that horses that are fed properly and have access to some form of shelter will generally handle staying outside well, but noted that elderly, underweight, and body-clipped horses will require extra protection. Staying outside also eliminates the risk of horses becoming trapped should a barn collapse.

Meanwhile, she also suggested that owners should handle horses frequently in order to desensitize them to new situations as well as routine ones, such as blanketing, leading and trailer loading.

“If they have to deal with (being trapped) in a collapsed structure, you want them to wait for you and (frequent handling could help) lessen their stress and panic,” Gimenez said.

Further, while many owners remove horses halters when they’re stalled, Gimenez recommended leaving a leather or breakaway halter on.

“Having a halter on will save time if the horses need to be evacuated quickly,” she said.

If a roof does collapse, Gimenez recommends that owners be organized and do their best to remain calm.

“Call 911 immediately,” she said. “Then get away from the barn and don't let others go inside, either.”

While you await first responders, call a veterinarian to the site and solicit assistance in blanketing and transport from other local horse owners. Above all, resist the temptation to try to extricate horses yourself.

“You might cause the structure to collapse further, possibly injuring or killing other horses inside,” Gimenez said.

“Instead catch any horses that have gotten loose and help horses that are already outside of the barn.”

Finally, if the structure has withstood the storm, make sure it stays sturdy that way all winter by removing snow from the roof to prevent it from compounding and causing a future collapse.

“Trying to clean off the roof is a good thing,” Gimenez said. “But owners should be careful while doing it.”

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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