Thousands of Horses At Risk as Mississippi River Swells

As Mississippi River floodwaters rise, continuing to threaten parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, hundreds of area horse owners have sought higher ground and many more are watching nervously to determine whether they'll need to put evacuation plans into action.

"Potentially, thousands of horses could be affected by flooding if there are breaches of the levee system along the Mississippi River," said Rebecca McConnico, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, associate professor of veterinary medicine at Louisiana State University. "Hundreds of horses have been or are already being evacuated from the most at-risk areas, including Louisiana's Catahoula, Concordia, and Tensas parishes."

In the event evacuation is necessary, McConnico and other area veterinarians strongly recommend including horses in emergency travel plans. She suggested a few points to remember during flood evacuation with horses:

  • Evacuate to stables or other areas where you know your horses will be kept out of harm's way;
  • Evacuate with enough food, fuel, and cash for both horse and human needs;
  • Be sure that you pack current negative Coggins tests, veterinary records, and ample hay and feed for the evacuating horses; and
  • Most importantly, she said, evacuate horses and other livestock early. Many times stock trailers are not allowed on the roads during peak evacuation times as this could possibly prevent effective and efficient human evacuation.

"Generally speaking, owners should not leave horses behind when there is a risk of flooding," McConnico said. However, in the event that it is impossible to remove horses from at-risk areas, she described how to give horses their best chances for weathering the storm.

"Never lock a horse in a stall," she said. "Hundreds--and maybe more--died post-Hurricane Katrina when the storm surge and levee breaks resulted in massive flooding of farmland and stables.

"Owners should remove all potential hazardous items from stalls, stable aisleways, paddocks, and pastures," she continued. "Adequate hay and fresh water along with an environment free of hazards may allow the horse the best chance of survival."

McConnico added that horses left behind should wear visible signs of identification, such as using a paint stick, nontoxic spray paint, or fetlock tab-bands to identify who owns the horse. She also suggested owners employ at least one form of permanent identification such as a microchip, brand, or lip tattoo.

She added, "There is (ample) horse owner evacuation information and other disaster response information at Neighbors and communities should check on each other and work together for disaster response."

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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