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Disasters and Your Horse: Are You Ready?

This guide will help you and your horse or other equines get prepared for when disaster strikes

16.11.2021

With the possibility of little or no warning, disasters can strike in any place, at any time. For horse owners, planning ahead is a particularly important part of responsible horsemanship, as transporting and housing these large animals is more complex than establishing shelters for dogs and cats. In addition, as herd and prey animals, horses are more likely to react with strong fear to new circumstances and attempt to escape from the perceived threat. 

Most government agencies, strongly encourage each household to have a predetermined emergency plan (and an emergency bag for every member of the family) in case of an evacuation from their home, neighbourhood, town or city. 

The following guide can help you organise your family's disaster preparedness plan. Your equides should be a part of this plan.

Here are things you can do now, before there is a disaster, so you and your horses are ready:

  • Make a plan: Know what to do if you stay at home or if you evacuate, and create your personal list of emergency contacts.
  • Make a disaster kit: Include supplies for staying at home and for evacuations. See the lists provided below in this guide for details on what to include in both a stay at home and evacuation kit.
  • Listen to warnings and instructions from the authorities on evacuating or remaining in place in an actual disaster.

What can you prepare? Planning is key!

Taking measures to protect your animals ahead of time could help save lives!

Your disaster plan includes knowing what specific disasters may effect your area and how you will react to them. This means predetermining how you will get out in case of an evacuation, where you would go, or who you will meet. 

Your disaster preparedness plan should include all members of your family and household. Make sure they all know the plan. You may never know who will be home or the first to be home to safely pack your pets for an evacuation.

Ask yourself these questions to see how prepared you are:

  • Do you know how to get information before, during and in the aftermath of an emergency?
  • What local, national and international agencies should you be checking for up-to-date news?
  • Is there an animal charity in your area that works with any of these agencies on disaster preparedness and response?
  • Do you have a list of official and personal emergency contacts?

Then make sure your contact list is updated and includes:

  • Veterinarians (both your local vet and two horse vets that are in opposite directions up to 80 km/50 mi away)
  • Friends or family who you could keep your horses with when you evacuate
  • Horse evacuation centres, facilities, or horse sport centres willing to take in horses in an emergency
  • Friends or neighbours who could get to and handle your horses if you are not at home
  • Local rescue and emergency authorities, including any experienced equine technical rescue groups
  • Persons owning a trailer or truck willing to transport your horses in an emergency

Staying at home

It may be safer to remain at home during a disaster – especially if evacuation would lead to a more dangerous situation. Heed the advice of authorities on whether to stay at home or evacuate. If you need to stay in your home, make sure you have stockpiled enough food, water, and medication for each of your horses to last at least a week (see below 'Horse disaster kit in case of staying at home').

Determine, based on the type of disaster and the layout of your property, whether it will be better for your horses to be turned out on pasture or kept in a barn (or temporarily stabled using sturdy moveable fencing in another enclosed space). Considerations will include:

  • Whether wind or water is likely to be the biggest danger
  • How far above the flood plain your property is
  • How sturdy the enclosed structure is
  • How close power lines are to the stable or pasture

If wind is a concern, consider using fly masks to reduce the chance of injury to eyes and face from flying debris on pasture. If your horses are not used to fly masks, get them comfortable with wearing one before disaster strikes.

Further recommendations include:

  • Spend time with your horses, particularly if they are agitated by the situation, and provide them with toys such as balls and food puzzles for distraction
  • Keep the horses away from windows to minimise danger from broken glass or flying debris
  • Provide each horse with two large clean water sources of at least 35 L/10 gal per day
  • Food for at least three days (preferably seven) or more if there is a chance the disaster will be prolonged, in case you cannot get to the horse during the disaster
  • Make sure your horses cannot escape from the stable, particularly when there is a danger of exposure to toxic gases or chemicals in the air, in the water, or on the ground, when the horse can be a danger to itself and to humans.

Place information about your horses in a waterproof, sealed container on the side of the barn, or paint critical information on the side of the barn or on another surface that is easily seen from the road to notify rescue authorities of:

  • The number and types of animals on the property and their location
  • The order of priority for rescue should the authorities not be able to rescue all horses at once
  • Contact details, including ID information such as microchip data, to help reunite you and your horses in case you get separated

Horse disaster kit in case of staying at home

Prepare a horse disaster kit with the following items:

  • A written plan for each type of disaster that is common in your area
  • A paper copy and thumb drive or computer disk back-up with pertinent medical and contact information se-cured in waterproof container (label all paper versions “COPY”)
  • Halter or harness and lead for each horse with luggage tag – if fire is a threat, do not use synthetic material halters as they may melt causing severe injury
  • Material to cover eyes and ears to reduce stress
  • Blankets, fly sheets, fly mask, etc.
  • Feed buckets, hay nets kept clean and in a dry place
  • Enough food, water and medicine for each horse for at least seven days (see above ‘Staying at home’ for more details)
  • Medical supplies such as thermometer, cotton, band-age materials, gauze pads, scissors, mild soap, iodine, hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment for wounds, electrolyte powder, fly spray, fly mask (ask your vet for further suggestions)
  • Saw/chain saw with fuel, hammer, nails, fencing material for repair of enclosures and fences

Please also include identification tools such as:

  • Photos of both sides of your horse (plus face, and inside and outside of lower legs) and include a family member in one of the photos
  • Record of tattoo, brand, or ideally a microchip, and make sure your horse is registered in the national data-base for horses
  • Fetlock or neck ID bands
  • Two luggage tags, one braided into your horse’s tail and the other in a waterproof bag taped around the side of the halter, containing your information as well as your horse’s
  • Clippers to shave a contact telephone number onto your horse’s neck or an auction marker/animal safe paint to paint a number on

Practice the plan you have written down.

What if you are not at home?

If you are out of the house when a disaster strikes you may not be able to return home for your horse.

Find out what resources you already have. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • What can you do to prepare your home/stable/barn to minimise damage from the most common types of disaster in your area?
  • If you are told to stay where you are, what do you need to prepare so that you and your pets can stay safely on the property?
  • Do you have somewhere to go if you need to evacuate?
  • If so, can your horses stay there with you?
  • If not, do you have friends or family who could take care of your horses for you?
  • What if you are at work when the disaster strikes?
  • Who can get into your property/stable/barn?
  • Who is familiar with your animals?
  • Do you have a plan to reunite with your horses in this case?
  • What if you have to leave your horses behind?
  • How will people know you have horses at your property?
  • If kept outdoors, are your horses free to move to higher ground?

The best case is to make arrangements with neighbours or friends ahead of time to care for your horses. Be sure that:

  • Your horses have met the person and that person is comfortable with horses
  • The person has access to barns, paddocks and pastures and knows where the Horse Disaster Kit(s) and contact lists are kept
  • The person knows where to evacuate your horses to, and who to contact for transport if they cannot do the transport themselves

Preparing the barn

Whether you stay at home or evacuate, it will be important to secure the barn for the type of disaster you are facing. Depending on the situation it may be advisable to:

  • Shut off utilities-power, water, etc.
  • Move feed, bedding and medications, and heavy equipment such as tractors, away from where flood waters or flying debris are most likely to have an impact

Fire-safe electrical outlets/boxes should be installed in any livestock barn!

Evacuation and horse evacuation kit

If authorities tell you to leave, take your horses if at all possible. If the area is not safe for you, it is not safe for your horses.

  • Even if you are evacuating to a site within walking distance, it will be best to use a vehicle to move your horses as conditions around evacuations are often chaotic and the animals are likely to be stressed by the sights and sounds.
  • Horses may behave abnormally due to stress so keep them, and the Horse Evacuation Kit, with you at all times. Stay as calm as possible to soothe them.
  • Make sure you know where you are going – to friends, family, or a rescue centre.
  • Make sure you know where your horses are going – to friends, family, a stable in the safe zone, or remaining on pasture.
  • Make sure someone else knows where you and your horses are going.
  • When you leave, place a note on the barn or fence so that rescue services know that you and your horses have left safely.
  • Leave home early if suggested by officials – ideally 24 to 72 hours before expected impact to avoid being stuck in evacuation traffic with a trailer full of horses. Waiting for mandatory evacuation orders may force you to leave your horses behind.
  • When evacuating, constantly monitor the news in case evacuation orders change.

Horse Emergency Kit in case of evacuation:

If you evacuate with your horses, in addition to the ‘Horse Disaster Kit’, have the following items in your Horse Evacuation Kit:

  • Leg wraps or bandages if you normally use them during transport
  • An ‘Authorisation to Transport’ document if you are not doing the transport yourself
  • Cleaning supplies, i.e. muckrake, pitchfork, shovel, bucket, wheelbarrow
  • Bedding
  • Extra halters, harnesses and leads

Returning home – what you can do in the aftermath of a disaster

When returning home after an evacuation, be aware that the property might have been damaged by floodwaters, wind, debris, etc.

If your horses were not evacuated:

  • Check on the animals to determine their condition. If any of the horses are trapped and in need of rescue, seek assistance from experienced equine rescue personnel to reduce the risk of injury to yourself and your horse.
  • If the horses have potentially been exposed to contaminated water, soil or air, wash them thoroughly with mild soap, then inspect for injuries.
  • Check on vaccinations, including tetanus boosters and seek advice on any specific risks the disaster might have created for horses.

If your horses were evacuated:

  • Prepare a clean, safe area in the barn, arena or pasture before bringing your horses home.
  • Check on the feed condition, bedding and medical supplies.
  • Ensure utilities are working and safe drinking water is available in sufficient supply.
  • Inspect all pastures and fencing before turning horses loose and gradually reintroduce them to outdoor areas once you have ensured the areas are free of debris and chemical or other waste.

Be aware that smells and sights may be changed by the disaster and this may be disorienting to your horses. It might be necessary to walk them on lead first as you reintroduce them to their pastures/paddocks to reduce their stress.

If some horses have been injured or killed, the herd dynamic might be changed. Watch for signs of problems between the animals.

One kit or two?

It may be easier to create one Horse Disaster Kit with a separate container to hold evacuation supplies (see Horse Evacuation Kit above). This container can remain untouched when staying at home. Or you may prefer to develop two separate kits, using the one designated for the situation you are facing.

Other things you can do for your horses before a disaster strikes

Speak with your local and national government agency responsible for civil protection/disaster relief about what is in place for horses during a disaster.

  • Speak with your fire and rescue agencies about what is in place for horses during a disaster.
  • Ask your veterinarian about any concerns you have about caring for horses during a disaster.
  • Join or start a local Community Emergency Response Team, Disaster Equine Response Team or Community Equine Response Team.
  • Help raise awareness to make your community better prepared for caring for animals in disasters.

Disaster guides for other animals:

Horses being fed over a fence

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