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Equine Disaster Relief

Updated on November 4, 2013
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.

Equine Disaster Relief - Have a Plan

We watch in horror when the TV news reports of horses and other animals stranded in the wake of fires, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes, helpless against the forces of nature. When a major disaster is eminent the best defense is knowledge. Have a plan of where to go and what to do. Don’t wait until the last minute to act. Follow these guidelines to give you the best opportunity to save your horses from injury or death.

Find out who in your state is in charge of animal rescue in such an event. North Carolina founded the State Animal Response Team (SART) after Hurricane Floyd slammed in the state on September 15, 1999. It was the most severe flooding in the state’s history. Several other states have since followed North Carolina’s example with their own SART chapters. Contact your county extension service or state veterinarian’s office to find out what organization manages animal rescue in such emergencies. Fair grounds, stables, or riding clubs often arrange emergency stabling facilities. If you board your horse, make sure that the stable manager has an emergency plan. Communicate with your neighbors and let them know your plan.

Evacuating your Horses

Learn the evacuation routes ahead of time, be sure you have transportation, and that your towing vehicles have full gas tanks. Keep your trailer road-ready at all times. Make sure your horses load easily before there is an emergency. Evacuate before the storm or other emergency arrives.

Identify your animals with photographs, registration papers, vet records, and Coggins tests. Keep those records with you, even if you have to leave your horses behind. You may need those records to prove ownership of your horses later on. The chance of a disaster is a good reason for micro-chipping or branding your animals. Another way to identify your horses is to purchase blank cattle ear tags from a farm supply store. Write your name, delivery address, phone numbers and the horse’s name with a permanent marker on the tag and braid it into the horse’s mane or tail. Spray painting your phone number in white or blaze orange on both sides of the horse’s barrel or hip is another way to insure rescuers can trace your horses back to you should they get lost.

Be sure before a storm threatens that your horses are up to date on all vaccinations, especially sleeping sickness which is transmitted by mosquitoes, which thrive in flooded areas. Horses living where there is a high mosquito population should be vaccinated twice a year.

When moving horses away from a fire remove their blankets, cover their face with wet towels to protect the eyes and nostrils, and use cotton halters without metal hardware.

If evacuation is not possible the one question that comes up repeatedly is, “Should I leave my horse in the pasture or put it in the barn?” The Sunshine State (Florida) Horse Council’s Disaster Planning For Country Property” brochure says, “the safest place for large animals to weather a storm is in a large pasture.” The brochure sites collapsed barns as the leading causes of death in a windstorm. The pasture should be free of exotic trees, have no overhead power lines, be away from areas that might generate flying debris, have a low lying area where animals can seek shelter and high ground that will not flood. The safest fencing material is woven wire

A large pasture with good fencing may be the safest place for horses during a storm
A large pasture with good fencing may be the safest place for horses during a storm

If your pasture does not meet that criteria then the advice found in the article, “Hurricane Preparations for Horse Farms” on the NCSU Animal Science website may make a good case for leaving your horses in the barn. It recommends that if your barn is well constructed the horses should be inside to lessen the chance of them being injured by flying debris. On the other hand, the article says if the barn is poorly constructed or in poor repair it is better to leave them in a naturally protected, well-fenced pasture. An additional tip is to put a fly mask on the pastured horses to prevent flying debris from injuring their eyes. If the horses are haltered be sure it is with a break-away-halter.

Even if the storm damage is not severe at your farm if the power goes out your water pumps will not work. Also, roads may be blocked and prevent travel to feed stores. So, be sure you stock enough feed, hay and water to last at least a week.

Also, be sure that your first aid kit is complete. It should include a knife, scissors, adhesive tape, duct tape, rope, spare halters, clean towels, antiseptic, soap, leg wraps, antibiotic ointments, tranquilizers, pain relievers, bandages, bee sting kit, insect repellent, flash light and batteries.

The Aftermath of Disaster

After the storm and once you have checked on your horses’ welfare take photographs of any storm damage to your buildings and fences. Be sure horses cannot come in contact with fallen trees and storm debris. Many trees such as wild cherry are very toxic. Even small twigs and leaves can prove fatal if eaten by your horse.

Notify the power company of outages. If you have a large number of horses water delivery may be available from the local fire department, if they can reach your farm, and you let them know it is urgent.

Keep in mind your horse may be frightened and not recognize its changed environment after a disaster has ended. Their behavior can be unpredictable. Be especially careful if handling a strange horse. If you find someone else’s animal quarantine it from your horses until the owner picks it up or it has been examined by a vet and given a clean bill of health.

Make sure that before you turn your horse loose in its pasture you have checked the fences for damage, the area for toxic or dangerous storm debris, and downed power lines.

If Your Horse Dies

In spite of all our efforts to be prepared, sometimes the worst happens and a horse dies in natural disasters. Disposal of dead animals can be a problem in the wake of a storm, especially when several animals are lost. It is necessary to the public’s health, and the responsibility of the owner, to properly dispose of the bodies.

Most states have laws to cover the disposal of dead domestic animals. The guidelines include rules about the burial site, how much soil must cover the body and reporting the location of the burial site to authorities. Again, have a plan before disaster strikes. Horse owners can check with their county livestock agent to learn their state’s laws for dead animal disposal.

How to Help Fellow Horsemen in the Event of a Disaster

Horse folk are known for their comradeship. When we hear of other horse owners who are in the path of a natural disaster we want to help. There are several ways to offer assistance. One is to offer safe space if we have it. Stalls and pasture away from the path of the storm or fire are needed for evacuees. Contact SART or your county extension office and let them know what accommodations you have to offer. Another way to help is to donate feed and hay, delivering it to the shelter sites if possible. If you do not have room for evacuees then monetary donations are usually needed as well. Volunteering to transport animals, mucking stalls at shelters, and helping round up loose horses are all ways to you can help. SART, FEMA and other animal welfare groups often offer training workshops for people who wise to help in animal disaster relief.


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    • Hillbilly Zen profile image

      Hillbilly Zen 

      7 years ago from Kentucky

      Wonderful Hub, Ms. Donna, comprehensive and compassionate. Thanks for posting this - voted up, useful and interesting.


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