Disaster Preparedness For Horses

Arguably, among the most gut-wrenching images from disasters are those involving animals. The ultimate picture of innocence, their peril in the face of disaster has stirred dramatic public outcry for animals to receive the same care and rescue as humans. While things are improving, the fact remains that the best thing for you to do is be prepared.

Maybe you believe you won’t leave your animals behind in a time of crisis. But you may still face contaminated water, unstable/ damaged structures, and toxic environmental exposures, if authorities even allow you to stay. The four simple steps we’ve outlined here will help you create a custom emergency plan for you and your horses.

STEP 1: ASSESS YOUR THREATS. Hazards come in all shapes and sizes, but consider:

  • Natural hazards are events caused by forces extraneous to man, like hurricanes or blizzards.
  • Technological disasters involve materials created by man, such as a gas-line explosion. They?re mechanical or technologic failures that destabilize civil structure and compromise amenities we rely on.
  • Adversarial or manmade disasters are created by man (intentionally or accidentally)?maybe a bomb being detonated in your area.

Disasters often coincide, such as a flood from severe storms, levee failure, and HAZMAT contamination. So, take an ?all hazards? approach to planning, so You’ll be ready for anything from fire to alien invasion (hey, who knows’).

STEP 2: CREATE AN ALL-HAZARDS DISASTER PLAN. As a rule of thumb, your disaster plan should include provisions for you and your horses to be self-reliant for at least 72 hours.? That’s usually how long it takes for disaster responders and services to get to you. When formulating your plan, be sure to:

1) Make sure that all of your horses have some form of identification.? You can get a microchip implanted in the horse’s neck or ID their halter with your name and phone number if you:

  • Use an engraved nameplate.
  • Purchase an embroidered halter.
  • Write it right on the halter with a permanent marker, like a Sharpie.
  • Use a tag on the horse’s halter, like a luggage tag, but this has the most chance of being pulled off.
  • If all else fails, use a grease pencil or spray paint? your name, your horse’s name, and your telephone number right onto your horse.? Crude, but effective.

2) Evacuating your horses is recommended by seasoned disaster responders. Taking them to shelter sites or different locations will increase your chances of keeping them safe and together.? Therefore, in advance, you should:

  • Find out the designated shelter locations in your area.? They can be identified by contacting local animal authorities or by accessing your county disaster plan.
  • Consider making reciprocal agreements with one or two friends who have horse facilities out of your area.? In the event of flooding or fire, you may need to leave your town or county.
  • Map out primary and secondary routes to shelter locations in advance; GPS may not work.
  • If you can afford it, have a truck and trailer that can haul all of your horses at one time or know immediately that you can get one or know a professional hauler.

3) If evacuation isn?t possible, and you can’t stay, You’ll need to know whether or not you can turn the horses loose.? Some factors for that decision to consider now are:

  • Is your property one that has high spots or natural shelter, meaning can your horse contend with the disaster at hand and remain on your property’
  • Is your horse housed in a large outdoor area or in a barn stall’? If the horse is in a barn stall, consider turning the horse loose in situations such as flood or fire.? In other disasters, such as severe storms, your horse may be better off confined in a stall.
  • The decision to confine your horse or turn him loose is difficult and must be made with knowing the options at hand as well as the type of disaster you are facing.

4) Have at least 72 hours of feed, hay and water for your horses always on hand,

  • The average horse can survive in an emergency on one bale of hay per week. Hay can be stored in duffel bags or bale hay bags (we especially like the Schneiders Dura-Tech hay bale bags, available with and without wheels at www.sstack.com or 800-365-1311)? Store the emergency hay in your trailer.
  • Water is the most difficult but must crucial resource to plan for during a disaster. You can get water buckets with lids, but the simplest solution is to get large 5- to 10 gallon water containers designed for campers (check out the camping department). Store them in the trailer.
  • If your horses have special grain needs, store bags in a Rubbermaid garbage can with lid. Change out bags often, so that the one in storage is fresh. If you prefer a feed bin, we like the Horsemen’s Pride Feed Bin, www.horsemenspride.com, 800-232-7950. it’s water- and rodent-resistant. You can get it for between $155 and $250.
  • The same goes for any medications. Keep them up-to-date and in a waterproof container.

5) Write out your plan. There is no way that a person can be expected to remember all of this during an emergency. Get laminate sheets from the office-supply store and make several copies. Store multiple copies in multiple places. For those who are technologically savvy, placing the plan on a web-based server (such as SkyDrive or Cloud) may be handy when a disaster strikes, assuming you don’t lose Internet service (in that case, You’ll need those laminated copies).

STEP 3: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. Do a barn fire drill. Just like in schools and large office buildings, there’s a reason for these efforts. If you have multiple horses, how will you handle them all’

  • Train your horses to load willingly into the trailer. Stubborn horses are a nuisance under normal circumstances, but in an emergency it could mean life or death.
  • Practice from going through your checklist and loading supplies, to getting the horses to your designated safe spot.

STEP 4: ROUTINELY REVISIT YOUR PLAN. Creating a plan is over half the battle. But, practicing and then refining your plan accordingly will make you more efficient. Repeat the drills at least a couple times a year.

BOTTOM LINE. A well-designed, practiced disaster plan is a great service to your horses. You may never need it, but if you do, You’ll be ahead of the game. See Disaster Emergency Kit and More. The basics are simple:

  • Have a quick evacuation plan and destination (stay in touch with your alternate shelters).
  • Keep supplies for at least 72 hours on hand and fresh.

Article by Contributing Veterinary Editor Grant Miller DVM.

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