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Helping horse-owners prepare for disasters

From: Laurie

Jessica, In response to events in the world lately, a great majority of people are at least thinking about what they should do in case of a terrorist attack or a similar disruption. I have seen several articles covering disaster preparedness for horses. These articles include having first aid supplies, enough hay and grain for a few days, records and identification for your horse. One article also mentioned the need to have an evacuation site. As an "out in the middle of nowhere" horse owner, it is unlikely that I would need to evacuate the horses, far more likely that I could be an evacuation location. Now it is up to me to get the word out that in the event of a disaster I could accomodate two or three more horses and to be sure that I have enough supplies on hand should this become necessary. I suppose this does not fall under the guidelines of asking a question, I just thought this might be something that deserved the attention of horse owners, those who might have to move their horses and those that have space that could be used. Perhaps a notice board for both could be set up at a local humane shelter or county extension office.

Some of us in this area routinely carry halters and leads with us in our vehicles simply because there is so much livestock in this area and you never know who might make it into the road.

I would greatly appreciate your advice on this subject. To me, and I know to tons of others, you are our first stop when a question arises. Thanks so much! Laurie

Hi Laurie! I think your idea is excellent - it goes well beyond the scope of the articles you've mentioned. What you've described is a sort of local clearinghouse for horse-owners whose horses might need somewhere to go, and farm-owners who could offer some space to other people's horses. In addition to your local humane shelters and extension offices, I would suggest that you also make use of area horse clubs and riding clubs, and bulletin boards at local boarding and training stables. If you put together some sort of informative flyer, you could send it to all of the local horse-owners, stable owners, farm managers, etc.

If this is a subject of great concern in your area, you might find it worthwhile to organize a meeting of local horse owners and barn owners. This is the sort of subject that ought to be discussed as thoroughly as possible, well in advance of any actual need. Both farm owners and horse-owners should be involved in the discussion.

Those of you who have space and are generous enough to share it would need to consider any number of factors. I'll just list a few off the top of my head - I'm sure that you will think of others, and I'm sure that if you DO have a general meeting, you as a group will think of MANY others.

So, just as examples:

Laying in enough feed and hay to carry several extra horses over a period of days, weeks, or (perhaps) months isn't trivial, as it will require both an initial investment and storage space. Since hay and feed don't last forever, even in a good storage building, you would also need to use up and replace the feed and hay regularly so that your "emergency stores" would always be fresh.

With extra horses on the place and the possibility of disrupted services, you would also need to store a larger-than-usual collection of medications and first-aid supplies. This isn't necessarily as simple as it sounds. Medications can be costly, and you need to keep track of their expiry dates.

Feed isn't the only basic necessity - what about water? Even if you were willing and able to set up dozens of temporary stalls in your pasture to accomodate as many horses as possible, would your well provide enough water for all those additional animals? If your power goes out, can you hand-pump the well, or do you have a gasoline generator - and how much fuel do you typically keep on hand? This is math that's best done beforehand - the amount of water available at any given facility may well determine precisely how many horses can be brought in under ANY circumstances.

Then there is the question of WHICH horses you would or could accomodate. Which horses would you be willing and able to shelter at your farm? Any horses at all? Are you sure?

Horses, as you know, are not generic or interchangeable. Someone whose facility includes a great many stalls with attached paddocks might well be able to offer to take in just about any horse or horses, but many owners of small farms have just a few stalls or pens, and perhaps one or two pastures, or one or two grass paddocks. This makes it more difficult to take in other horses.

If, for instance, you have a barn with six stalls and paddocks, and only three horses of your own, you could easily take in three more. On the other hand, if your facility consists of a fifteen-acre pasture with a run-in shed just large enough to accomodate three horses, and you have three horses of your own, it might seem simple: you could add three horses to the pasture. In a fifteen-acre pasture, it's quite possible that the less aggressive horses could avoid the more aggressive ones, but you would need to worry about the potential for fighting and kicking inside the small (for six horses) shed. So before you could add three horses to your pasture, you would need to be sure that you weren't putting ALL of the horses at risk.

Fighting is one risk when new horses are brought into contact with resident horses. Transmission of disease is another. In a non-emergency situation, you (I hope!) wouldn't allow any horse on your property until you had verified that it had a current negative Coggins test. In an emergency, would that change? SHOULD that change?

I know that a good many horse owners don't bother with annual Coggins testing, either because their horses live at home in a closed herd or because they have no intention of taking their horses to competitions, clinics, or other public venues. Such horse owners might want to reconsider that policy - I'm sure they would find it heartbreaking to have their horses rejected at an evacuation location.

Some horses are special-needs animals - horses with COPD, for instance, are generally kept outdoors, well away from the hay and the indoor dusts and molds that tend to exacerbate their condition. Owners of such horses would do well to identify an evacuation site where their horses could be maintained in good health.

Horse owners should consider other factors, as well. If you were looking for a boarding stable (again, in a non-emergency situation), you would (I hope) refuse to consider any farm with unsafe fencing. In an emergency situation, would you be willing to turn your horse out into someone else's enclosure? What if the enclosure is fenced with barbed wire or high-tensile wire? What if the enclosure is full of broken-down farm machinery? Taking your horse away from an immediate danger shouldn't mean putting it at risk somewhere else.

It might be a useful idea to create a sort of master list of area barns and stables that could/would make space available in emergencies, and include detailed descriptions of the facilities - and of the horses that would be acceptable to the owners/managers of those facilities (e.g., stallions? young foals?). That way, horse owners would know what they could expect at various evacuation locations. It would be useful for interested parties to exchange information and make some contingency plans, so that in the event of an actual disaster, not every horse-owner in the county would be trying to get his/her horses to the same farm. The main thing would be to HAVE some sort of a plan, and to know that in the event of an emergency evacuation, everyone would be prepared.

Of course, if the situation is a screaming emergency - a major fire, say - then just about any farm owner will probably take in just about anyone's horse, even if it means tying the horses to rings in the indoor arena overnight, but in principle, it's better to be as prepared as possible and have as many options as possible.

I'm sure you'll come up with many additional thoughts on this subject, but perhaps these will help you get started.

Oh, and for the same reasons as you, I, too, carry a halter and leadrope in my car. ;-)


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