Sunday, May 1, 2011

Disaster Planning

Barn damage after Hurricane Charlie, 2004

Horses still wearing their ID's on their sides!

Make sure that horses cannot escape to roadways or downed power lines.

Note ID around ankles.

With the recent devastating events across the southeast, not to mention the wildfires in Texas and floods in the midwest, as well as the upcoming Hurricane season for Florida, I thought it would be a good time to address your disaster plan for your horses.

Don't have one? Well, you should. No matter where you live, you may sooner or later be faced with a natural disaster. At least in Florida, we have the luxury of advanced warning, although as the 2004 hurricanes showed us, that warning may come just 6 hours before landstrike. Unfortunately, in the event of tornadoes and fires, you do not have much, if any forewarning. Nobody could have predicted how horrific these string of tornadoes last week would be and no amount of preparedness could have done any good. You have to place your faith in God or Mother Nature or whomever you believe will save you, and hope for the best.

Have a Plan!

To paraphrase the Clash, " should I stay or should I go?" should be the first order of your disaster planning.

In the event of hurricanes, you will have several days to decide this. As Hurricane Charlie in 2004 proved however, hurricanes can change their paths at the last moment and therefore, any chances of evacuating are gone. So if you decide to evacuate, leave days beforehand to avoid traffic snarls, long line at gas stations and the risk of becoming stuck on the highway as a hurricane strikes. It is better to evacuate for no reason, then to wait until it is too late.

If you evacuate, know alternate routes. Make sure your truck is gassed up.

And of course, if you are evacuating, take your animals with you!

That is the reason for evacuating, right? If you leave animals behind, there is no telling how long it may be until you can return. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see the photos of animals left behind in the radioactive zone of Japan, including horses. Those animals which are stalled or locked indoors, are dying a cruel and slow death of starvation.

  • When evacuating, take enough feed, hay and water for at least 3 days.

  • Now is the time to make sure your horses are up to date on coggins and vaccinations. In the event of emergencies, the state will not require health certificates.

  • Now is the time to locate potential evacuation sites. Contact now to find out requirements.

  • Make sure you take your equine emergency kit with you (listed below).

Remember that if you evacuate, there is a good chance that the storm will follow you! Unless you head north and then turn west towards Tennessee or Kentucky, there is a very good chance you will at some point find yourself stuck in the storm. So ask yourself if you want to risk being stuck in a strange location when a storm hits. In 2004, horses that were evacuated to Central Florida from south Florida actually endured more of Charlie's wrath than if they had stayed at home. Barns were damaged, and while there were reports of trapped horses, there were no reported fatalities. And farms that evacuated to Georgia, also ended up bearing the blunt of the storm after it passed over Florida. Sometimes, staying home and keeping your horses in their familiar surroundings is better.

My personal plan is to stay put, unless it is a category 3 or higher and the storm is coming in around the Melbourne/Cocoa Beach area. Being less than 50 miles from Cocoa Beach, I feel that devastation from such a storm would be catestrophic.

So you decide to stay! What should you do to prepare?

  • Secure all loose and potential flying objects. Knock jumps over and pick up jump cups that are lying on the ground.

  • Fill every bucket and trash can with water. After Charlie, the barn that I was at was without power for over a week. Thankfully, we had filled every bucket and trash can and we also had access to a swimming pool, which we used to rinse off sweaty horses. The day the power came on was the day we were about to start hauling water in. A tiny amount of bleach added to water will keep it purified.

  • Stock up on hay and feed. Make sure it is high off the ground and covered. Even throw a tarp over the hay inside, in case of roof damage.

  • During the storm, leave halters on the horse. ID them with at least 2 methods (see below).

  • Take the following into consideration if you are staying: elevation, flood zone, type of building construction and category of storm.

To leave in or leave out, that is the question

This is a hotly debated subject. It is a personal decision and sometimes there is no right or wrong answer. In last weeks tornado, one farm that had horses both inside and out, lost all of the horses that were outside. Only one horse inside died, despite the barn being destroyed.
If you leave your horses inside, you risk subjecting them to collapsing roofs and walls. If you have runs off the stalls, it is a good idea to leave the doors open, so that in the event of a collapse, the horses have an escape route.
Horses that are left outside will be subjected to flying shrapnel. The smallest of objects become flying missles. Don't kid yourself...horses left outside cannot outrun a tornado! Tornadoes are moving much faster than a horse can run, follow an erratic path, and may be too wide for a horse to avoid its path. Downed fences make for escapes, so if you turn out, make sure that you do so in an area that is contained by at least 2 fence lines. Many horses that survived Hurricane Andrew in 1992, were killed when they escaped through broken fences. They were either hit by emergency vehicles in the middle of the night, or electrocuted by downed power lines.

Types of ID for horses

  • Microchips

  • Freeze markings

  • Tattoos

  • Front and side view photos of your horse. Have at least one shot with you in the picture. This is to prove ownership.

  • Bill of sale. Again, to prove ownership.

    Emergency ID's:

  • Painting info on hooves

  • Body marking with livestock crayons. Include phone # and address. Make sure phone # belongs to a friend or relative out of the area. Many times, cell phones and land lines don't work immediately after a disaster.

  • Neck banding.

  • ID tags on halters.

  • Braid ID tag into mane or tail. Use a small baggie to include emergency info. Luggage tags are also good to use.

  • Tape or velcro strips around ankles with information.

Do not include your coggins anywhere on your horse! Somebody who finds a horse that with its coggins, can remove this horse from the area and sell it.

Also, use more than one method of identifying your horse!

Equine Emergency Kit:

  • 3-7 days supply of feed

  • Bandanas (blindfolds)

  • Batteries for flashlight and radio

  • Blankets

  • Copies of vet records and proof of ownership

  • Duct tape and hay string

  • Emergency contact list

  • First aid kit

  • Flash light

  • Fly spray

  • Heavy gloves

  • Hoof instuments

  • Instructions for feeding and medications

  • Knife

  • Leg wraps and bandages

  • Maps

  • Medications (might be good to include Ace or other sedative as well as Banamine)

  • Non-nylon halter and cotton leads

  • Paper towels, rags

  • Plastic trash cans with lids (to store water, feed)

  • Radio

  • Rope

  • Shovel

  • Tarps

  • Trash bags

  • Twitch

  • Water and feed buckets

  • Wire cutters

  • Water purifier (bleach)


Nothing scares me more than fire, because all it takes is for one careless idiot to throw their cigarette out their car window to start a fire. If wildfires are prevelent in your area, leave your horse trailer hooked up to the trailer and have the trailer loaded and ready to go at a moments notice. If you have to work, leave contact numbers for your neighbors, as well as displayed visably for firefighters. A recent dramatic rescue played out recently on the internet, as firemen rushed to a farm to save a horse and a herd of goats in Colorado. Filmed by a news crew in a helicopter, the firemen bravely battled the approaching fast moving flames, saving the animals. A followup news story revealed that the owners were at work and rescue crews would not allow them to go home and save their animals. This is why it is a good idea to evacuate ahead of time. Better to be safe than to have to risk the aforementioned scenario.

In addition:

  • Keep tranquilizers on hand. A friend of mine was in a situation where she tried to load her horse as a wildfire was approaching the barn where she boarded. The horse was so spooked by the fire, helicopters and fire trucks, she was very difficult to load.

  • And now is a good time to make sure that your horses will load!

  • If you do not have a trailer, or have more horses than trailer space, have a list of people you can contact to help.

    To protect your property from fires (both wildfire and otherwise):

  • Trim palmettos, shrubs and trees. Keep at least a 50' clearance around your barn.

  • Install ground rods.

  • Use metal conduit for wiring inside the barn and underground use pvc.

  • Use industrial extension cords.

  • Inspect cords regularly for signs of chewing from rodents.

  • Do not use indoor box fans. Use industrial fans. Lasko fans have been recalled due to starting fires.

  • NEVER use a heater. A tragic fire in Ohio last month killed several horses and was the result of a heater being left on in a barn.

  • Install smoke detectors.

  • Install fire sprinkers...costs less than you may think!

  • Have fire extinguishers every 40' and at both ends of the barn. An extinguisher may not put out a fire, but it can help buy enough time to evacuate animals.

  • Store hay and shavings in a separate barn. Do not store fresh hay on top of old hay.

  • Keep cobwebs and dust to a minimum. This is not just for aesthetic reasons!

  • Do not store gas cans or lawn equipment in the barn. Do not store anything flammable!

  • Use a metal trash can instead of rubber. If a fire starts in the trash can, the metal will help contain it.

  • Make sure your driveway is clear for a firetruck to reach your barn Trim the trees and bushes. The closer a truck can get to your barn, the faster they can start to extinguish the fire.

  • Install easy to read street numbers at the road.


In the event of flooding, you need to evacuate as soon as possible. As with wildfires, you cannot afford to wait.

After Tropical Storm Faye, in 2008, our farm was about a foot under water for weeks. I was initally concerned about snakes. The real threat however, were ants. Did you know that ants float? I didn't. Fireants will attach to each other and form a floating island. I quickly discovered that leaning on the fence was a painful experience, as ants sought refuge here. Sadly, a man died near my barn after coming in contact from a floating ant island.

In the event of tornadoes, I really don't think there is much you can do, other than to seek shelter and pray. One house may be totally destroyed, leaving their neighbor unscathed. Just as in hurricanes, I will take my chances and leave my horses inside. I will risk my barn being destroyed over having my horses impaled or electrocuted.

Now is the time to plan and prepare. Know your options and devise an emergency plan now!

Thank you to the Chuluota Fire Department and Dr. Jennifer Fowinkle for their contributions that allowed me to write this blog!


  1. Great post. This information is all very true and actually made me stop and think. All the bad storms I've been through since living in Florida were when my horse was on my family's farm in Ocala. Now that I'm boarding I have a lot less control over things and I really need to figure out the barn's plan now. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Really good overview of points one needs to cover ahead of time.