Disaster Prep

Natural disasters can be a threat to horse health.

Between hurricanes in the Southeast, tornados in the Midwest and wildfires in the Southwest, the need to plan ahead to keep your horse safe is more important than ever. The first step in preparing for a natural disaster is to develop a plan ahead of time for each type of natural disaster possible in your area (tornado, hurricane, wildfire, flood, etc.). Here are a few things you should do to prepare for any potential disaster:

Make sure your horses are up to date on vaccinations and Coggin’s test, and that you have a file on each horse with its photo, description and brand, tattoo or microchip number in case you’re separated.

Make sure they load easily into a trailer, and that strangers can load them, if necessary.

Have a properly fitted halter and lead rope on hand for each horse. Nylon halters and lead ropes should be avoided as they will burn easily near a fire. Have the horse’s names on the halters, as well as your name and phone number. Cattle ear tags printed with indelible ink or luggage tags with your contact information can be attached to the horse’s halter or collar. You can also use spray paint or livestock-marking crayons to mark a phone number directly on the horse.

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As the natural disaster approaches, make sure your trailer is hitched, your truck is full of gas and you have an evacuation route plotted. Know where you will take your horses and make sure everyone knows the plan. Point your vehicle in the direction of your escape route and leave the keys in the ignition. Have an alternate evacuation route in mind in case the primary route is not available.

Have a first-aid kit for you and your horses on hand. If a wildfire or forest fire is pending, make sure you have goggles and a cotton bandana or wet cloth to protect your eyes and lungs from smoke and burning embers. Remember that smoke from a wildfire can create as great a survival problem as the flames.

Know the order of evacuation for each of your horses in case you run out of time and cannot take all of them.

Have enough feed and water in containers for 72 hours to take along with you to the evacuation area.

Have a disaster preparedness kit on hand containing the following: Portable radio with extra batteries; water buckets; cell phone with chargers; hoof pick; flashlights with extra batteries; non-nylon leads, halters, shanks; shovel; sharp knife; portable generator; leg wraps, blankets and sheets; wire cutters; water hose; phone numbers for the police, fire department and your veterinarian.

All of these items can be placed in a light-weight plastic barrel (with a lid) or a large tack box that can be easily tossed into the back of a pickup truck or other vehicle. Store it in an easily accessible location and don’t use it for anything but emergencies.

In non-evacuating emergencies, such a severe storms or tornados, it is best to leave your horses turned out away from the barn or stable in a field with few trees and no power lines. This decreases the chance of them being injured by a falling tree or trapped in a collapsing barn, although it’s possible they may encounter flying debris or lighting strikes.

Be aware that every location has risks and your goal is to minimize those risks whenever possible. If you have to leave your property during a natural disaster and you are unable to take your horses, make sure they have enough food and water to last for at least 72 hours. Do not rely on automatic waterers, as many rely on electricity, which may not be available.

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Dr. John Madigan of the University of California-Davis is a veterinarian and an expert in the area of disaster preparedness and animal rescue. Helpful tips for preparing for a natural disaster are at

The City of Los Angeles also has produced a free pamphlet entitled “What Should I Do With My Horses in a Fire, Flood and/or Earthquake?”. You can obtain it by contacting the City of Los Angeles, Animal Regulation Dept., Emergency Coordinator, 419 S. Spring St., Room 1400, Los Angeles, CA 90013.

Dr. Thomas R. Lenz, Diplomate of the American College of Theriogenologists, is a trustee of the American Horse Council, the chairman of AQHA’s research committee and is a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.