Surviving the Unexpected, Part 2

How can horse-owners prepare for natural disasters like wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes?

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Last week, we introduced you to natural disaster survivors from Louisiana and Mississippi. This week, you’ll meet a survivor of Oklahoma wildfires and get advice on how to prepare for the unexpected from the Country Living Association, an AQHA alliance partner.

In Oklahoma
Droughts in Texas and Oklahoma over the last few years have triggered dangerous wildfires that consume dry brush and grass. For John Curtis of Oklahoma City, one of those fires came uncomfortably close in 2005.

“It burned the hay barn down,” he says. “I have three horses in training in another barn. I got to thinking I should check on the other colts (across the road), and when I got back, (the fire) had jumped the road.”

When he went back to his main barn, the fire department wouldn’t let him in. When he finally got in, the barn was on fire.“My good filly was in the first stall, and her mane was on fire.”

John opened the barn doors, and the horses ran out. The filly whose mane was blazing – Joys Hotsie Totsie – ran through a fence and cut her leg badly.

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“It just makes you sick, but I’m in hopes that I’m going to save them,” John said of his racing prospects. Joys Hotsie Totsie – a full sister to Blazen Madie, a stakes-winning mare – was put into training after the fire, but never raced.

“(The filly) was the sweetest horse I’ve ever dealt with in my life. I’m older, and she’s not very wild, or else I couldn’t handle her,” John says.

John lost his hay barn but was able to put out the horse barn fire with a hose. He didn’t have insurance.

“We’ve been out there 40 years and never had a fire like that,” he says. “It’s hard to know the best thing to do. If I had it to do over, I would have wet down the barn.”

Like other horse owners, he was doing the best he knew how to do.

Making Plans

Disasters happen everywhere, even if not on the scale of a hurricane. Fires, tornadoes, floods, ice storms, chemical spills and vehicle crashes are possible in most locations.

That’s why Debi Metcalfe of Stolen Horse International advises all horse owners to be prepared for the worst.

Additionally, she points out, preparation for a disaster can help you reclaim a lost or stolen horse. After any natural disaster, there are people who will take advantage of the situation.

To keep track of your horse, she suggests the belt-and-suspenders approach of microchipping and freeze-branding.

“Everything else in life is traceable somehow,” she says. “Your car has a VIN number. Definitely, we do recommend a microchip and a freeze brand. Most horse owners can do it themselves relatively inexpensively.”

Even if your horse just gets into a neighbor’s pasture, you’ll need identification on hand, Debi points out.

“Without ID on the horse, how can law enforcement know who to believe? If you have a VIN number – or a registerable brand – you’re going to walk home with your horse.”

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she says, most of the horses that had been microchipped were reunited with their owners. “That was helpful that the owners had done that ahead of time,” she says.

Stolen Horse International’s website, netposse.com, suggests more methods of tracking your horse, including tattooing, hoof branding, etching hooves and painting phone numbers or the last four digits of Social Security numbers on horses with nontoxic paint.

The site advises filling a plastic bag with identification information for each horse owned that includes photos of the horses with family members, identification registrations, Coggins tests and pictures of special markings or scars.

Country Living Association’s Farm Disaster Preparedness

Rivers and streams are swelling, and tornadoes are swirling. While many across the country are recovering from natural disasters, it's likely more will come. Farmers and ranchers who have disaster plans in place will be more apt to preserve life and property. Preparedness also minimizes recovery time and makes it easier to move on.

A farm disaster plan should consider family members, employees, livestock and emergency response resources, plus how to protect crops, farm equipment, agricultural chemicals, water and food supplies. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

Inventory - A comprehensive accounting of livestock, property and potentially hazardous substances is essential. Livestock may be killed, lost or stolen during an emergency. Attach ID tags on all animals and keep a log of the ID numbers and corresponding animal descriptions.

Maintain a list of machinery and equipment, including make and model number.

Keep an updated list of pesticides, fertilizers, fuels, medicines and other chemicals. During a disaster, these items can wash into streams and contaminate food and water supplies.

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Disaster supply kit - In addition to family and employee first-aid kits and supplies, farmers should keep additional emergency items on hand, including:

1. Sandbags and plastic sheeting

2. Wire and rope to secure objects

3. Extra fuel in a safe place for tractors and vehicles

4. Hand tools and fire extinguishers to assist with recovery

5. An emergency generator in case of power outage

Escape plans – Establish escape routes to higher elevation for livestock and vehicles when flood threatens. Move hay, machinery, fuel, pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals out of flood-prone areas. Turn off electrical power to machines and outbuildings that may be flooded. Secure loose items such as lumber, pipes, machinery parts and tools.

Emergency response assistance – Farmers don't need to face disaster alone. Seek help from personnel trained as first responders and, for quick reference, keep a farm emergency contact list posted in plain view in farm offices, machinery shops and other primary locations on your operation.