Last time we discussed the reasons for making the effort at personal (people) preparedness so that you can assist your horse after you have taken care of your family first. So, assuming that you have done those things (if you haven’t, go back to last week, take the quiz, and get started), let’s move on to coming up with a disaster plan for your horse.

For the sake of this post, I will assume you have one horse. (For those of you with two or more, you will have a lot more work to do.) First, prioritize your evacuation status by having your horse trained to lead, load onto a trailer, and stand quietly when tied. These basic manners are good for all horses, but the easier you make it to handle and work with your horse, the easier it will be to move him, transport, and find him a place to stay in the event of a looming disaster.

This pony loads easily and is ready to evacuate in case of an emergency.

Photo: Rebecca Gimenez

The questions that I ask other people when they ask me what they can do to prepare for a disaster are:

  • “Does your horse load?"
  • "Does he load in the wind, rain, dark, and with people around? By himself? Without feed or treats? On strange trailers?”
  • "Do you board the horse?"

If you board, ask the owner of the facility and manager and staff to provide to you witha copy of their written disaster evacuation plan. You may have to pressure them for one. I have asked that question of many boarding facilities in my travels around the world and found very few that actually have one. Maybe they have one in their mind, but without writing it down and sharing it with their clients, it is not a plan. And without occasionally practicing, it is worthless.

Remember, you might not be there when a wildfire, blackout, chemical spill, or other disaster happens, and you probably have an expectation that the boarding facility will take care of your animal as you would your own. Is this addressed in your lease or board contract? The owner of the facility will normally be most concerned about their own animals first, yours could be the second or third trip out if you aren’t there to supervise. How can you address this concern? What is the priority for every animal at the barn and how can you make sure that there is a plan?

If you keep the horse on your own property, what is your disaster evacuation plan? Even if you keep your horse on pasture and don’t have a barn, you need to write down all the steps in your evacuation plan for your horse--from “hitch the trailer to the vehicle” and “shut down all electrical to barn and house” to “have fuel in the vehicle at all times.”

What steps in the plan are unique to your facility? Do you need to open or close the gate with a special transmitter? Who has keys to everything? Do stallions or certain horses have to be separated or need to be handled only by a certain person? Do you need to call anyone to notify them that their horse has been evacuated with yours? Do you have staff members that should be called so that they can conduct their portion of the plan?

A quick list of things that you should have available for your horse and your facility are as follows:

  • Have an up-to-date Coggins test, have a means of identifying your horse (photos, ankle bracelet or halter tags, freeze brands, microchips, EyeD, etc.), and ensure vaccinations are up to date. Health certificates are nice to have, but in an emergency you might not have these.
  • Evacuate before the winds reach 30 mph--your horse trailer is a box on wheels and can be overturned if high winds start to gust. Leave the horses outside emergencies that include high winds--collapse of the structure onto animals prevents them from escaping, but they are smart enough to find a safer place if given the chance.
  • Invest in a generator and fuel (and learn how to use it), and ensure you have adequate water sources for your animals before the disaster strikes. Animals drink a lot of water every day, and if you have to haul in water, make a plan where you will get it for them.
  • Ensure there is sufficient feed, hay, or other nutrition sources for the animals. If you have sufficient grass, that makes it easier. Don’t let escaped animals get to the feed, and use waterproof storage containers to prevent spoilage. It is nice to have 5-7 days of feed so that you don’t have to panic about feeding.
  • Have an equine first aid kit that is up to date with bandages, medications, and all other first-aid items that your veterinarian might suggest. These days it is easy to purchase an entire kit online and keep it handy for daily as well as emergency uses.
  • Have a set of hand tools that you might need for minor maintenance and repair.

Lastly, have an increased watch status when disasters loom that could threaten your facility and horses. For example “fueled truck and hitched trailer, all gear and equipment packed up in vehicle, parked in the driveway ready to load horses” could be an easy addition to the plan if you are within a few hours of the threat. Practicing your plan is the best way to show what works and doesn't work, and it may open your eyes to other holes in your plan for the future.

A few online resources:

If you have any questions about creating your plan, please comment below.