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Tips for Horse Owners in a Disaster

Published: 7/9/2013
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Editor's Note:

Michele DeVinney Schmoll administers Horse Evacuations East and runs a small farm in Virginia. Dr. Clayton McCook is an equine vet and founder member of the Oklahoma Livestock First Responders. They each have been working with horse owners during natural disasters for many years. Schmoll and McCook offer these guidelines for horse owner response before, during, and after natural disasters.

By Michele DeVinney Schmoll & Dr. Clayton McCook

With a hurricane you know it is coming and you have time to evacuate. Other natural disasters such as tornadoes, flooding, mud slides, fire and earthquakes you may not have any warning so you need to pay attention to your weather and environment.

Have a written preparedness plan and stick to it. The worst thing you can do is second guess yourself when you are in the middle of a disaster situation.
If evacuation is an option, then do it. Allow yourself enough time. Do not delay or you may be stuck in traffic with your horse or worse, in the middle of the disaster with no way out.
First and foremost, make sure you and your family’s safety is never in jeopardy. Have everything you need ready to evacuate. Also make sure you register with the Red Cross’s Safe and Well program so loved ones and friends can find you if they cannot reach you via cell phone.

Stock up on fuel:

When the gas stations are without power, they can't sell you gasoline.
Is your vehicle full?
Do you have fuel cans that you can fill?
Your generator runs on gasoline. Fill fuel cans prior to a storm.

We keep plenty of fuel cans on our farm for diesel and gasoline. We also try and keep our generator ready in off seasons to make sure it works. A generator in our area is a must because we have well water and without it our livestock will not have water.

Walkie-Talkies and CB Radios
Walkie-talkies are great to have in times of disaster. Ours have a minimum 6-mile range. We have CB radios in our trucks.
This way we can talk to each other and call for assistance on the emergency channels if needed. Often cellphone towers go down and you have no way to communicate.

Have Paper Maps
Make sure you have maps of your state and surrounding states in case GPS is not functioning due to downed cellphone towers. You may need alternate evacuation routes due to damaged roadways or congestion and street signs may be gone after the area is damaged.

Mark your property
Place placards on property fence gates informing firefighters if animals are being sheltered in place there. Owners should also include their names and contact information. Make sure your address is highly visible. In times of disasters mailboxes are often lost.

Emergency Contacts
Keep a paper list of emergency contacts and addresses in case you cannot power up your cellphone.
Make sure your list includes Emergency Management, Animal Control, Veterinarian, USDA, Agriculture Department and other numbers you may need.

Team up with neighbors or horse friends in your community
Develop a team plan with neighbors to help in the joint use of resources such as a trailer and supplies. Inform each other in the case of evacuation. Working as a team, you will be better able to efficiently evacuate in a shorter amount of time.

Evacuations Centers and Facilities
Make a list of facilities in your state or surrounding states that will be open in time of a disaster that you can evacuate to if you don’t already have arrangements made with a facility.
Know different routes to get there in case your main and fastest route is blocked or congested. Always have a contingency plan.

Medical Records, Insurance Paperwork and Proof of Ownership

Have a folder of all your horses’ medical records including ownership paperwork in case you have to prove it. If you put all of your paperwork in one small portable file container it can be quickly located and loaded in case of an emergency.
If you need to travel over state lines you may also need Health Certificates.
If your animals are micro chipped, branded or tattooed make sure you have this information and photos.
Have photos of all your animals so you can identify them.
Taking photos with a family member helps in identifying them. Without Registered Identification on your horse, law enforcement often leaves the horse with the person with possession.
Stolen Horse International (Netposse.com) lists these ways to register your horse permanently: microchip, lip tattoo, hoof branding, freeze or hot branding your horse. If you have to turn your animals loose see Animal Identification below.

Vaccinations and Coggins

Make sure you keep your horses up to date on all core vaccines, especially Tetanus and Encephalitis. Have current Coggins on your horses.
There is a huge risk of infection during disasters especially when there is a lot of debris and flooding involved. Many facilities will require Coggins.

Equine First Aid Kit

Read more here

An equine first aid kit is essential for all horse owners to have in the barn or trailer. Make sure it is in a water proof container. A well-stocked first aid kit kept in the barn will always be available when the trailer is loaded with tack and supplies. A general first aid kit that is routinely updated can be used for emergencies like wounds, colic, foot injuries, dehydration or other trauma and then be available for an evacuation in case of disaster. Make sure you have a sharpie in it, duct tape and a flashlight with back up batteries. Click here for equine first aid kit contents.

Horse Medication
If possible, clearly label all horse medication and keep it in an appropriate container that can be quickly located and loaded in emergencies.

Animal Identification
After natural disasters there are hundreds of displaced animals. We recommend that horses do not wear a halter because things can get caught on them or in fire they can melt if nylon. If you do leave on a halter make sure it is a break-away or leather.
Remember, you cannot have too much identification on your horse.

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  Netposse.com recommends more permanent solutions of horse identification such as: Microchip, lip tattoo, hoof branding and freeze or hot branding your horse.
• Fetlock Bands or Evacuation Collars also can be used depending on kind of disaster
• Braid a water proof luggage tag, ribbon or dog tag with your name, 10 digit number and address on it into their mane. Try not to use the tail sometimes it can cut off circulation or get caught.
• Paint your 10 digit phone number on their side with spray paint, livestock paint or shoe polish in case they can’t be caught easily (premade stencils make it fast and easy to do all animals)
• If - you move your horses to a facility we recommend you either write your name and number on their halter or we use premade brass dog tags with all our info on them and attached to halter. You can also put medical information on it if your horse has an allergy or medical condition. Also putting a sign on their stall helps but they could be moved.
• Using small animal clippers, body clip the same phone number on your horse's neck.
• Do not put a copy of the horse's Coggins test on the horse. Rescuers may not be the ones to find your horse. A Coggins test is a passport out of state.

Evacuation? A few things to remember to take:
• Horse's dietary requirements written down and bring them with you
• Medication, first aid kit and all veterinary supplies
• Halters, lead ropes, wraps, twitch, blankets, fly masks, water and feed buckets
• An extra 50 feet cotton rope and flashlights with extra batteries
• Hay and feed enough for a week if possible
• Ample supply of fresh water and buckets on the trailer will be very important during the evacuation in case you are caught in traffic for any duration. You will want to be able to provide the horses water while waiting on the highway.

Preparing for a Natural Disaster
Regardless of whether you stay or evacuate, start early to clean up your property and remove all debris that may be tossed around by high winds or flooding. Remember, trees could be down blocking roads, and you may not be able to return to the barn immediately following the storm.
Leave two buckets of water in your horse's stall. Be alert to signs of smoke inhalation: Along with risk of lacerations and other injuries, horses sheltered in place run the risk of smoke inhalation if there is fire. Owners should be able to recognize signs that their horses have inhaled smoke; coughing, sneezing, or heavy breathing. Veterinarians treat smoke inhalation with antibiotics, as well as drugs that dilate airways and steroid drugs that reduce tissue inflammation.
If you plan to weather the storm at home, here are some guidelines:
• The choice of keeping your horse in a barn or an open field is entirely up to you. Use common sense, taking into consideration barn structure, trees, power lines and the condition of surrounding properties.
• Remove all items from the barn aisles and walls, and store them in a safe place.
• Have two weeks supply of hay (wrapped in plastic or waterproof tarp) and feed (stored in plastic water-tight containers). Place these supplies in the highest and driest area possible.
• Take two plywood boards and spray paint on one side of each board, "HAVE ANIMALS, NEED HELP." On the other side of each board paint, "HAVE ANIMALS, OK FOR NOW." Put both plywood boards with your feed supply.
• Fill clean plastic garbage cans with water, secure the tops, and place them in the barn.
• Prepare an emergency animal care kit (waterproof) with all the items you normally use: medications, salves, ointments, vet wraps, bandages, tape, etc. Place the kit in a safe place where you can get to it after a storm.
• Have an emergency barn kit containing a chain saw and fuel, hammers, a saw, nails, screws and fencing materials. Place this kit in a secure area before the storm hits.
• Have an ample supply of flashlights and batteries, and at least one battery-operated radio.
• Using camper tie-downs, secure all vehicles, trailers and maintenance equipment.
• Notify neighbors and family where you will be during the storm.
• Before leaving the barn, attach identification to all horses.
• Turn off circuit breakers to the barn before leaving. A power surge could cause sparks and fire.
• Do not stay in the barn with your horse during the storm.
• Place a supply of water and hay with each horse.
• If fire-Remove horses from barns: Horses should be relocated from barns even if those structures are equipped with sprinkler systems. Paddocks or metal-construction areas provide safer shelter. Close up the barn to prevent scared horses from running back inside and becoming trapped.

Lessons From Prior Disasters
• Collapsed Barns - Owners thought their animals were safe inside their barn
• Kidney Failure - Due to dehydration, wandering animals were deprived of water for days
• Electrocution - Horses sought the lowest areas, in many cases this was a drainage ditch. The power lines that were blown down during the storm were strung over drainage ditches
• Fencing Failure - Wandering animals, although unharmed during the storm, were hit and killed on the roadways
• Injuries to animal due to flying debris and burns
• Trees coming down in pastures due to excessive flooding and becoming a hazard to horses and possibly falling on them. Check trees on your farm.

Resources
• Red Cross Safe and Well http://www.redcross.org/find-help/contact-family/register-safe-listing
• Red Cross Disaster Relief http://www.redcross.org/what-we-do/disaster-relief
• Equi-Safe Fetlock bands and Evacuation Collars http://www.equestrisafe.com/
• American Association of Equine Practioners http://www.aaep.org/press_room.php?id=448
• AAEP Animal State and Health Offices http://www.aaep.org/us_canada_statehealthoffices.htm
• FEMA http://www.fema.gov/

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