Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires. It’s not a matter of if these things happen, it’s only a matter of when. Being prepared for emergency situations is absolutely vital, and being a livestock owner presents a unique set of challenges. What can you do to help keep your horses safe in an emergency?
First and foremost, your priority is you and your family. Do you have everything you need to be prepared? If you yourself aren’t taken care of, how can you possibly take care of your animals? After you get your personal emergency kit and your plan all settled, turn your focus to preparing your animals.
9 Key Concepts to Help You Prepare
Make sure you have multiple forms of identification. There are plenty of options available. It is best to use several in case one fails. Having identification is extremely important, in the case that you become separated from your animals. It is not uncommon for good Samaritans to load up trailers with whatever horses they can, without knowing who they belong to, and owners are faced with tracking down their horses afterwards.
- Microchip your horse, just as you would a dog or cat. The chip is permanent, long term, cannot be tampered with, and cannot be misplaced in the chaos of an emergency.
- Attach ID tags on halters, neck bands, and/or leg bands. These items will include your emergency contact information, are designed to stay on your horse, and have a safety breakaway feature.
- Note any tattoos and brands. Previously raced horses should all have a unique tattoo inside their upper lip. BLM mustangs will all have a unique freeze brand on their neck. Horses coming from large ranches may even have a traditional brand identifying which ranch they came from. These features are permanent and a quick way to help identify your horse.
- Record your horse’s breed, size, color, markings, scars, cowlicks, whorls, and any other unique features. How would you describe your horse over the phone to a stranger? Let’s say they’re looking at two similar chestnut geldings, how can they tell which is yours?
- Take full frame, close up photos of your horse. Get each side and front and back views.
- In a real pinch, get creative. Take a permanent marker and write your information on your horse’s hooves. Grab spray paint or Blu Kote and spray your phone number on to your horse’s side.
Have at least one halter and one lead rope available for each horse.
- Keep them close to the horse’s stall.
- In fire risk areas, make sure the halter is leather and the lead rope is cotton. Believe it or not, a standard nylon halter could melt.
- Store extra halters and leads in the tack room, truck, or trailer. Just in case.
Keep medical records, photos, and proof of ownership stored safely. These can help keep your horse safe while it is evacuated. Is your horse on medication? Do they have any allergies or medical conditions? What do they normally eat? Is your horse a stallion, or a pregnant mare? These pieces of information will help keep them be cared for after they’ve been removed from the immediate danger. You may also need to prove that your horse belongs to you, in the unfortunate situation that there are any disputes of ownership.
- Have physical copies stored in a water tight bag, somewhere safe but convenient.
- Give copies out to friends and family.
- Keep digital copies accessible online in the cloud
Have a transportation plan for evacuation.
- Have your own truck and trailer? Keep them both maintained and road-ready by conducting periodic checks.
- No trailer of your own? Make arrangements with a reliable neighbor of friend who has one.
- Plan out multiple exit routes and have a prearranged evacuation site.
Practice loading and unloading.
- Your horse MUST get in the trailer. During an emergency, there will be added stress. Make it easier on your horse and on you, by practicing loading and unloading often.
- Don’t wait until the last minute.
- Roads can close, conditions can change. If you wait too long, you run the risk of being forced to leave your horses behind.
Have a multiple back-up plans.
- When do emergencies go according to plan? Basically never.
- Include a last resort “shelter in place” plan. What will you do in case you can’t get your horses out? Where will they be safest on the property?
Communicate your plan.
- Share your plan with family and friends.
- If you operate a facility, discuss your plan with the local fire department.
- Have instructions posted in the barn in case you are not able to be there during an emergency.
Have your supply kits ready and stocked.
- Keep 72 hours worth of feed and water.
- Don’t forget equipment like water buckets and hay nets.
- Have a first aid kit made with supplies for treating physical injuries and internal illnesses.
- A flashlight, wire cutters, and a sharp knife can really come in handy!