With another hurricane on the way, don’t be caught unprepared.
Even the best couldn’t prepare for a storm that is so epic the Weather Channel has to make a new color on their radar for its rainfall total. But as a horse owner, you have to try to be prepared for weather-related disasters. What if they say it’s really, really bad and you may need to get out? And you know the horses have to get out, too. So… what will you do?
Don’t wait until the last minute. If roads are bad, backed up, or flooded, a fully loaded horse trailer isn’t going anywhere. You don’t ever want to have to unload on the side of the road. Get your horses out before it gets bad. It is better to be safe than sorry.
With another hurricane bearing down and wildfires wreaking havoc in the west, it’s a good time to review your own emergency evacuation strategies.
What is “bad”? That might be different for each person, but you know your land, your region and your weather better than any generic set of advice. What is your elevation? Do you live near drainage or water? What is the history of flood or storm surge in your area? If you don’t know, ask a long-time resident. Get information from the sources – such as NOAA or your state’s emergency services. Get a good weather app on your phone and when the storm arrives, start checking it every hour. Keep up on social media and see what people in your area are doing.
When you feel you have to get out, if you have a couple of things ready it will be really easy. First of all, teach your horses to load — all of them. When it comes time, all you really have to do is pop them in the trailer and off you go. Do you have more horses than spaces in the trailer? Then get on the phone and get some help lined up ahead of time from friends you know you can count on. Don’t think you can make multiple trips… sometimes the water rises very quickly and you might be forced to leave the horses waiting at home stranded!
Have that truck and trailer hooked up, tires fully inflated, a full tank of fuel and extra fuel in portable tanks in the truck. Pack waterproof boots, clothes, gloves, etc. in the truck. Keep your phone charged up, and have a familiarity with roads in your neighborhood either by personal experience or a good mapping app. You may not be able to use familiar or convenient roads, so know the alternative routes. This is very important when towing a trailer! Some maps show roads as passable when they are not suitable for a truck and trailer. Know your neighborhood well.
Have hay, grain, and water for the horses with feeding buckets for every horse. Pack enough for at least three days each. Include extra halters and leads, including a long rope if you have one, as well as a first aid kit for both humans and horses. (Extra Vetrap can come in handy for all kinds of fixes.) Fill the haybags in the trailer and fill a couple of extra bags if you have them. You should have your Coggins test copies in the trailer for every horse you are moving, along with veterinary records. Keep in a waterproof bag where they can be easily reached.
Put strong, thick snug fitting halters (not rope type) on the horses, and put duct tape on the halters, with the horse’s name, age, and your phone number and name. If you go to a shelter this may be required. Each horse should have a detachable lead rope, because you may need to tie them, or the lead rope might be needed to secure a stall door or opening. Don’t take blankets or sheets. If they have to be outside they will get soaked and if they are inside they might be too hot.
Bear in mind they may not allow people to stay with the horses overnight at some evacuation facilities, so you won’t be able to tend to your horses for some hours. If they have water and hay they will be fine. Don’t worry about grain. If you have a couple of bags of bedding, along with shovels or a pitchfork, and a muck basket or wheelbarrow, this might be allowed and will let you keep the stalls cleaned. But if not, don’t panic over it. There may not be a place to put manure.
Once you get to your evacuation center, unload and put the horses in stalls and keep them there. Don’t take them out, walk them, let them touch noses with other horses, etc. The less movement in crowded barns with strange horses, the safer your horses will be. They can manage a couple of days without exercise; if you have horses that are getting rambunctious, check with a vet about a horse that is over-reacting, perhaps treating them for safety’s sake with medication.
Keep fresh water and hay in front of them and basically wait it out. Horses manage pretty well when locked up, as long as they can keep their gut moving with a constant source of hay or roughage and water. Keep the water filled. Monitor their temperature if you can, and stay with them as much as you can to give them a sense of familiarity.
Pack water and food for yourself: things that don’t need refrigeration like crackers, energy bars, cookies, pretzels, etc. that will keep a few days if necessary. Put these along with important stuff like your driver’s license, phone charger, and change of clothes in a backpack that you can grab quickly and allow your hands to be free. Have a couple of large quart-size sealable plastic baggies in an outside pocket of the backpack; if you have to walk through high water, stop first and get your phone in a baggie and seal it, so it stays dry.
If the shelter allows you to stay with the horses, I hope you have a living quarter horse trailer but if not, be prepared to sleep in your truck, or possibly in the shelter area. For this reason it will be helpful to have a sleeping bag and change of clothes along with some moist cleaning wipes or other toiletries and medication you may need for a few days.
Be polite and cooperative with shelter or evacuation center managers. They don’t have time to explain what they need to do, may not know answers to all the questions you might have and have to work under pretty tough conditions, so try to take your horse where it seems safest and do the best you can to make your stay easy for them. Share tools and help others when you can. If they allow you to keep your feed in your trailer, that’s the best place for it. If the trailer can’t be used for storage and has to be parked far away or removed, then get your feed as close to your horses as you can, make sure it stays dry and out of the wind, and keep it covered and secured if possible.
You may want to keep a permanent marker pen and some duct tape handy for identifying your stalls and equipment. Like a horse show, you might be sharing a barn with many other people and horses. Be prepared to get along with others.
When it’s time to leave, make sure you have a place prepared back home for them, with fences repaired and barn ready. Make sure you follow shelter protocol before you load up. Check with the shelter manager for whatever is needed before exiting, such as cleaning the stalls you have used and placing the manure in a designated area.
When you return home, keep checking your horse’s temperatures for a few days to be on top of any communicable diseases. Be cautious with turnout if the storm has broken fences or swamped fields and paddocks. Don’t feed wet hay or grain; throw it out. Once you have returned, be sure to keep up with the Emergency Services warnings and direction regarding fresh water, toxic conditions, further flooding, etc. as these might affect where you put the horses on your property, and what source of water you use.
Every area is different: each region might have different protocol or rules, and some places won’t have evacuation facilities that are close enough or will work for horses (such as pet centers only). Know what the situation is around your area; check the Emergency Services information on your local government website. The best way to prepare is keep up on the news of the weather and keep everything ready to go, just in case you have to.
Further reading for preparing a disaster plan for multiple scenarios: “Are You Ready? Creating a Disaster Plan For Your Horses“