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Before Disaster Strikes

Natural disasters can strike at any time and often without much warning.  To be obliged to flee your home and leave a beloved animal behind strikes fear into any horse owner's heart, so it is good to have evacuation plans already prepared in advance.


Because of changing weather conditions and political unrest worldwide, there seems to be an increased chance of becoming a victim of either a tornado, hurricane, flood, damage from an ice storm, a raging wildfire, or even a chemical spill or explosion at some point in one's life.  With this in mind, it is important to first of all define your risk, assess your options, and make a definite plan of action.


Some have found it helpful to organize a Neighborhood Disaster Committee with scheduled meetings to discuss ways to help each other in the event of a pending disaster.  Topics for discussion could include the combined resources of the group (ie generators, horsetrailers, water tanks, trucks, etc.), a list of people you need to contact (emergency preparedness team, Ag extension agent, veterinarian, Animal Control, police, other local emergency groups), emergency supplies pertinent to the care of livestock, as well as evacuation route plans and possible horse drop-off points. Agree to exchange evacuation plans and to check on each other after a disaster.


Be sure to choose the safest place for your horses for each individual disaster that might affect you or your property.  In case of flooding, your horse might be better off in a field with access to higher ground should the water rise.  However, debris flies rampant in a hurricane or tornado, so stabling your horse might be a better option.  Be sure to consider the structure of the barn, any trees, machinery, power lines and the condition of any surrounding areas before making a final decision.  A supply of at least 4-5 days of feed and water is a must. Also keep an emergency barn kit containing:  water buckets, a tarp, equine first aide kit, wraps, bleach or disinfectant, knife, wire cutters, radio and batteries, flashlight, non toxic markers, and a fire resistant lead and halter (not nylon) handy.


If you plan to evacuate with your horse, have your route planned out in advance.  Keep all vehicles full of gas and well maintained, and leave early to avoid huge traffic jams.  Make sure your horse's vaccinations and coggins test are current and be sure to take all his records with you.  Have a prepared list of feeding instructions, medications (with dosage requirement) and contact information for you veterinarian.  If you plan to use a  drop off point for you horse, make sure you have all the required information before you need to use a facility.


Should you become separated from your horses for any reason, contact local authorities and report your loss.  You will need to prove ownership through documentation, so have a file prepared for each animal containing pictures of your horse with a family member, Identification registrations, pictures of special markings or brands on your horse's body, etc.  One of the main goals of animal rescue organizations is to reunite owners and their horses as soon as possible so be sure to at least have a luggage tag showing the owner's name and telephone number attached to his halter and another tag braided into his tail.  Permanent identification in the form of branding, microchipping, tattooing, hoof branding or hoof etching are the most effective means of proving ownership, but even your name and phone number written hastily on his coat with non toxic paint is better than no ID at all.


Since the addage "Practice Makes Perfect" is all too true, have practice drills to improve your time and efficiency for any and all of the prepared measures you have decided upon. 


In the aftermath of a disaster, after informing your family and friends in any possible way, that you are OK., be sure to inspect your property for downed fences, power lines, nails, glass, sheet metals etc. Before returning your horses to pasture or stable, check with your state veterinarian for any possible health threats peculiar to this particular disaster, and be on the watch for any signs of confusion or post traumatic stress in your horse's demeanor.


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