Monday, November 24, 2014

Guest Post: Horses and Hurricanes

by Jess Amule

Editor's Note: Jess has 15 years of experience in working with and caring for horses in Texas and Missouri, and he now owns a horse farm in southern Louisiana. 

A few months back, Erin asked for articles on bugging out with livestock. While I have not had to evacuate with horses, I do have a plan as I live in a Gulf state that is vulnerable to hurricanes. A lot of my information comes from a stable manager who has run barns and been in the NOLA horse scene since the 1950s. The rest is just knowledge I've picked up during my career.

Microchipping is important.
It costs about $50 per horse, and alongside a Coggins test it is required for horse ownership in many states. Stay or go, lost or stolen, this is a sure form of ID. When rescue teams for animals move into an area, this is the first thing they check for. Be sure your chip is registered and you have the serial numbers and other important paperwork (such as the Coggins paperwork) with you in your bug-out gear. Many places will not accept you without it.

(See also: Scan Your Stuff. -- Editor)

Know your terrain and what could happen. 
I am told a lot of horses were found drowned in their stalls after Katrina because "Oh, it's never flooded around the stables before."

Keep an eye on the weather reports, know your area, and know the terrain. Does your location flood? If it doesn't, is that only because a 20 foot high dirt wall was put there by the lowest bidder? The biggest question is always "Do I stay, or do I go?"

If you stay, the preps are the same as for people. 
  1. Make sure you have enough protected feed (55 gallon food-safe plastic barrels are best for this),  hay or forage, and most importantly, water. 
  2. Prepare to be without access to a hay supplier or feed store for a few weeks. 
  3. If you have a well. have a generator to run it. If you don't, get more of those barrels and fill them with water. In my experience, most horses need at least 5 gallons of water per day. Given that hurricanes are hot and nasty, it would be a good idea to double that. 
  4. Make sure your emergency vet bag is well stocked up (you have one of those, right?)
  5. Even if it doesn't flood where you are, if you have been through a hurricane you know to expect water. Keep hay covered, food sealed and everything stored on pallets. Make sure you have filled in those stalls and/or your barn or pasture area has some high ground. Your horse doesn't want to stay in water for days any more than you do.

If you leave, remember you will be leaving with everyone else. 
If you are like me, you do not own a top-end air-conditioned trailer. 10-12 hours in a trailer is about the limit for most horses in good conditions; stuck in traffic on a hot road, that time goes down. Having been through a hurricane, I know that it is hot, humid, and miserable beforehand, and hot, wet, humid and miserable afterwards.
  1. Try to find back roads you can use. 
  2. Always keep your trailer prepped and your hauler fueled up. If your safe point is far away it might be worth investing in an auxiliary fuel tank. 
  3. You may have to pack 2-3 weeks worth of supplies for you and for your horses; see above for what you'll need. 
  4. Know where you are going, and have more place than one place in case one is full or you need to choose one that is not in the path of the storm. 
  5. There are a lot of places inland that will host horses. Know where they are, know the rules, etc. These places are usually stockyards, fairgrounds, agricultural colleges and the like, and it is first come first serve.
  6. Bring protection for you and your animals because these can be rough places in an emergency. How you protect yourself is up to you, but personally I keep all my supplies locked up. You may want to consider padlocks and bits of chain in case you wish to lock your horse up.
  7. Have a backup. If your place is destroyed and you cannot return, it helps to have horse friends inland. Work out arrangements with them so you can stay if necessary. 

Since hurricane-prone areas are prone to tornadoes, too: I have been told that if you see one coming, you should open the barn and all the gates. Let your horses run, as they have a better chance than you do of surviving by running to safety. (You DID microchip them, right?)

While I confess that this is hand-me-down information and not anything I have direct experience with, there is logic behind this:  unless you have a tornado-proof barn (and most people don't), it's better to let the horses run than to trap them inside where the building can collapse and kill all of them. 

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