Tips for Horse Owners – Being Prepared When Disaster Strikes

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Disasters strike with little or no advance notice.

For horse owners, it is a nightmare we all dread, having our animals involved in a raging fire, an earthquake, or floods from a powerful storm.

So what can you do to prepare?  How can you give your domestic animals the best chance possible to survive an occurrence you cannot predict?

Emergency workers are not trained for large animal rescue making them unable to help residents who have been told to evacuate areas when fires are approaching or structures are insecure.

Some communities have large animal disaster response teams that can work directly with their local Office of Emergency Services to rescue horses and other animals affected by a disaster.  Does your community have one?

Tip: Contact your local Animal Services Department, Police or Sheriff’s office and local veterinarians to determine if a large animal disaster response team exists.  If it does, keep their contact information handy and follow their recommended procedures to be prepared for a disaster.

If one has not been organized, consider taking the lead to get one started.  Find a local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) that can provide valuable training and credentials to help during a disaster. Visit the website for the North Valley Animal Disaster Group, based in Chico, for ideas. The Center for Equine Health and the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis is committed to supporting and communicating training opportunities for large animal disaster worker certification and integration into your local Office of Emergency Services.

Take these steps to be prepared:

Develop A Disaster Plan for Your Ranch – Advance preparation will make it easier to take action during a stressful situation.

  • Create some form of identification for your animal.  This can include a microchip, name tag and contact information on a halter or collar.   Keep digital photos of your animals in a safe place, such as a cloud service that can be accessed away from home. Be sure the photo shows distinguishing marks, such as a blaze, cowlick or scar. Be sure to have your passwords for your accounts accessible as well!
  • It is possible the internet would be impacted during a disaster.  Create a “grab and go” bag that includes hard copies of vital health records for your animals, proof of ownership such as registration papers or a bill of sale, identification photographs, and emergency phone numbers for veterinarians, family members and friends who might provide a safe haven for your animals during the disaster.
  • Keep your horse trailer road ready with good tires, sturdy floor boards and a hitch and electrical plug that works with your vehicle.  If you don’t have your own transportation, make an agreement with someone in a close-by community who would be willing to pick up your animals.  Make arrangements with another ranch to receive your animals should it become necessary.

Tip: If your horse won’t load in a trailer in the best circumstances, chances are slim they will hop in during a stressful evacuation.  Practice loading and unloading so that your horse considers the trailer to be a safe place to enter.

  • Know what to do if you are unable to evacuate. Would your horses be better off in the barn or loose in a pasture?
  • If you have a large stable, including one with boarders, post an evacuation plan at the entrance to the barn to ensure those present when disaster strikes know how to help.
  • Evacuate as early as possible, before it becomes mandatory. If you wait until the last minute you may be told to leave your horses behind, often for days without food or care.
  • Have supplies on-hand in case you are unable to get to a feed store.  This includes hay, or the animal’s primary source of food, and water buckets.  Have a portable first aid kit that you can bring with you in case evacuation is necessary.

After you have your disaster plan and supplies in place, reach out to your neighbors to share information and commit to help each other.  Use the links below to learn more about emergency response organizations.

CARES (California Animal Response Emergency Systems)

FEMA Community Emergency Response Teams

California Volunteers

CVMA (California Veterinary Medical Association)

UC Davis WIFSS (Western Institute for Food Safety and Security)