There is one word, above any other, that strikes fear into the hearts of every horse owner out there. Fire. In September and October of 2011, our county of Bastrop, TX played host to the most devastating wildfire in Texas history. Volunteers stepped up in every way, shape, and form to help evacuate countless people, and their beloved horses.
Just this past week, less than two miles from our home at Broken A Ranch, a transformer blew up starting another fire and an all-to-familiar feeling instantly set in. Fortunately, the fire was under control in about two days, and consumed less than 300 acres, and not a blade of grass was touched at our place. Needless to say, with wind blowing our direction, the horses of South Coast were packed up, wrapped up, and ready to go if we had to get out of dodge.
Sadly, he positive thing about horses and wild fire evacuations is that at least with a fire you have some sort of heads up. This isn't the case in thee vent of barn fires, tornados, earth quakes, and several other natural disasters. So how can we keep our horses as safe as possible, and give them the best chance of both surviving, and making it back to us in the event they have to be set free? This list may be long, but these simple steps can very well mean the difference between life and death for your horse.
- Rule Number One BE PREPARED. Have a plan, and practice it until you can not mess up. The added stress of an emergency does not help you get through a plan that you've never practiced before. Would you go to a dressage show without knowing your test? Would you go to a pro rodeo on a horse that has never seen a barrel pattern? Why set yourself up to fail in such a serious situation?
*Have several places to go. Get in contact with local horse owners, big barns, local arenas (The Lost Pines Riding Club in Elgin, TX is pretty much always an option for horses in the Bastrop area), and form a group of places you can take your horses if you need to go. Know what you will need if you take your horses somewhere. A lot of places have a pasture you can use, but your horses may not be the only ones there, and you may need to separate horses. It's best to know if you need round pen panels to due so prior to showing up. Also think about things like buckets, hay, and feed.
*Know how to hook up your trailer, and keep it in good maintenance. Also know who can help you trailer horses if you need to move. If you have 8 horses, and a 4 horse trailer, you have to make two trips. If the closest place you have to move your horses is 30 minutes away, it will take you over an hour to get back for the last 4 horses.
*Know and practice every exit out of your barn. Even doorways that wouldn't normally be used for horses may be your only option if your barn is on fire. Practice going through tight spaces, and under short ceilings so your horse is comfortable with it, and you are confident that he can make it.
- Keep a fire extinguisher in your barn, and make sure it works! We also have industrial sprinklers on both exits from our barn so that will help give us more 'safe zone' to get out.
*Did you know you local fire department can come out and inspect your facility, usually free of charge? They can point out any fire hazards, and give you ideas on how to improve your facility so it's safe for everyone.
- Make sure your horse will load in a trailer! Practice loading in several different trailers besides your own. Load by himself, with other horses, with strange horses, etc. Even horses that normally load just fine can freak out about loading in a high stress situation. Give him the best chance possible.
- Don't wait until the last minute to leave. If you have advanced notice, USE IT.
- If all else fails, let your horse go. Horses are instinctual animals, and if you can't get him to safety, you have to make the decision to get yourself out of harms way and leave him to his own devices.
So what do you do to make sure you and your horse a reunited if you have to let him go, or even if you take him to a place with 100 other evacuated horses. Believe me, no matter how organized everyone tries to be, it will still be a very stressful, scary, chaotic situation for everyone involved - both two legged and four legged.
- Tag EVERYTHING. Every halter should have a name plate with your name, your barn name, and/or your phone number. I recommend leather or break away halters over nylon or rope as they will break if your horse gets caught on something. Use duct tape to put your name and contact information on your horses shipping wraps, fly masks, etc. Use a permanent marker or spray paint pen to write your phone number on your horses feet. I suggest using a metallic or neon color as it stands out a lot better than black. There are also several types of 'pony paints' that you can write your phone number on your horses body. He make look a little ridiculous, but you can wash that off when he gets home!
- Microchip your horse, and keep a record of the number.
- Have up-to-date pictures of your horse. One from each side, a front, and a back, at the minimum. Make sure to get any markings, brands, or blemishes in the pictures. There are a lot of bay horses out there, and sure, YOU can tell which one if yours but not everyone else will unless you give more information.
- I have flyers of each one of my horses pre made, and kept in several places (along with copies of their coggins and registration papers) that have their pictures, their name, my name, and my phone number. Not only can I use these to put up if I had to, but I can hang them on temporary stalls or pastures if need be.
- Have matching equipment. Though this will not save you on it's own, having matching stuff for each horse will make it easier for volunteers (who often have little to no horse experience) keep your stuff and your horses identified.
This list is only a small sample of ways to help you and your horse stay safe, and stay together in the event of an emergency. We would love to hear from you with your tips, comments, or questions, and encourage our readers to post comments to the blog. Remember, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Hopefully you never need this list, but if you do, I hope it helps!
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