Trailer-trained horses have a better chance of making it out of a disaster alive and uninjured.
Know Your Enemy
Natural disasters take many forms, with hurricanes, floods, and fires topping the list. Each of these different types of emergencies comes with its own set of challenges and disaster-prep particluars.
You likely know the type of disaster common to your particular area. For example, if you live in Southern California, you’re aware that wildfires frequently require mass evacuations. If you’re from South Carolina, you know the hurricane risks. If you live in a flood plain, you understand what part of your property is likely to end up under water. But do you know which nearby roadways are apt to become impassable so you can identify the best possible escape routes?
Deciding whether to evacuate or stay put during a natural disaster can be one of the hardest choices you’ll face. With such events as a severe winter snowstorm or freezing rain, staying home may be your only option. If a hunker-down-at-home type of emergency is predicted, prepare by making sure you have plenty of feed and available water—and by taking whatever steps you can to reinforce barns and sheds to provide your horse protection. For hurricanes, floods, and fires, where evacuation is possible, it’s generally the safest choice to get out as early as you can. And if evacuation is mandatory, get out fast. That’s when having a carefully thought-out evacuation plan in place becomes important.
Your Evacuation Plan Step 1: Trailer-Train Your Horses
Imagine being faced with rising floodwaters and an evacuation order from your local officials. Pretty stressful? Now imagine how you’ll feel when you remember that your 2-year-old has never been loaded in a trailer. Or that Old Dobbin is as stubborn as they come, and hasn’t been trailered in years. Spending time to train your horses to load and haul with ease is one of the most important things you can do ahead of time to prepare for an emergency. Evacuation may require that your horses be loaded in unfamiliar rigs by strangers—and often in a hurry. If the members of your herd are well-trained and easy to handle, they’ll have a much better chance of making it out alive and uninjured.
Step 2: Identify Your Horses
If a disaster strikes, you’ll move your horses out in a hurry, and may leave them with people you don’t know. It’s possible that one or more will be left behind. Reliable identification is the key to being successfully reunited with your herd after the emergency concludes. It’s best if your horses each have two forms of identification—one permanent and one visible. Consider microchipping all your horses as a form of permanent identification. Your vet can implant a microchip—not much bigger than a grain of rice—in the ligament on the top of your horse’s neck. It’s a simple procedure, and typically costs less than $100. The microchip emits a signal with a permanent identification number that can be identified using a scanning device. You can record this number with both the microchip company and your breed registry—meaning that if your horse is “misplaced” during a disaster and evacuation, a microchip can help whoever finds him learn who he is, and how to find you.
A less permanent but more visible form of identification is also important during an emergency. Make a set of waterproof luggage tags with each of your horses’ names and your name and contact number. You could even include notes about each horse’s temperament that might help whoever ends up having to transport, treat, and house the different members of your herd. Plan to attach these tags to your horses’ halters as a first step during any evacuation. Or if you haven’t prepared tags and find yourself in an emergency, use a large, permanent-ink pen or waterproof paint to write or paint your phone number on your horse’s side or on one hoof.
Step 3: Organize Paperwork
If you’re evacuating your horses, you’ll need to take them somewhere to stay during the emergency. Large facilities are often generous about housing displaced horses, but they might have stringent health requirements, such a proof of vaccination and a negative Coggin’s test. A negative Coggin’s test will also be required should you have to travel across state lines. Put together a binder with copies (waterproof) of all these records, along with either copies of registration papers or physical descriptions of all horses. (Be sure to include microchip information.) If you have horses with temperament quirks, special feeding requirements, or medication needs, note these, as well. Not only will this documentation ensure that your horses will be welcome at most facilities, if you have to hand them off to a stranger in a hurry, your rescuer will have vital information about their care.
Step 4: Arrange Transport
How will you remove your horses from the vicinity of the danger? Do you have enough trailer space for all of them? For example, if you have a four-horse trailer but seven horses on your property, will you plan to make two trips? Or