January 9, 2024

Make Sure Your Disaster Plan Holds Water

Tornadoes in Georgia, floods in Michigan, wildfires in California and Hurricane Elsa hitting Florida, 2021 so far has been another busy year for the destructive forces of Mother Nature. No matter where you live, disasters can strike at any time and can impact your horses and facilities.

There are two major scenarios that horse owners need to prepare for: evacuating with your horses or without – leaving them to shelter in place. Certain wildfires, hurricanes and large-scale flooding events can usually be predicted in time to allow safe evacuations. Most disaster plans are common sense but there can be some blind spots that folks overlook.

Simple Tips for Evacuations With Your Horses
“Typically, we want horse owners to prepare a go kit for their horses during evacuations,” said Kris Hiney, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University professor and OSU Extension equine specialist. “This includes halters, lead ropes, and several days of feed and water, along with any medications. When horses have to cross state lines, remember to take all health certificates, Coggins test results and make sure your horse is up to date on vaccinations. Make sure to check if there are any diseases outbreaks that might limit your ability to move your horses – you can get alerts from the Equine Disease Communication Center (www.equinedideasecc.com) through an app on your phone or email.

Another basic item that not a lot of people think about beforehand is to practice quick loading their horses. When we are under stress, especially during a chaotic event, the horses pick up on that and can be reluctant to load. Everyone’s anxiety can just compound the problem. Practice loading the animals and hooking up the trailer quickly to familiarize your horses with the speed and process.

“Additionally, we also recommend to horse owners that they teach their horses to drink water with just a little bit of flavoring to it.  This can help mask odors from unfamiliar water sources like city water. I would not recommend trying it for the first time on the road, you need your horse to be accustomed to the flavor to make sure they will drink enough water. During a disaster you just don’t know what water sources will be available.”

Simple Tips for When You Have to Leave Your Horses Behind
Sometimes there isn’t enough trailer space to haul all your horses, or you simply don’t have enough time to evacuate safely, and you have to leave your horses behind. There are a few key precautions you can take to help maximize the odds of a successful reunion after the disaster passes.

“We highly recommend that you mark and have contact information on each horse,” said Hiney. “Livestock paint is suggested so that it’s visible to rescuers from afar. The other thing we recommend is that you have photos on your phone or uploaded to the cloud of you with your horse to help prove ownership. This will help reunite you with your horses faster.”

Horse owners have also written on their horse’s hooves with a permanent marker (Sharpie), braided waterproof luggage tags into manes and taped Ziploc baggies with contact info to halters to help identify their horses. Microchips are also a great way to identify and protect your horse. Contact your veterinarian for more information on microchipping.

No Matter the Disaster, Make Water a Key Priority
Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, battered Florida and Louisiana in August of 1992. Andrew was the second costliest hurricane to hit the U.S. racking up over $27 billion (1992 dollars) in damage and killing 65 people and over 1,000 horses. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, one of the leading causes of death in horses was kidney failure due to dehydration. A lot of valuable lessons were learned in proper disaster planning, including making sure to put an emphasis on supplying clean, fresh water to horses.

“The biggest thing horse owners can do is have a disaster plan and discuss it with family members and your extended network of friends and neighbors so that the right decisions are made when the time comes,” said Hiney. “Try to get the basic needs covered first and that includes knowing what your water situation is. A horse will need roughly 10 gallons per day. Storms mean potential extended power outages and depending on your facility, you may need to plan on either running a generator or filling up large tubs or storage tanks to have enough water in case the water gets shut off. After storms, flooding is a big issue and this can lead to contamination of your water supply. It is a great idea to plan ahead and have a storage tank that contains enough potable water for your horses.”

Wildfires and rapidly spreading grassfires are also major disasters that alter the established soil ecosystem, impact water supplies and destroy pastures and forages. The aftermath can take a long time to recover from and the affected area can be prone to flash floods and mudslides. Horses can be displaced for an extended time. Fortunately, there are a couple of options available to help ease the chore of watering horses on a temporary basis.

Portable automatic waterers that can be hooked up to a water source through a garden or supply hose can be a quick and easy way to provide clean, fresh water to your horses. The leading manufacturer of both portable and permanent livestock automatic water solutions is Ritchie Industries, based in Conrad, Iowa. Ritchie Industries has been in business for 100 years and has sold over three million waterers worldwide. The founder, Thomas Ritchie of Oskaloosa, Iowa was a farmer and the inventor of the first automatic waterer device in 1921. Today, Ritchie Industries continues to design, engineer and manufacture their products in the U.S.A. to meet the ever-changing needs of ranchers, farmers and horse owners.

“Ritchie Industries engineers and manufactures two lines of portable waterers called the Classic Equine by Ritchie EZ Fount and the Genesis series that are perfect for serving the temporary water needs of disaster affected horses,” said Tad Upah, Director of Engineering at Ritchie Industries, Inc. “Both the EZ Fount and Genesis line of products are lightweight making them easily transported and installed. Due to the single wall construction, the water supply hookup can be placed anywhere on the unit to facilitate hook up with a garden hose or supply hose. Regardless of the hookup style, whether it be a yard hydrant, a house spigot or a storage tank, our Ritchie valves will accommodate all types of flow.  Although they are light weight, they are still manufactured to the same tough quality standards as all of our products.”

Another practical choice to consider is hooking up portable or permanent waterers to a water source with a solar powered pump. Solar pumps can provide multiple benefits for horse owners, including facilitating rotational grazing, water security during a disaster and those on solar would not be subject to grid power outages.

The Bottomline
Minimize the stress and chaos that a natural disaster brings by developing a disaster plan and communicating that plan to family and friends so it can be implemented quickly and smoothly. Make sure to prepare a go kit for your horses and make sure to identify your horses and provide visual proof of ownership (registration papers, photos, etc.) to help reunite you with your horses. Make sure that your horse has an ample supply of fresh, clean water.