Written by: Chad Mendell

When disaster strikes, having a plan and being prepared could mean the difference between life and death for both horses and humans.

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In a recent EquestrianProfessional.com webinar on disaster preparedness, Dr. Roberta Dwyer, a professor at the University of Kentucky’s Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, offered advice on what you can do to protect yourself and business in the event of a disaster. Here are some of her top tips for horse professionals:

Start with you first. The first duty you have is to make sure that you and your family are safe. By doing this, hopefully you’ll be unharmed after the disaster and be able to help others and your animals to safety.

Be prepared. “How would you best deal, right now, if you had loss of electrical power and you didn’t anticipate getting it back for three days?” Dwyer asked. “What if you had a loss of drinkable water?” Unlike some businesses, you can’t simply close the doors on your horse business until everything comes back online, so you have to take steps to make sure you can provide basic care for yourself and your animals in these situations. If possible, have a generator or multiple generators to provide emergency lighting and heat and have enough fuel to keep them running for several days. Additionally, make sure that everyone understands how to use them before they are needed. Have enough water and feed on hand to last several days in case water lines are compromised or roads are impassable. If you have a water truck or tank that you use for your arena, keep them full.

Have an evacuation plan (fires, flooding, etc.). If you have 10 horses, but only a two-horse trailer, what is your plan of action? You might have to leave animals behind, but which ones? Making those tough decisions before disaster strikes can save valuable time and anxiety.

Reach out to other barns in the area. Talk to neighbours about their disaster plans and work together if possible. The barn next to you might have more trailer spaces than horses and could help you evacuate, or vice versa. Contact other barns in the surrounding area and ask if you can board your horses there during a disaster. If possible, offer the same to them as well.

Make the tough decisions ahead of time. When the tornado sirens start wailing is not the time to debate whether to leave the horses in the barn or turn them out. Waiting to make those critical types of decisions in the midst of the impending disaster can cost valuable time. What you decide depends on the type of structure and your area. What’s going to be most appropriate in a high-wind event? Think about what other scenarios you might face and have a clear plan in place well before you ever have to execute it.

Make friends with your local fire department. Invite them to your facility to talk about emergency planning. Your local fire department will also be able to help you reduce the risk of fire in your facility and can educate you and your employees on how to install smoke detectors and operate fire extinguishers. In turn, you might teach them basic horse handling techniques in the event that they are the first ones on the scene.

Invest in a self-powered crank NOAA Weather Radio. You can normally find these at hardware stores or online for around $30-$150. Make sure that you know how to use your radio well in advance of an imminent natural disaster.

Make sure you have the appropriate insurance and know from which types of natural disasters your facilities and horses are financially protected. Not all insurance policies cover all types of disasters. For example, fencing can often be a costly repair after a disaster, but may not be automatically included in a regular policy. Also, make sure your important equipment and tack items are listed individually on your insurance policy. While this won’t protect you or your horses from a disaster, it will help you get your business back up and running more quickly.

Have a plan for on-the-road disasters. If you’re often traveling with your horses to shows and other events, you need to have an emergency plan for those times as well. Ask event organizers what emergency plans they have in place before you get there (in case of fire, severe storms, etc.), and have additional supplies (food, water) in case roads are blocked by snow, power lines, or fallen trees.

Communication is key. Cell phones and even landline phones can be disabled during disasters. If there are ham radio operators in your area, it might be a good idea to make friends with them. While most of us these days store our contacts in our mobile phones, it’s important to have multiple backups and paper copies of important numbers (emergency responders, clients, etc.) as well.