Disaster Preparedness for Horse Owners

Article by Dr. Jenifer Nadeau, UConn Equine Extension Specialist

horse looking out from red barn
Sean Flynn/UConn Photo

When it comes to disasters, a lot of us think about wildfires. However, we also picture catastrophic flooding. Flooding is the most common type of natural disaster. About 40% of all natural disasters worldwide involve flooding. According to National Flood Insurance, in a 30-year mortgage, a home has a 26% chance of being damaged by flood versus a 9% chance of being damaged by fire. Flooding is a year-round threat. River flooding is the most common type of flood in the United States. Flash flooding is the leading cause of weather-related deaths per year, causing approximately 200 human deaths per year and an unknown number of horse-related deaths or injuries. The leading cause of death in large animals during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 included animals killed in collapsed barns, electrocution, kidney failure secondary to dehydration and animals hit and killed on roadways or tangled in barbed wire after escaping from their pasture. Hurricanes, tornadoes, snowmelt, and thunderstorms all contribute to flooding.

Disaster preparedness involves reflecting on hazards that threaten your family’s safety and that of your animals and developing a plan on how to prepare for these hazards. There are four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Mitigation is preventing future emergencies or minimizing their effects. Preparedness is preparing to handle an emergency. Response is responding safely to an emergency. Recovery is recuperating after an emergency.

The foundation of emergency management is personal responsibilities. That is the familiarity with the potential for disaster in your community and the creation of your own emergency plan to care for your animals. The next step is local government responsibilities that include emergency response planning, response, and assessment to protect your community. You can think here of the text messages that notify you of the hazards present in your community such as a severe thunderstorm or your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). State government responsibilities include protection from statewide disasters, provision of financial assistance to underfunded communities, and review of local emergency plans. The Statewide Animal Response Teams (SART) are an example of this. Federal government responsibilities are at the top of the pyramid and include protection from and declaration of national disasters, provision of financial assistance if needed and coordination of disasters through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Flooding results when heavy or continuous rainfall exceeds the absorptive capacity of the soil and the flow capacity of rivers, streams, and coastal areas causing the  watercourse to overflow its banks onto adjacent lands​. There are two types of floods – slow rising floods and fast rising floods. Slow rising floods move down a river or stream and can be predicted to reach a certain height. Fast rising foods are flash floods that usually result due to extreme heavy rain, melting snow, dam failure or levy failure, and occur suddenly.

Things to consider in the short term are:

  • You may not have much time to react, so you need to have a plan in place.
  • You should have a disaster kit on hand in case of emergency.
  • You should know how you will evacuate your horse and have a trailer ready or one you can borrow if needed.
  • You should have a way to identify your horse in case you get separated.

Here is what you should have in your disaster kit:

  • Feed – at least a week’s supply in airtight, waterproof container, rotate feed every three months
  • Extra feeding bucket for each horse
  • One week of water for each horse, you can use 50-gallonbarrels, store in a cool, dark location
  • Extra water bucket for each horse
  • One week’s supply of shavings/straw
  • Extra pitchfork
  • Extra wheelbarrow/muck bucket
  • First aid kit
  • Grooming supplies including shampoo, sweat scraper, etc.
  • Antibacterial soap
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Sterile gauze sponges and pads
  • Two to four disposable diapers or wrapped sanitary napkins
  • Bandages – Ace, 2 ½” gauze bandage roll, leg bandages
  • Adhesive tape – 1” and 2” rolls
  • Two to four quilted or padded wraps
  • Household scissors and/or knife
  • Tweezers
  • Ice bags or chemical ice pack
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Veterinary or human rectal thermometer
  • Lubricant
  • Stethoscope

As mentioned, you should also have ways to identify your horse and there are several options. Use a livestock crayon to write your name, phone number and address on the horse​. Use clippers to shave your name, address, phone number into the horse’s coat​. Braid an identification tag with your name, address, and phone number into your horse’s mane​. Have at least 10 recent photos of your horse including some with you in it – keep them in sealable plastic baggies in your disaster kit with other important documents, medications, and insurance papers. Keep a copy of the Bill of Sale for your horse or other documentation that can prove ownership with your disaster supplies​. Have your horse microchipped​, branded​, or tattooed​.

There are also some long-term considerations. You need to know what you will do if you cannot return to your home/property and have a place that you can stay for a while until you can return to your home/property. You should have a way of identifying your animals in case you need to set them free (worst case scenario) or reclaim them from a shelter. You should write on a piece of paper the name, address, and phone number of your regular veterinarian, and keep it with your other important documents for your horse since you may not have access to a cell phone or charger. Locate a mobile equine veterinarian you can use in event of a disaster if you don’t already have one in case your horse is too injured to be moved for treatment​. Write out a release form authorizing another party to give medical treatment for your injured or sick horse and keep it on file with your regular vet and an alternate vet. Give a copy to your neighbor or whomever will take of your horse if you are away​.

By being prepared for a disaster, you will keep your horse and yourself safe and hopefully save money as well on any bills that may arise from serious issues. I hope that you have fun with your horse this summer. Stay safe! Please call (860) 486-4471 or email jenifer.nadeau@uconn.edu if you have any questions. Also, visit my web site s.uconn.edu/equine-extension for more information on upcoming horse specialist events and other information. Thanks, and have fun with your horses!

Sources and Resources

  1. National Flood Insurance. Nationwide Flood Facts: Learn About Flooding in Every Region. https://nationalfloodinsurance.org/flood-facts/ Accessed 6/2/23.
  2. Disaster Planning for Horse Farms. https://aaep.org/horsehealth/disaster-planning-horse-farms
  3. Federal Emergency Management Agency http://www.fema.gov/hazard/index.shtm
  4. FEMA Independent Study Courses http://www.training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/crslist.asp