Friday, June 27, 2008
What Is Your Escape Plan?
I’ve been reading about the wildfires in Northern California, and it reminds me of all the times that I’ve faced potential danger from fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. It’s the season for natural disaster again. So, as horse owners, we need to ask ourselves, “Do we have a realistic plan of what we will do when our horses are in danger?”
One thing I know for sure is that if you need to evacuate your horses, it’s better to do it sooner rather than later. Last year, in the San Diego wildfires, I had friends who couldn’t get all their horses out in time. They were left with no choice but to turn them loose and run for their own lives as the fires swept through. Many wrote their cell phone numbers on their horses’ hooves with a Sharpie or painted the phone number on the side of the horse with white paint. We moved to Virginia just one week after a big hurricane went through, and horse owners had many horror stories to tell me. Most of them just left their horses out in the pastures and prayed. Several had their barns collapse, and the horses inside died or were badly injured.
We had a tornado blow through not far from our house last summer. I rushed all my smaller animals and my mom and daughter into our basement. I decided to leave the stall doors open so the horses could run into the corral if the barn was hit. Fortunately, once again, we were spared from harm. Each time that happens, I feel more grateful. I’ll never forget standing in Silk’s stall last fall, crying for my friends and family in San Diego and feeling so thankful that we were here and not there.
After one big storm that flooded all the roads, took out the power and made it impossible to get out of our driveway, I learned that I needed to have between 10 and 20 gallons of water stored for the horses. I was half prepared. From our old California earthquake kit, I had four of these 5 gallon soft plastic containers that squish down flat when they’re not being used. The problem was that the well tank was electrically powered, so I couldn’t fill them. When the road was open, I drove to a friend in the next town to fill the containers. The horses didn’t like the water because it tasted different, but I mixed it with the water already in their buckets. So, note to self: Use the hose and put water in the containers if a storm is coming. A portable generator is at the top of my wish list.
I also have started buying feed when the can is still half full. If you have to evacuate, you need to have enough food to take with you for several days. Your horses should be comfortable with trailer loading, and if they aren’t, start working on it now before there’s an emergency.
As soon as there’s a hint of a disaster approaching, it’s important to make arrangements for a safe place to bring your horses that is hopefully out of the danger zone. In San Diego, during the last fires, even the barns where the horses had been evacuated ended up in the path of the flames. The parking lots of the Home Depot and the grocery stores were full of horses. As I saw the video of horses tied up by their lead ropes to the metal racks where the grocery carts are usually stored, I wondered how Silk and Siete would feel about spending a few days in that difficult situation. I am still amazed by how well-behaved most of the animals were under those tense, uncomfortable circumstances.
What other good suggestions based on past experiences do any of you have to share about getting you and your horses safely through a disaster? Let's try to help each other be better prepared.