Growing up on the East coast of Florida, I’ve gone through quite a few hurricanes–and so have my horses. Hurricanes are one of those things where you don’t know what’s going to happen until it’s happening. There seems to be a little extra tension in the air between June 1st and November 30th in the states that are susceptible to hurricanes. Some years you might get lucky and not be affected by a storm, or you could all of a sudden be in the cone of uncertainty with just a day or two to prepare. Because hurricane season is so unpredictable, it’s best to be as prepared as possible before hurricane season begins.
Since I've been through roughly 15 hurricanes over the years, I thought you might want to hear my tips on getting your barn and horses ready for a storm.
1. Stock up on water, feed, and hay.
You never know how long you’ll be without water or if a pipe break caused the water to become contaminated. A good way to store water where it'll stay clean is by filling up a few 30-gallon plastic containers or trash cans and sealing the lid before the storm hits. You might not need it, but when you do, you will be thankful you have fresh water available. It’s also a good idea to stock up on extra hay and feed beforehand in case you aren’t able to get any after the storm.
2. Have identification on your horse in case they get out during the storm.
There are a lot of ways to ID your horse but one easy way is to get a name tag for a dog with your contact info and horse’s name and attach it to his halter. Some don’t like the idea of leaving a halter on in the storm so it's common to braid the name tag into your horse's mane or tail. I like this method because it’s something you can use over and over again and is one less thing you have to think about before a storm hits.
3. Prepare your property.
It’s impossible to know what the storm will bring and there’s not much you can do to prepare a fence or barn for a tornado, but in general, you want everything to be as secure as possible, so it has the best chance of withstanding the high-force winds. It’s important to get rid of any debris that could be picked up by high winds and cause even more damage. Make sure to take every bridle, cone, longline, brush, mounting block, piece of furniture, and put it somewhere enclosed, like the tack room, to keep out of the wind. This may not seem like a priority, but even a brush or lead rope can cause serious damage if it becomes a projectile with 157-mph winds.
4. Decide if you'll evacuate and know your options.
It’s often a hard choice for horse owners to decide if they should evacuate or not. While the fight or flight in us all makes us want to flee, sometimes the evacuation process can be even worse than the storm. As I mentioned, I live in Florida, and there are really only two roads that get you out of the state. Once you load up your horses and hit the road, it’s almost guaranteed that you'll get stuck in traffic for long periods of time. I know one family who decided to evacuate with their horse a few years ago and it took 2 days to get out of Florida when it should have taken 2 hours. They were stuck on the interstate with nowhere to go and no water for her horse.
So far, we have decided to stay put during every storm. Our barn is in a higher part of the area so we don’t have to worry about flooding and the barn is built to withstand hurricane-force winds (knock on wood!). If you don’t feel your barn or pasture is the safest place for your horse during a hurricane, state fairgrounds and other equine facilities will often offer evacuations to their sturdier barns. Make sure you have your horse’s Coggins test, vaccination records, and other paperwork in order before evacuating.
[More about natural disasters: Plan for the Worst]
5. Park your trailers and vehicles away from trees and power lines.
Especially during a natural disaster, a way to get you and your horse to safety is vital, so it’s important to try and protect vehicles, trailers, tractors, and other valuable equipment during the storm. Park them away from any trees or telephone poles to avoid additional damage to your equipment. Always seal up your windows and lock the doors to prevent them from flying off during the storm.
6. Keep your horse comfortable.
If your horse is going to ride out the storm in his stall, make sure he has the necessities. If you have automatic waterers, hang a couple of full buckets in case your water goes out during the storm. Put extra bedding in his stall to keep him comfortable because he'll probably be in there for a couple of days.
We always try to feed a lot of extra hay right before the storm to keep them happy and distracted. If you’re worried about an anxious horse, you can always feed GastroGard or other supplements to try and keep his nerves down. In the end, horses have a natural instinct to protect themselves during a storm. The thought of your horse riding out a storm is scary, but they know what to do.
7. Have an equine first aid kit prepared.
Most barns already have an equine first aid kit on hand, but there are some extra items you might want in the event of a hurricane. Talk to your vet to see what important supplies they suggest.
Some important items to have in your kit:
- wound care
- bandages/vet wrap
- antibiotic ointments
- pain relievers (phenylbutazone (bute) or Banamine
- antibacterial soap
- clean towels
[More first-aid kit tips: Your Best First-Aid Kit]
8. Be ready for clean-up.
It’s important to start clearing debris, getting downed power lines taken care of, and repairing fences as soon as it's safe for you to do so. Be careful of power lines that may still be “live” and make sure to keep any animals away from the area. It’s a good idea to have the necessary tools you will need on hand because stores will most likely not be open right after the storm.
Some things to you might need:
- a chainsaw with extra fuel
- wire cutters
- duct tape
- extra wood
- fencing supplies
You never know when you will need to be ready for a hurricane, so being prepared before hurricane season starts, can make the stressful situation a little bit easier for you and your horse. Check with your vet and local professionals to ensure you are doing everything right based on the environment you and your horse live in.
Keep this checklist on hand to make preparing even easier!