Equine Emergency Preparedness

running horses in pastureFirst step in creating an Emergency Preparedness Plan is determining what risks your farm is likely to encounter.

  • Fire
  • Flooding
  • Severe weather (hurricaine/tornado/blizzard)
  • Power outages
  • Fencing failure
  • Disease outbreak
  • State or National level disaster

Next walk your property and consider various scenarios: What would you do and what can you do to make things easier?

  • Can trees and brush be trimmed?  Can fence lines be improved or reinforced?  Can structures be reinforced with tie-downs or upgrades?  Secure or store any items which can become airborne
  • Keep barn aisles clear from all excess items such as trunks, chairs, etc
  • Consider installing lightening rods and sprinkler systems.  Paint your main power supply box with fluorescent paint (to stand out in the dark) and be sure that the area leading to the main power source is clearly marked
  • What would you do if you were without power for an extended period of time?  If you have a well will you have access to water?  Do your horses have medications, etc that need to be refrigerated? Consider installing a generator.
  • Always have ABC fire extinguishers in barns, trucks, and home.  Also have horse and human First Aid Kits.
  • Review your insurance policies annually.  NEVER assume something is covered — always check with your agent.  Go over all policies: homeowners, auto, equine liability/surgical/mortality
  • In winter, make sure to keep driveways, gates and doorways clear of snow, and clear enough so that emergency vehicles have enough space for access.
  • Make sure your address is visibile from the road!  Emergency crews waste valuable time if they cannot find the entrance to your property.

Plan an evacuation route, what method of transport you will use and who will assist you:

  • Organize an emergency team
  • Create an emergency phone tree for contact purposes and give to your town’s emergency planners as well as any one else who may need it
  • If your horse is difficult to load, work on training NOW – do not wait until an emergency
  • Identify alternate evacuation routes in advance.  Some routes may be closed either due to weather, or by local authorities.  Have maps on hand, and check to see if alternate routes are suitable for trucks/trailers.

Where to Go?

  • Plan now for where you would go should you need to evacuate.
  • Consider multiple scenarios and wether the type of facility you might move to can handle the types of horses you have (stallions, pregnant mares, foals), will your horses respect the fencing?
  • Work on agreements now: do not wait until an event to discuss costs, expectations, reservation of stalls.  Get everything in writing, either in a contract or as a Memorandum of Understanding.  Who is responsible for caring for your horses, and who is providing supplies?  How far in advance do you need to notify them?  Make sure they have multiple ways of contacting you in case they need to alert you to changes.

Create an “Emergency Box” for your horses

  • Consider a plastic tack trunk – preferably in bright colors such as orange or red.  Store necessary items in advance so that you can quickly and effectively evacuate without wasting time trying to gather or find items you will need.
  • This should include only “necessary” items to save space, but you should include anything that will be important for you to bring along…..the folowing items are basic recommentations and are just a starting point
    • Cotton lead ropes
    • Longe line
    • Multiple rubber buckets
    • Double ended snaps
    • Duct tape
    • Masking tape
    • Fly mask
    • Pocket knife
    • Scissors
    • Hole punch
    • Leg wraps
    • Towels
    • Handi-wipes
    • Spare halter
    • Permanent marker
    • Halter/bridle tags (can be used to identify horses, blankets, tack, buckets, etc)
    • Pen and notepad
    • Copies (not originals) of coggins/vaccine documentation in ziplock bags
    • Flyspray
    • Hoofpick/Hoof knife/Rasp
    • Twitch
    • Wire cutters
    • Trashbags
    • Shovel
    • Tarps
    • Bungee cords
    • Heavy gloves
    • Maps of area
    • Small tool kit (screwdriver, pliers, etc)
    • Fire extinguisher
    • Equine First Aid Kit
    • Roll of string/twine
    • Flashlight and extra batteries

Create a Horse First Aid Kit

  • These are just guidelines and your veterinarian can help make recommendations specific to your horses and your area!
    • Antibiotic wound ointment
    • Antibiotic eye ointment
    • Bandage Scissors
    • Bandage tape
    • Vet Wrap
    • Betadine scrub
    • Cotton rolls
    • Sterile eye rinse
    • Saline wound rinse
    • Gauze pads
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Isopropyl alcohol
    • Latex or Nitrile gloves
    • Non-stick wound pads (Telfa pads)
    • Digital Thermometer
    • Tweezers
    • Clean Towels
    • Masking Tape
    • Clippers
    • Hoofpick
    • Tongue depressors (for applying ointment)
    • Large syringe (wound flushing)
    • Any Medications you routinely give your horses
    • 3×5 card with the names and phone numbers of your Veterinarian, Farrier, and any other contact info that may be necessary.
  • Medicines/Drugs should be rotated out periodically to ensure they’re not expired.
  • Never use prescribed drugs without instructions from a veterinarian.  Only use drugs as specifically directed.  A veterinarian should always be consulted first.

Always keep a 2 weeks supply of food, supplements, and medications on hand. These are likely to be hard to acquire in the event of a disaster.


  • Be prepared to identify your horse if it gets lost or loose.  Authorities will require some identification in order to return your horse.  Think about how many bay horses with no markings there are – give as much information as possible.
  • Take photos of your horses in advance: One from each side, and front and back.  Write down all tattoos, brands, and make note of scars.
  • Make copies of all important documents.  Registration paperwork, bill of sale, coggins, health certificates, vaccination records, show records, insurance policy and any identifying information.  Keep the copies and the originals in ziplock bags.
  • Consider scanning all documents and storing on a USB drive or CD and keeping in a safe place for ease of storage.
  • Take photos of your property in advance, as well as any vehicles and equipment.  These might be needed for insurance purposes or identification.

Will you have water access during an emergency?

  • Horses need on average approx. 1 gallon of water for every 100lbs of body weight.  A 1,000lb horse might consume 10-12 gallons/day, however consumption varies dependant on weather, age of horse, activity and stress levels
  • Plan on filling troughs immediately prior to an event and have a supply of 55 gallon drums that can be filled for future use by you or emergency teams.
  • If there are ponds or streams on your farm, look at how safe they would be for your horses to access and if appropriate, write down how to prepare an area for them to access the water.
  • If your land tends to flood, access to streams or ponds may not be feasible
  • Be aware that wells and ponds may be contaminated if severe flooding occurs.
  • To purify water, add 2 drops of chlorine bleach per quart and let stand for half hour.
  • Never trust automatic waterers if you have to leave your horses on their own — fill buckets and troughs for horses to obtain water.
  • Be careful about what types of containers are used to store water.  Certain types of chemical containers are not suitable due to potential residue.

Choose an ID method, either permanent or temporary you will use on your horses and test the temporary method well before an emergency. (You may want to discuss with your vet which of these methods they have seen work the best)

  • Permanent Identification
    • Tattoos
    • Brands
    • Etched Hooves
    • Microchip
    • Photos (front, rear, left, right)
  • Temporary Identification
    • Halter Tags (luggage tags or zip-tied cattle ear tags will work!)
    • Fetlock ID Bands
    • Neck Bands
    • Torso Painting (nontoxic)
    • Hoof Marking
    • Index card with pertinent information, wrap in plastic baggie, wrap with duct tape to inside of halter
    • Body clip Phone number on Horse’s Neck
  • Note: When using tags or ties – do NOT tie directly around the base of the tail – this may cut off circulation. Braid tags into main/tail hair instead.

Don’t forget the “Small Animals”

  • Make plans in advance for barn cats and dogs too.  Be aware if you plan to head to a shelter, most human shelters DO NOT allow pets.
  • Have extra food and meds on hand for barn dogs/cats.
  • Have leashes and crates enough for all animals.  You should not place more than one animal in each crate.  Even friendly animals can become aggressive when under stress.
  • Dogs should be wearing collars and tags at all times.  Consider microchipping all small animals
  • Keep copies handy of all vaccination and health paperwork- including rabies certificates.
  • Be aware that often small animals will sense urgency and they may flee or hide if you start taking action.  Consider addressing small animal needs first, or confining them until you can get them secured as well.
  • If you must leave small animals, leave enough food and water for several days.  Also post signs notifying emergency personel to their existence.

Decide what is the safest housing for your horse…..indoor or outdoor:

  • This is often a personal preference.  If you plan on leaving your horses; the pre-planning step of preparing your pastures and paddocks is critical.
  • Make special note of natural features such as ponds or streams if they are near barns or pastures.  These could cause flooding during the event.
  • In the case of a fire, decide where your horses will go.  Can you safely and quickly load onto a trailer and remove from the premises, is there a securely fenced pasture/paddock away from structures and emergency access to turn out?  What would happen if they were turned loose? (location of highways, driveways, or other hazards)

Sheltering in Place with Your Horses

  • Be aware that you may not have access to veterinary care or feed and grain supplies for some time after an event.
  • Have portable radios and flashlights as well as enough batteries
  • Properly mark your farm entrances with LARGE reflective numbers, so your property can be seen by first responders.
  • If you have advance notice of an impending storm/disaster – remember to charge laptops, rechargable flashlights and batteries, walkie talkies, etc.

Plan for After the Emergency

  • Assess the damage.  If possible, notify friends/relatives that you are safe.
  • Do not immediately turn horses out if they are inside: inspect all pastures and fencelines first.  Pay particular attention to fallen wires, or debris blown into the pasture areas.  Check gates to see if they are still in working order.  Do not allow horses loose in any areas that have standing water, as the water may be contaminated or have unseen debris underneath.
  • Never assume downed wires are dead! Electricity will travel, and power might not have been shut down.
  • In the case of a blizzard, beware drifts or ice under snow.  Check rooftops to see if there is a large amount of snow — barns have been known to collapse from snow.  Beware of the footing, horses can fall on ice and injure themselves.
  • Photograph any damage, and immediately notify your insurance company.
  • Secure items and facilities as much as possible: remove debris, etc.
  • Check feed and grain for moisture.  Inspect closely: never feed moldy/mildewed hay/grain as it can cause colic or death.  Any feedstuffs that have been submerged in water or have chemical residue should be discarded.

The Unpleasant Issues

  • After an emergency you may need to euthanize animals or dispose of carcasses.  Carefully consider what you would do if you had one or more large animal carcasses that needed to be removed.  Some options inculde burial, composting, rendering, incinerating or landfill disposal.  It is important to consider this issue now, so that you are not having to make important decisions about an emotional issue during a stressful time.  Ultimately your choice of disposal will be based on financial, emotional, practical and safety issues.
  • Discuss the issue of euthanasia with your veterinarian in advance.
  • Burying a carcass is not always advisable or possible.  Know your town ordinances.  Some towns prohibit burying large animals.  If you must bury a horse, make sure it is not near wells or streams, so that you do not inadvertently contaminate water supplies.  Take precautions so that barn dogs or local wildlife cannot dig up the carcass.  Burial should be atleast 300ft up gradient or 150ft down gradient from any well.  Atleast 165ft from a property line or public use area, and atleast 100ft from a water body, stream, or drainage way.
  • In some cases, it is possible to compost carcasses, again, discussion with your vet or the department of agriculture in advance is strongly recommended.  Simply covering a carcass with manure is NOT considered composting.  It is a complex process which requires certain amounts of moisture and other elements to ensure that proper breakdown takes place.  Under optimum conditions, composting a carcass completely may take 6 to 9 months.


  • Redundancy is key. Every plan should have a back up plan.  You cannot prepare for every possibility but you can prepare to deal with the unexpected.
  • Documentation is vital: photograph, make copies, and keep in multiple places
  • Say hello to your first responders (fire company, police station, etc) and introduce yourself now.  Do not wait for an emergency to have contact.  Explain who you are and what facilities you have.  Give them contact info and invite them to see your property.
  • Review state laws and town ordinances now:  does your town allow you to bury horses? Does state law protect you from liability?  Is your town required to include horses in disaster plans, and have they done so?
  • Do not rely solely on one method of communication or means of gathering information.  Use both high tech and low tech – cell phones, land lines, e-mail, walkie talkies, TV, radio, etc
  • If you decide to purchase large emergency items such as generators, tow vehicles, sprinkler systems etc, take the time to do research first.  Make sure you know how to use the item, and if the item fits your needs.  Do not wait until the day before a storm or just afer an emergency to make purchases or install items.

Check for more tips from your local Humane Society, rescue organizations and the SPCA in your Province or State.

Source: Henderson Equine Clinic