Evacuating when a hurricane hits the coast is a stressful and scary experience, especially when evacuating with horses. Hurricanes usually give enough lead time to move people and horses out of the storm’s expected path.
But even with that time, making sure you are prepared for an equine evacuation can be crucial to horses' survival.
Making the decision to leave as soon as possible is the first suggestion offered by Dr. William Moyer, professor and special assistant to the dean at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“If you wait until the last minute, you’re placing yourself and your horse in harm’s way," said Moyer, who noted more than 100,000 animals were lost during Hurricane Ike.
Among Moyer's other recommendations:
Horse owners should make sure trailers are road-worthy before hurricane season begins, or identify someone with reliable trucks and trailers who can transport horses for them.
Ensuring horses are comfortable with loading is another important aspect of preparing to evacuate. Working with horses ahead of time is particularly important if a neighbor or friend will be transporting your horse. Ill-behaved horses can waste valuable time or even refuse to be transported.
Fueling up is also imperative, since evacuation traffic is often slow and crowded, which creates a dangerous situation for horses in trailers. Having enough fuel is important to help you avoid situations where an animal might overheat or become dehydrated.
Horse owners should identify evacuation destinations as part of their preparations. “While moving inland during a hurricane is important, finding a specific place to go is best," said Moyer. "During hurricane Ike we sheltered 166 horses through a cooperative agreement with a local livestock arena operation.
Moyer suggested creating an evacuation “kit” with a brief and well-documented health history for the horse, a list of behavior peculiarities (if applicable), first aid kit, cash, appropriate health documentation, food and safe water supplies for about four days, and any necessary medicine for chronic or preexisting illnesses.
Owners also should ensure the appropriate health documentation accompanies the horse. An up-to-date Coggins test is necessary, particularly if crossing state lines. Moyer suggested making sure you have these papers organized before hurricane season.
In addition, vaccinations are recommended. “Because evacuating can be a stressful time, vaccinations can help decrease the likelihood of several diseases,” said Moyer. “Mosquitos can be a huge problem during hurricane season, and moving horses around coastal areas can expose them to new areas of infestation and diseases.”
Also, prepare current paper and electronic copies of pictures of your horse for reclaiming purposes, particularly if the horse isn’t tattooed or branded. “Ideally, these would include a picture of the owner and the horse together to ensure ownership,” Moyer said.
If you cannot evacuate your horse, or are forced to leave part of your herd behind, there are also precautions that can help you reunite with your horse. Keeping photographs helps, as does attaching identification information to the horse’s body.
“Braiding information wrapped in plastic to horses' manes and tails can help," said Moyer. "Livestock paint works well to put identification information on the body, and it’s waterproof. Or even taking a pair of clippers and shaving your contact information into the animal’s hair can help you reunite with your horse when you return.”
In addition to preparing your horse for evacuation, Moyer also suggested preparing yourself.
“Have a personal evacuation plan, too. You have to take care of yourself first to be able to take care of your horse.”
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.