A deadly bush fire licking the Australian bush

We live in a country of extreme weather conditions and every year we hear of yet another natural disaster taking hold, often in rural areas.  If it isn’t bush fire, it’s flooding or chaotic storms destroying everything in their paths.

With storm and bushfire season pretty much upon us, I figured it was a good time to put my slightly OCD tendencies to use and write about the importance of an emergency evacuation plan.

Whether or not you have one horse or twenty, having a plan in place is always a good idea.  It helps to reduce further panic at a time when pretty much everyone around you is already up to their eyeballs in it.

Key to a successful plan is also having a well stocked emergency kit. They are relatively inexpensive to prepare and a life saver to have on hand when needed.  Keep monitoring our blog.  Next week we will post a kit planner.

Ask yourself what you would do if an SES worker rocked up at your property and told you it was time to evacuate because a bush fire is only half an hour away from licking at the edges of your property.

Horses taking a dip in the recent Queensland floods. Prone to suffering damage from underwater debris, or snake bites.

It is way too late at that point to think about what you need to take with you.

It’s your job and your responsibility to have a plan that takes care of yourself, your family, and your horse(s). If you agist other people’s horses, the owners will look to you to be the responsible person who takes care of their animals as you would your own.

Think about what kind of disasters can realistically occur in your area. If you consider your own particular situation, you’ll be better able to form an evacuation plan that will suit you and your horse.

Develop two levels of disaster preparedness—personal preparedness, which will take care of yourself and your loved ones, and stable preparedness, which includes evacuating your horse(s).

House and Stable Preparation

Record your assets.  I recommend Stuffsafe, but there are plenty of other apps out there that you could use.  Take pictures of all of your assets and record them.  You could also videotape all your assets in your house and stable.

Microchip. Ask your veterinarian to implant microchips in every horse on your property so you have proof of identification. You can easily lose track of your horse in a disaster, so identification is crucial to help prevent theft and relocate your horses if they become separated from you.

Buy leg bands. During an emergency evacuation, if you have to turn a horse out or leave one behind, a leg band with ownership information is a low-tech, but highly effective way to get reunited. For one online source of leg bands, click here.

Compile equine records. Scan copies of identification, photographs, and recent veterinary information for every horse on your property. Store these online in a place like Rendaivu or off-site safe deposit box at friends or families.

Set out halters. Make sure there are enough halters and lead ropes for EVERY HORSE on your property. Put these in a prominent place so you can easily grab them in an emergency.

Check for hazards. Look around your facility for hazards. Make sure human and animal escape routes aren’t blocked by shipments of hay, farm equipment, non-working doors, bedding piles, etc.

Minimize damage. Consider what you can do to minimize damage. Cover pane glass with shutters if you live where a high-wind event might occur. If bush fires are a threat, add a sprinkler system linked to your dam or water tank and passive smoke detectors in your stables. Use nonflammable materials for any new buildings.

Create a LIST of tasks. List the tasks specific to your stable that must be done before you leave, in case you need to evacuate. Include turning off the electricity, gas, and water, unplugging all appliances, etc. Laminate the list and post it on the inside of your kitchen pantry door or in a prominent location in your stable  so it’s easy to find if a crisis occurs.

Invest in a radio or sign up for Twitter. Invest in a radio and CB to keep up with the progress of the storm or hazard. Install weather applications on your smartphone and electronic tablet.  Twitter and Facebook are used profusely now in disasters.  On Twitter follow the local police, SES, state fire service and any other emergency broadcaster you can think off.  Be aware though that often telecommunications will go down in a disaster so the radio really is your best source of information.  Some things you just can’t improve on…..

Assemble first-aid kits. Have first-aid kits (one for horses, one for humans) available at all times.

Emergency-Shelter Prep

This will likely need to be done at the peak of the emergency just prior to an evacuation.  Some things can be pre planned, but getting food and water supplies are a last minute thing.

Compile veterinary papers. For every horse on your property, compile copies of microchip identification information, plus vaccination and deworming records, and proof of vaccinations. As above, scan and store online in a service such as Rendaivu or place these papers in your vehicle. That way, you can take the horses to a local public evacuation shelter or cross state lines in a major evacuation.

Lay in feed/water supples. Have on hand or in your tow vehicle or trailer about three days’ supply of feed, water, medications, etc., for each horse being evacuated. Regularly refresh the feed supply.

Check into overnight stabling. Find available sheltering facilities relatively local to you. Even better find overnight or short-term boarding facilities. Save their contact information with all your papers.  This can be difficult to establish prior to an emergency as safe routes out of your property are not always clear.  But this is an ideal scenario.

Transportation Prep

Plan evacuation transportation. How many trailer spaces do you have available? If you pack that four-horse gooseneck trailer with your four horses, where will you put your dogs, cats, and human family members? Would you have to make two trips to get the other four horses you own? Are you a good enough rider to ride and move all of your horses as a herd on foot?

Ensure your horses trailer easily. An emergency evacuation is no time to be dealing with balky loaders. Teach all the horses on your property to load quickly and effortlessly, no matter what. Teach the horses to load. Teach all the horses on your property to load into the trailer, no matter what. Practice loading each horse alone. Practice at night, and when it’s raining, windy, dark, and generally miserable. A great video to help with this is Down Under Horsemanships Trouble Free Trailering.

Develop an escape route. Drive through every road in your neighborhood to identify escape routes. Keep in mind that the SES may close off many roads to enforce the evacuation. Do you have more than one way out by the roads to safety? Do you have to deal with any low bridges that your trailer can’t get under? Keep paper maps in every vehicle for reference in an emergency.  An emergency is no time to be fighting with your voice activated Nav system or relying on Siri.

Establish a rendezvous point. Choose in advance at least one place where everyone involved in your household and horsehold will be meet off-site, in the event of evacuation.

Perform Practice Drills.  Everyone loves a fire drill, right?  I know by now you think I’m completely OCD and have lost it.  Believe it or not drills are the best way to determine what can go wrong when you are trying to evacuate.  It is worth doing at least once a year to ensure that your family knows what to do, and you know where the potential pitfalls lie with your animals. Post your evacuation plan where everyone can easily see it (Inside the pantry door – if your pantry is anything like mine it is open more than anything else in the house.) Practice the plan with regular, surprise drills – your family will love you for it 🙂

Practice catching all the horses and putting them in the stable for a simulated hailstorm. Load up every horse in a trailer, haul out a few ks, and return.

Stay or Go?

This has to be the hardest question to answer for anyone, but when you look at the number of lives in your care and how many you can realistically save in an emergency the question becomes a bit easier to answer.  Carefully assess inclement weather versus a real disaster. Every natural disaster is unique, making this decision even more challenging.  Remember that in any disaster wildlife are also displaced from their homes and are often seeking shelter elsewhere.  Whilst this might sometimes be cute in the form of Koalas and Wallabys, it is not so cute when in the form of one of many of Australia’s deadly snakes or many other creatures that kill (crocodiles, cassowaries, dingos, really the list just goes on and on depending on where you live)

In case of bush fire, this is a really important decision to make early and there are some other key factors to help you determine the right timing.

What usually happens is that people choose to stay BUT then change their minds when the fire gets closer. At this point the smoke is really bad, the flying embers are everywhere and very hot and you CANNOT see because the smoke is so thick. The other real problem with leaving this decision late is that now you have decided to leave just about the time the fire trucks are moving in.

Many rural properties only have narrow unsealed roads leading into them. You risk blocking the roads with your horse trailer but the major issue arrises when your vehicle stalls from the smoke thats getting sucked up into the air intake. Combustion engines need clean air to run, not air full of smoke and debris.

Unfortunately, you have now blocked the road and the SES and Firey’s can’t get in to help save your property or anyone else’s.

Leaving is not always the best answer, and making that decision is one of the hardest you will ever have to make.  The important take away here is DO NOT wait until it gets so bad that you end up hurting not only your horse but potentially hurting others as well because you were not proactive. We owe this much to our horses and to the others around us that could be impacted by our poor judgement.

Lives are more important than things, and whilst you may think that by staying you can help save your property, that is what insurance is for.  Keeping everyone safe needs to be your first priority.

To help you make the decision, follow breaking weather news, as well as your local police and SES departments on Twitter for up-to-date information.
If you have more than two horses on your property, evacuate them very early in the case of bush fires or flooding. It takes a lot of manpower and space to move horses. You don’t want to be stranded with horses in the middle of a disaster.

Bad Storms. What about inclement weather that doesn’t require you and your horse to leave the premises? The biggest question here is whether to leave them in or leave them out.

In general, leave horses out in the largest, best-built fenced pasture you have. Horses will find cover under the shelter of trees if they need it, but normally will stand with their butts to the wind so that their hindquarter muscles will absorb any serious injury from flying debris,hail, etc. These injuries heal very well.  You may think that they are safer stabled. Horses locked in stalls can panic with the noise of the storm or hail on the rooftop and sometimes do more damage to themselves.  In a severe storm, they become subject to the flying debris all around them and the high possibility of a building fire or collapse.

Cyclone Yasi bearing down on Australia

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