By Marsha Hewitt
SC Department of Agriculture
Hurricane season is upon us. While inland horse owners don’t usually panic when that dreaded evacuation order is issued, folks in the Aiken area can make a real difference. If you can provide temporary shelter for horses leaving the coast during an emergency, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture wants to know.
All horse owners need a specific plan of action before a natural disaster threatens. While people typically think of hurricanes, other emergency situations are tornadoes, flooding, wild fires, chemical spills, and even outbreaks of disease.
The coastal area of South Carolina is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. Horse owners must decide whether to leave their horses where they are, or move them to another location. Once the governor issues an evacuation order, people shouldn’t be scrambling to get ready. They should know exactly what they’re going to do, and where they’re going.
The southernmost counties of the state will evacuate toward the Aiken/Augusta area, so local barn owners need to be prepared to answer calls for help. Large barns with lots of stalls (like a racetrack or the Hippodrome) are the first to be contacted. However, once those barns fill up, traveling owners will be desperate for someplace to house their horses for a few days.
The S.C. Department of Agriculture works closely with Clemson University to plan evacuation and emergency procedures, using federal guidelines. Although finding shelter for their horses is the owner’s responsibility, a list of available shelters can help horse owners know where to go.
Several facilities in Aiken have traditionally been used as emergency shelters for horses leaving the coast because of an impending hurricane. Private horse owners are extremely generous in making their facilities available to others in times of need, but the SCDA needs to know who and where you are so you can be listed on the official web site.
Owners who need to evacuate are urged to call well in advance to check on the availability of shelters, but many people don’t have a clue who to call. If you have stalls and/or pasture available during an emergency, please call Marsha Hewitt at 803-734-0106 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be listed on the SCDA and Clemson websites.
We need the number of stalls, a contact person, cell number (some of the calls may come during the night), and protocol for your barn. Is there a charge? Do people need to bring their own water buckets? Will you provide bedding? Is there nearby housing for people? What about other pets? Your website can be included.
Another huge concern is transportation. Many horse owners don’t have adequate transportation for their animals. Local transport companies, or individuals with trailers that can be used in an emergency, are also asked to contact SCDA to be listed on the web site. Or if you prefer not to be listed publicly, you can be put on an emergency list that will be released only if an evacuation order is issued.
For a list of current shelters and other tips on dealing with disasters, go to www.agriculture.sc.gov (emergency evacuation) or www.clemson.edu./lph. For a free brochure, call 803-734-0106.
Evacuation: Where can we go?
Horse owners should know where they will take their horses if a hurricane threatens. The time to find a place is now, before a hurricane starts building. Don’t wait until the evacuation order is given. Then it may be too late to find suitable shelter, and traffic will be heavy. Horse owners should have their supplies ready. The following list may help:
Water, hay and enough food for several days
Medication and first aid kit, including a flashlight
Extra halters, lead ropes, and buckets
Your horses’ papers, health records, and Coggins
A full gas tank
Trucks and horse trailers should be in good condition.
Leaving horses behind during a hurricane
Owners must think carefully before deciding to leave horses in the barn. If the building is sturdy, well-built and on relatively high ground, the horse has a good chance of surviving the storm. But what about afterwards? It may be several days before people can return.
The leading causes of death during hurricanes are from collapsed barns, dehydration, and electrocution. Remember, if the power is off, the water supply in the barn is likely to fail. Leaving a couple of buckets of water simply won’t do.
Horses drink 15 to 20 gallons of water a day, so if the animals are left alone for two or three days, each horse would need a minimum of 50 gallons. If the horse simply must be left in a stall, fill a large plastic trash can with water and secure it so it can’t be overturned. Leave enough hay for several days.
A better option is to leave the horses in a secure pasture or paddock. Horses have lived outside for thousands of years, and their instinct will go a long way towards keeping them out of trouble. Be sure the perimeter fencing is sturdy, and check for overhead power lines.
Most injuries during storms are from flying debris, like tin from the barn roof. Inspect all your buildings and nail down any loose tin, shingles or boards. High winds and tornadoes don’t give you any lead time, so take care of preparations while the weather is nice.
Identification: whose horse is this?
A major problem after Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast was identifying loose horses. After all, how many bay mares are there? Or chestnut geldings? Identification on each horse is vital. Use livestock tags, neck bands, even a luggage tag secured in the horse’s mane. Or use livestock crayon to write a phone number on the horse’s body. Veterinarians and emergency personnel agree that microchipping is the ideal method of identification. Check with your vet about having this done. Take a photo of you with your horse, and keep it with you so you can prove ownership.
If you must leave your horses at home, get a can of spray paint to write on the outside barn wall: HORSES INSIDE and a phone number. Or put a sign at the end of your driveway. That way emergency personnel will know to check on them. It’s also good to have an agreement with your neighbors so that whoever returns first will make check on the animals’ welfare.
While some people don’t like to leave halters on horses, remember that emergencies don’t follow rules. If your horse gets lost, someone will have to catch it and lead it somewhere. If a tree blows down on the fence, horses can wander miles away. A horse with a halter and a tag is much easier to reunite with its owner.
Other disasters, such as wild fires, also require immediate action on the part of horse owners. By having a list of available shelters, and people who stand ready to help, everyone can have a little piece of mind.