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Severe weather can be a troubling event, especially when there
are animals whose welfare and comfort is of concern as well. Small
pets can usually take cover with their owners, but what precautions
can an owner take for larger animals such as horses?
"The first step in protecting your horses and other livestock
from severe weather is to realize what the severe weather risks are
in your area," says Dr. Brandon Dominguez, clinical assistant
professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM)
& Biomedical Sciences and member of the CVM Veterinary
Emergency Team. "For many areas, springtime brings threats of
severe thunderstorms, lightning, flash floods, and tornadoes."
Often owners like to keep horses stalled in a barn to protect
them from lightning during a storm, but giving them the ability to
travel could keep them safer.
"Generally, if horses are in a pasture with trees or near a
lightning rod, the risk of the horse being struck is greatly
diminished. A three-sided shelter can help to keep them warm and
dry during a storm in addition to shielding them from lightning
strikes," says Dominguez.
Dominguez believes that when storms become more severe, to
possibly include tornadoes or high gusts of winds, horses are even
safer outside of their stalls.
"It is wise to keep barnyards and pastures clear of debris
before storms are due to strike. If a tornado were to hit a barn
with horses secured in stalls, the likelihood and severity of being
hit by debris would be considerably increased," says Dominguez.
True, horses in pasture may not escape completely unscathed, but
the cuts and contusions are usually less significant.
With torrential rainfall, flooding, and particularly flash
flooding, if horses are given the opportunity to move to higher
ground away from danger, they will follow their natural instinct
for survival. Flash flooding, if injury or obstacles prevent horses
from escaping, can lead to a horse being swept downstream and
"Less harsh, but just as serious, are the consequences of
standing in perpetually flooded pastures. The chronic exposure to
moisture could lead to softening of the hoof and sole leaving a
horse susceptible to stone bruises, sole abscesses, white line
disease, and infection such as thrush," says Dominguez.
Dominguez explains that rapid drying may cause hooves to crack
and become brittle, but keeping feet cleaned and picked out and
applying hoof conditioners will help minimize the harm from flood
waters. Additionally, flooding may cause toxins to spread from
storage areas to pastures where horses are gathered exposing them
to contaminants that they would not ordinarily contact.
"The most ideal confinement during severe weather would be a
large pasture with a three-sided shelter to protect animals from
the elements, but that also allows them to escape from danger. Not
being in the lowest portion of the field, but in the vicinity of
trees or a lightning rod is also advantageous," says Dominguez.
With the variety of horse-owners, horse-properties, and horses,
planning before severe weather occurs should take into
consideration the ability to keep everybody safe.
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