Adverse weather can be troublesome for humans and animals, alike. While small, indoor pets are easier to board and travel with, horses require additional preparedness and precautions.
Dr. Jessica Millwood, a resident in equine practice at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said that planning ahead and paying attention to weather alerts are the keys to keeping horses safe during severe weather.
“Pastures should be clear of hazardous items, debris, and known entrapments for horses, and safe fencing and holding areas should be available around the property,” Millwood said. “Owners should install lightning suppression systems, sprinkler systems, and smoke detectors on all high-risk buildings, in particular those where animals are kept.”
Millwood suggests considering several factors before determining the most ideal form of shelter.
“Owners should consider their horse’s anxiety level during storms, the horse’s past experience during severe weather, the severity of the thunderstorms forecasted, and the storm-worthiness of the barn,” she said.
If a horse spends more time outdoors and is not accustomed to any other housing, it could be more stressful to try and place them in an enclosed environment, according to Millwood. A small, semi-covered secure paddock might be a better alternative for horses that react poorly to being stalled.
“On the other hand, if the horse tends to show nervousness or anxiety outside during storms, a stall in a strongly-built barn may be a better alternative than being left outdoors,” she said. “Visual contact with herd mates may also help diffuse anxious behavior.”
Contact information for you or your local veterinarian should be posted in the barn or stable. Horses should also have a microchip, brand, or any other form of identification to ensure they are returned home safely if they escape from the enclosure.
In the case of flooding, Millwood says that owners should ensure their horses have safe drinking water, without which horses may become dehydrated or be forced to drink contaminated flood water.
“Flooding may also destroy food resources available to horses and eating moldy hay or feed can lead to clinical signs such as colic or respiratory disorders,” she added. “Owners should ensure adequate food is available for at least 72 hours after a predicted flooding event is suspected to subside, and they should store feed securely to prevent contamination or spoilage.”
Another concern that comes with flooding is standing in polluted water through which the horse’s skin is exposed to irritants and contaminants. Owners should bathe their horses as soon as possible after a flood and keep their horses up-to-date on core vaccines to prevent any potentially fatal diseases.
Most severe weather conditions are tracked in advance, with the most likely scenarios forecasted. If necessary, Millwood suggests that owners evacuate their horses while it is still possible to do so.
Owners have a heightened responsibility to care for and keep their animals safe during severe weather. By taking the necessary precautions and having a disaster plan ready, you can ensure that you and your horse are prepared when a situation arises.