Being from Southern California, it has become that time of year when we start worrying about “Fire Season”. In other parts of the country, there is hurricane season, snow season, tornado warnings but in California, not only is there a small worry about earthquakes, we now have “Fire Season”. Over the past several years it seems like there is a ticking time bomb for when a new fire will erupt; and once one starts, sure enough another will follow. Not only is it scary for us to have to evacuate our homes but for us horse people, we have our horses to worry about evacuating as well! I know from experience, having to load your horse onto a trailer in a sea of black smoke when the sky is red with thick pieces of ash falling around you is the absolute most terrifying thing.
Evacuating your horse be a challenge, what if you don’t have your own trailer or you’re part of a large barn with over 100 horses, who goes first?! As we know, our horse community is small and during competitions we are rivals but when a disaster or emergency strikes we all jump in to help each other. During the last several fires we have endured I can’t begin to tell you the overwhelming amount of FaceBook posts I saw of people offering to help others. Posts such as “I have a 2 horse trailer in “blank” area, if anyone needs help contact me.” Or updates on which facilities are accepting evacuated horses, when they are full and where to go next. Posts like these filled my news feed and it wonderful to see our small community coming together to help each other. Although we are lucky in that there are always so many people willing to help, sometimes we can’t always rely on that, we need to make sure we are prepared ourselves!
With that said, don’t wait till those flames have erupted and started making their way to you or your barn, create an evacuation plan for both you and your horse now! Being prepared with this plan will help with the chaos that always comes with these emergencies. Plan multiple evacuation routes, be sure to have a Plan A and Plan B maybe even a Plan C. If you are part of a large barn, discuss evacuation plans with the barn manager and fellow barn mates. Know who to call, have emergency contact information easily to accessible, whether it’s the barn manager, barn mates, neighbors or your local emergency/law enforcement officials.
If you have a horse trailer, make sure it is in good condition and ready to be used at any moment. If you don’t have a trailer, communicate with a neighbor or friend at your barn who does and find out if they would be able to help you evacuate your horse. Never plan on letting your horse loose hoping they will find safety on their own, they need our help and plus it is extremely dangerous for both your horse and others. Although if a situation does present itself where you cannot safely evacuate your horse, it is better to turn your horse loose rather than leaving them trapped in a stall.
Most of the time you will be evacuating your horse to large facilities such as fairgrounds, large show grounds or large boarding farms. So having proper identification for your horse is also very important. I have heard of someone else falsely claiming other people’s horses and in some cases horses can get lost, so proper identification is needed to prove ownership of your horse. Identification on a horse can be a variety of things such as microchip (just like your dog), branding, pictures (especially of unique markings), registration papers or purchasing papers/bill of sale.
A first aid kit is extremely important for not just evacuation emergencies, but be sure it is all put together and easily accessible to grab at a moment’s notice. It should be fully stocked and ready to go with anything to address wounds, burns, foot injuries, physical ailments like colic or stress, important medications and more.
Just like when we evacuate our homes, we can’t take it all. We have to prioritize a list of things to grab from the tack room. There are of course some things that we can’t live without, one being our saddle, but in most cases there isn’t much time so be sure to grab what you need to safely move you and your horse and potentially live away from home for a while.
Our horses count on us to keep them happy, healthy and safe and it’s always good to remember how much they feed off of our energy. So when a wild fire strikes in your area and you are forced to evacuate your horse, remind yourself to stay calm, in turn your horse will then remain calm, allowing a safe and successful evacuation.