Disaster Preparation for Horse Owners and Barn Managers

Updated August 24, 2023
Two horses standing in hazy paddock with wildfire smoke.

September is National Preparedness Month. In that spirit, we discuss ways to prepare for a natural disaster if you own horses or manage a barn. 

An emergency is an urgent situation. A disaster is an emergency that overwhelms the resources of the individual or the local community. Natural and human-caused disasters may include tornados, hurricanes, tropical storms, wildfires, flooding earthquakes, drought, etc. 

Being responsible for the well-being of a horse during a disaster is more challenging than being responsible for a dog, cat, or other small pet. While emergencies and disasters may be unavoidable, how well you and your horse cope with a potentially life-threatening situation depends on how well you prepared beforehand. 

Video on How to Prepare Yourself and Your Horse for a Natural Disaster

The Likelihood of Different Types of Emergencies

First, you need to know what types of situations are likely to happen where you live and prepare for those accordingly. Some disasters (like a barn fire) can happen in any area, but others (like a hurricane or tornado) usually occur in certain regions. 

Create a list of the most likely natural disasters that may happen in your area. In a tornado, you might need to load your horse and trailer to a safe zone or secure everything quickly if there is no time. Your emergency plan would look different in the event of an approaching wildfire. In some instances, your horses shouldn't be evacuated via trailer and are better off being let loose in a field.

Each type of disaster requires a unique emergency or evacuation plan for you and your horse. Your local human organization, agricultural extension agent, or emergency management agency are great resources and may be able to help you with your emergency plan and explain your community’s disaster response plans. 

Getting Your Horse Ready Before Disaster Strikes

A firefighter leading a horse through a smoky barn.

Life-threatening situations can happen at any time, and it's important to have an emergency plan in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute to evacuate your horses

Plan for Your Horse

  • If you board at or manage a facility, ensure there is a disaster plan in place that notifies owners and has step-by-step details for evacuating the horses if necessary. 
  • Owners can call county officials to ask if there are emergency shelters available for horses or other large animals in the area. Animal control may be another resource, depending on your area, as they could keep note of your property address for emergency assistance.
  • Barn managers should have copies of the evacuation plan posted in several places such as the office, tack room, and inside the trailer. In case you’re not able to evacuate the horses yourself, having posted detailed instructions in several places will help emergency workers. 
  • Make sure locks on stall and barn doors are working and can easily be opened.
  • Keep a halter and lead rope ready for each horse. 
  • Ensure you have enough water for each horse, as well as hay, grain, and medications for several days. 
  • Your evacuation plan is not complete without a basic equine first aid kit.

Mark Your Horse with Clear Identification

There may be situations where you are separated from your horse in emergencies, especially during tornados and barn fires where horses can be set loose. 

  • Mark or leave a permanent or semi-permanent mark on your horse so he can be identified if he is with a herd or separated from you. This can be braided into the mane or tail, a brand or clip design, or a livestock marker with a phone number. 
  • Consider putting more than one phone number (such as your veterinarians) as your phone may not be in service depending on the emergency. 
  • You can try other options like a name tag or plate on the halter, but halters are removable, so go for something that won't wash off with water or be easily removed by your horse or a person.

Prepare Your Horse Trailer

A grey horse being loaded onto a horse trailer.
  • Practice loading your horse as safely and quickly as possible. In an emergency, it’s common for horses to refuse to load onto the trailer. So, having engrained this skill into your horse’s memory will help tremendously. 
  • Make sure your vehicle and trailer are in good working order
  • Keep your trailer in an accessible area, with a fueled-up pulling vehicle either already hitched or nearby. Few things are more stressful than trying to line up the tow hitch to your truck under pressure! 
  • If you board at a large stable or manage multiple horses, get a headcount of the horses and how many trailers or trips you will need to get every horse safely off the property. This may require extra coordination with other facilities or shippers. Know which horses can be trailered together. 
  • If you don't have access to a horse trailer, arrange to have several transport companies as options in case of an emergency. If you must use an unfamiliar hauler during an emergency, gather as much contact information as possible (as well as vehicle identification, license plate, drivers license, etc.).

In your trailer, you will want to keep your “go bag.” This will include, but is not limited to; breed registration papers, proof of ownership, veterinary records, microchip number, a change of clothes, extra phone chargers, bottled water, and a few non-perishable foods. The important thing is that it is either ready in the trailer or packed into a waterproof and fireproof bag that you can grab and go quickly. 

Map Out an Emergency Route

In emergencies, GPS systems may be down, roads may be closed, and the standard way to get places may not be available. 

  • Map out a way for you to get to a safe location as far ahead of time as possible. You must evacuate to a facility that is able to support horses or livestock. 
  • Facilities such as show venues, rodeo arenas, stadiums, entertainment stages, equestrian centers, stockyards, auctions, racetracks, and breeding facilities often open doors to evacuating people and their horses. 
  • Some locations will only allow your horse to stay there with their up-to-date vaccination records and current Coggins, so have printed and digital files if possible.

The RedCross emergency app and local news are also good resources for up-to-date information during emergencies.  

Horse Owner Disaster Preparedness Resources

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.