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In a time of crisis there may be nobody to help you, no power, no communications, no emergency services, no veterinarian, no daylight… What is your plan?
Everyone’s situation differs according to the size and nature of their horse enterprise. That’s why each and every horse owner needs to develop an individual survival plan, coolly and calmly, before an emergency situation arises. Survival relies on forward planning and self-reliance.
This article is a summary of recommendations published by the Queensland Horse Council Inc. to assist horse owners to prepare and respond to bush fires. In addition, you should seek more specific information from your local fire and emergency services, like this page from South Australia.
Leave or stay?
The first and most important thing to decide is whether you intend to stay on your property if there is a bushfire. Assess your risk, understand how safe your property would be if a fire occurred in the immediate area, and remain flexible.
If you decide you will leave, with or without your horses, you must do it early on a high-risk day and in advance of knowing there is fire in your area. The announcement of a Total Fire Ban should be the trigger for your decision. Late evacuation can be deadly.
Have a plan
Make arrangements ahead of the start of the fire season for a place to temporarily relocate your horses. Options may include showgrounds, sale yards, parks, racetracks, pony club grounds or placement with family and friends.
Identify several possible retreat routes from your property in case fires block your escape. Decide in advance which horses you will evacuate and make sure your vehicle is roadworthy and your horses are trained for transport.
Identify a “safe” area on the property where horses can be placed if evacuation is not possible or practical. This area should be as large as possible and may be a closely grazed paddock or be created from several paddocks by opening gates. Ideally, it should have a dam with clear access. An alternative “safe” area might be a large well fenced sand ménage provided there are no trees or buildings nearby that will burn readily.
Make sure your tack and other precious items are locked away – and insured, whether as home contents under a “sporting equipment” clause, or specifically on your horse insurance policy. You can insure other assets like fences, sheds, machinery and much more on a farm pack.
- Prepare an Evacuation kit
- Equip a lidded bin with the following:
- wire cutters and a sharp knife
- torch, portable radio and fresh batteries
- water bucket
- extra lead rope and head collar, woollen blanket and towels
- equine first aid items
- proof of ownership documents, including microchip numbers, brands, registration papers, insurance documents or bill of sale
- whatever else you feel is essential for the first 24 hours.
Store the kit in an easily accessible location and ensure it is not used for anything but emergencies.
Identify your horses
Microchipped horses will be more speedily reunited with their owners if separation occurs during a disaster.
In an emergency, at the very least, be prepared to “paint” your name and phone number on the horse itself using livestock grease crayons like the ones used to number horses in endurance rides or clip similar details on its hair coat or paint its hooves. Neckbands, hip stickers and identification tags on leather head collars can also be useful.
Wear safe attire
In the event that a fire threatens you, whether you decide to evacuate or stay, the right clothes can help shield you from radiant heat, burning embers and flames. Cotton fabrics, sturdy leather gloves and boots, goggles and a damp cotton scarf to shield your face.
Fire-safe gear for horses
The same principles for fire safe clothing apply to your horse.
Remove all rugs and fly masks whenever there is a total fire ban.
Leather halters and cotton lead ropes will be safer even if they are not as strong.
Synthetic halters or lead ropes, fly masks and tack are dangerous – they may melt and cause serious burns to your horse and its handler.
When fire comes your way, your personal safety and that of the people working with you must be your first concern. A well-developed plan will help you remain calm and alert so you can think clearly and decisively.
Monitor weather forecasts and media broadcasts, especially ABC radio and local community radio stations for emergency information. Maintain good and clear communications with the people you are working with.
And above all, just do it! Good forward planning will protect the safety and well-being of you and your horses.