Barn Disaster Planning

Courtesy of Horse Extension

Most horse owners would rather not think about a worst case scenario that would affect their animals or their property. However, planning before an emergency is important for managing risk from an unexpected event. When a disaster strikes, people do not have time to think. Whether it is a fire, tornado, or flood, having a plan in place a head of time can prevent or reduce the impacts of these events.

A disaster is an event that is not planned for, with devastating impacts. The goals should be to prevent an emergency from becoming a disaster. Horse owners need to consider not only situations around the house, but the barn as well. This fact sheet will help identify steps that horse owners can take to minimize the chance of a disaster in the barn and to reduce the impacts of one, should it happen.

General preparation

Each barn owner has their own idea of a disastrous event for their facility. For one barn it may be a tornado, for another it may be an outbreak of an infectious disease like strangles. Barn owners should consider what types of situations would be the most devastating for their barn. By identifying these situations and planning for them, negative effects can be minimized. Planning will also help prepare horse owners for other, unforeseen events. For instance, if fire is a concern, have an evacuation plan. This can also be used for a tornado or flood. The following information discusses steps that will help horse owners plan for any emergency situation.

Get the house ready first

The following is a list of essential items a horse owner should keep in or near their home and possibly in another location off the property as well.

  • Human first aid kit
  • Emergency kit with food and water for 3 days
  • Important paperwork
  • Photos and written descriptions of all horses
  • Extra halters and lead ropes
  • Generator with enough fuel for 3 days
  • Working flash lights
  • Battery operated radio 

Evacuation plans

It is important to have an evacuation plan that quickly and safely moves animals and people out of barns and other equine facilities. It is also critical that boarders and others engaged in the barn/facility know the plan. Having others know the plan ensures it is followed, even if the owner is not present when the emergency occurs. Developing a plan is also important because it helps horse owners think through potential emergencies that may occur, and helps determine potential problems in the barn prior to an emergency. Put the plan in writing and post it. Here are the nine major issues to consider when developing an emergency evacuation plan:

  1. How will each horse be removed from the barn? Will they be lead individually or herded? In what order? Can they be herded out the door to a holding pen? Keep in mind it may not be possible or safe to put a halter on a panicked horse. Plans for an evacuation like a flood may be different than for a fire where there is less time.
  2. Do you have spare halters and lead ropes located in an area away from the barn? This is often overlooked and can be a major problem (i.e. during a fire), especially if there are large numbers of horses on the property.
  3. Are there horses that need to be handled differently? Stallions, foals, elderly horses and others may need to be treated differently.
  4. Where will the horses go if the barn is damaged? Ideally horses will be put in a safe paddock away from barn. During a fire, ensure the horses are placed far from the burning facility to avoid illness from smoke inhalation. Is there space to separate horses (i.e. stallions)? During an emergency, it is common for a frightened or disoriented horse to try and return back to its stall, where it feels the safest.

This is especially important during a fire. Horses are creatures of habit. Practice using all exits occasionally.

  1. Will you be able to get food and water to the holding area? This is more important if they need to stay there for extended periods of time.
  2. Can you trailer the horses if necessary? Is there access to a functional truck and trailer? Will the horses easily load?
  3. Have everyone involved in the horse facility practice the evacuation plan? A lot can be learned from practicing an evacuation plan, and improvements can then be made.
  4. Do you know your neighbors or other horse owners in the area? Neighboring horse owners can be a huge resource during an emergency.

Animal Identification

Here are several methods to identify a horse. Identification is valuable if the horse is lost or stolen. If you have a horse without identifiable markings, this is particularly important. Choice of identification is a personal preference, but may also be a breed requirement (different breed associations have different requirements). If the horse is registered, one or more of the below identification methods are probably in place.

Permanent identifiers:

  • Photographs and written descriptions
  • Brands
  • Tattoos
  • Microchips

Temporary identifiers:

  • Washable paint
  • Etch hooves
  • Braid luggage tag with contact information into mane

Pastern bands

Frightened animal behavior

Human safety is always the first priority. This includes the horse owner, family members, employees, boarders, visitors, and others.

Frightened animals are unpredictable. Even the gentlest horse can become dangerous when frightened. Take specific actions to avoid being placed in harms way. For more information on equine behavior, see the University of Minnesota fact sheet “Horse Behavior and Stable Vices” (publication #08538).