Natural Disasters

Natural Disasters – How You Can Help Your Horse to Survive


The recent cataclysmic weather events throughout Queensland have caused heartache for many horse owners as they struggle to come to terms with the devastation that these horrendous floods have exerted on their properties & livestock. However there are many things that can be done to minimize the trauma for both you and your horse during natural disasters. The northern parts of Australia are particularly prone to natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. However in the southern states the increasing frequency of bushfires magnifies the risk of fire damage to property and consequent burn injuries to horses.

Preparation for these emergency situations should always start well before the floods-3-emergency exists. Then you will have an action plan that can be put in place immediately to facilitate the best protection possible for both you and your horse. Although the physical outcomes of these disasters are vastly different, a lot of the precautionary principals are the same.

Planning for Natural Disasters

Have an emergency plan & make sure all members of your household are aware of its existence. The plan should include contact details for all household members, a designated meeting place, emergency contact numbers including police & emergency services, medical & veterinary contacts and relevant health information as well as details of how to shut off electricity, gas & water supplies. Details of your insurance company should also be included.

Everyone’s situation differs according to the size and nature of their enterprise. Therefore it is important that all horse owners consider their circumstances and develop an individual survival plan, rationally and calmly, before a natural disaster season is imminent.


Make sure you have a means of clearly identifying your horse, and include details in brand-resizethe emergency plan. This could be description and / or brands, but a more reliable means is by microchip and having the details of the microchip registered with the National Pet Registry (Phone: 1300734738) or by lodging details of your property and horse registration with your State Department of Primary Industries. Other means of identification for an impending emergency can be as basic as ‘painting’ your name and phone number on the horse itself, clipping the details in the hair, or painting them on the hoof with permanent markers. Although tags on halters or neckbands can be useful, they may be an impediment to the horse if it becomes entangled in a fence or bushes.


Establish the area on your property that is most likely to be safe in an emergency. Consult your local council about flood plans. Obviously the safest place in a flood is the highest ground, but it needs to be protected from debris that may be passing at speed in floodwater or high winds. It also needs to be accessible after an extreme event so that help can be obtained. In the case of fire find the largest possible area with the least amount of vegetation, ideally as close to gates as possible and far away from highly flammable eucalypt trees. A low lying / damp area or dam can be useful, or even a large sand ménage.


  Make sure you have an emergency evacuation kit prepared


           This should include items for humans as well as horses

-          Non-perishable food items & bottled water.

-          Horse feed & water, buckets, halters & lead ropes.

-          First aid kit with veterinary, & human medical supplies as well as sanitation items

-          Torch & extra batteries.

-          Battery powered radio & extra batteries.

-          Communication aids (mobile phone, uhf radio)

-          Sturdy footwear, warm clothing, waterproofing, hat & gloves.

-          Woollen blanket & towels.

-          Wire cutters, plastic sheeting & duct tape, a whistle & utility knife.           

-          Important documents including insurance papers.

-          A copy of your emergency plan.


Determine the safest place & most appropriate time to evacuate


STAY OR GO? This is your decision – but DO NOT stay until the last minute as latehorses-floods-3 evacuation may be a deadly option. Suitable evacuation areas may include local showgrounds, racetrack or saleyards as directed by your local emergency services director; or somewhere safe with family or friends. Whatever place you decide, try to establish several retreat routes from your property in case fire or flood blocks your escape.

 Make sure vehicles (including floats) are in good working order, ensure that the vehicle has adequate fuel and keep a copy of the emergency plan in the glove box.

All horses (even broodmares & foals) should be trained to load in a float so that they can be shifted without delay when a natural disaster does occur.

horse-on-roadNEVER let horses out on the road, as they not only run a high risk of being injured, but represent a hazard to passing vehicles. If they cause a traffic accident you may be legally responsible.



PRACTICE the plan BEFORE the natural disaster (cyclone / fire / flood) season so that all members of your household are familiar with the role they need to play to keep both people and your horses safe. 




As you move to your evacuation area, close stable doors and gates as you leave. This not only secures your property but will prevent the horse from returning to their familiar but unsafe surroundings in  the event that the horse breaks free.


Feed shortages may occur after fires or floods depending on the magnitude of the disaster, so be prepared to search for available feed and for possible price increases. Remove feed stores to higher ground if floods are expected. 


Preparing for Floods & the Aftermath:

A flood emergency is generally of reasonably long duration, so plan to have rations and water for both you and your horse for at least 72 hours. All feed and hay should be kept in plastic bags to prevent the possibility of the build up of the botulinum toxin in damp, rotting feed. Botulism is a disease that causes progressive paralysis and can be fatal, but you can protect your horse by vaccination.               




DO NOT DRIVE OVER FLOODED ROADS as you do not know what may be below the surface – or even if there is a road surface at all!  


stable-fly-2Insect control is a significant issue during floods, as biting insects not only cause severe annoyance to horses, but can be responsible for the spread of diseases such as Ross River Virus in humans or Equine Infectious Anaemia in horses. Make sure that your veterinary / first aid kit includes insect repellant. 


Mud can pose a serious hazard, even to the extent of being responsible for limb fractures when a horse is caught & struggling in deep, sticky mud. However a more common threat is “mud fever” or “greasy heel”, caused by a dermatophilus bacterium. This can invade the skin when the horse is standing for prolonged periods in wet, muddy conditions.  Skin around the pastern area becomes inflamed and cracked and the resulting discharge may cause hair matting. Consult your veterinarian for advice on treatment.


Rain scald or mycotic dermatitis is another skin condition caused by the Dermatophilus organism and generally appears on the back. It is most common in warm, humid areas and usually appears within 2 – 5 days of continuous rain. Treatment is similar to greasy heal, but rugging can help to keep the back dry and prevent infection.

 Leptospirosis infections also represent a risk after flooding due to the presence of the spores excreted in the urine of infected animals in wet, muddy conditions. Although less common in horses than cattle, it can still occur and will cause a high fever and severe depression and possibly blood in the urine. It may also cause abortion in pregnant mares. A vaccine is available to prevent your horse from contracting this disease.

Other health hazards common in flood situations include foot abscesses caused by bacterial infection invading cracks in the hoof wall, pneumonia and generalized skin wounds - particularly on the legs.  Always consult your veterinary surgeon for advice – by phone if necessary.


When Fire Threatens and the aftermath:horse-bushfirs-1



Fill troughs, baths and water buckets for emergency use.  



Wear Fire Safe Attire:

    For You

  •  Woollen / cotton fabrics (synthetics may be highly flammable)
  •  Long pants and long button down shirt sleeves or woolen jumper and a wide brimmed hat.
  •  Sturdy leather gloves to protect hands from radiant heat.
  •  Sturdy leather boots with a good tread.
  •  A cotton scarf worn as a face shield – it can be dampened if necessary.
  •  Goggles to protect eyes from smoke or burning embers.


    For Your Horse

  •  Use leather halters & cotton lead ropes.
  •  DO NOT use any synthetic gear (including fly veils).
  •  Remove all equipment from your horse if it remains in the paddock.  Rugs can burn and metal buckles can become very hot. 
  • If possible wet manes & tails, or even drench the coat if the horse has to pass through fire as this may help to protect the horse for a short time. 
  • If you are shifting a nervous, fractious horse, a temporary blindfold may help.


DO NOT shut horses in a stable or small yard. If horses are left in a large area they will be able to best position themselves to remain safe.


Horses most commonly suffer facial burns if they have to pass through fire. Other problems include lung damage caused by smoke inhalation, coronet damage, swollen eyelids that may reduce vision and lacerations if they happen to run through a fence.  The nature and extent of the injuries will determine whether or not first aid will be sufficient, but at all times be guided by advice from your veterinary surgeon.


  • Care must be taken when re-entering burned areas as hot spots may still flare up, or hot ash pits may be present where root systems have burned.
  • Fallen power lines may also present a hazard, so consult your electricity provider if you are concerned.
  • Make sure that fences are secure.


REMEMBER – Whatever the natural disaster, good forward planning will help to minimize the impact and will protect the safety & well-being of your horse.




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Posted on 2014-12-15

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