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Mane Concern: Horse Sense Averts Exposures, Disasters.

Recent weather catastrophes in the US have had devastating impacts on horses and horse properties. Hurricane Harvey affected hundreds of horses in the Houston area due to the storm itself and subsequent flooding. In December 2017, twenty-five racehorses were killed when a wildfire engulfed eight barns at a training center in California. (1) Conversely, more than five hundred horses were safely evacuated during the October 2017 wildfires in California. (2) During three-weeks in March 2018, four Nor'easters pounded the east coast making caring for horses challenging, as several feet of snow and downed trees needed clearing, and millions of properties were without power.

In 2017 through the first quarter of 2018, nineteen US weather and climate disaster events caused damage in excess of one billion dollars per occurrence. (3) Thus, it's no surprise that a recent AIG Private Client Group-sponsored survey of horse owners, riders and trainers revealed a strong desire for disaster preparedness education. Historically, it's been an uphill battle to convince consumers to embrace the merits of preparedness. This attitudinal shift presents a real opportunity for our industry to change that behavior for the better. Lisa Lindsay, Executive Director of the Private Risk Management Association, agrees that recent events highlight why we must continue to educate consumers about the benefits of preparing in advance.

With that in mind, the following are practical insights about natural disaster preparedness for horse owners, but many of the underlying principles apply more broadly to overall best practices for equine risk management. Share this information with your clients, and encourage them to consider aspects of their lifestyle that warrant up-front planning. Being there for your clients means recognizing what matters most to them-whatever that may be--and helping them proactively take steps to maximize safety.


Many of the following preparedness tips have similarities to protecting houses or works of art, but there are even more things to consider when live animals are involved. In addition, horses require more consideration because of their size, character and associated transportation needs. Before we can effectively rein in equine risk (pun intended), we need to understand common horse behaviors and management practices that play a vital role in their safety when natural disasters strike.

* Horses have flight instincts and scare easily. With any weather involving wind or atypical conditions, even the calmest ones can change into scared, panicked beasts who are difficult to handle and are at an increased risk of injuring themselves and others around them.

* Horses are herd animals and are most comfortable in the companionship of other horses. It's important to know; however, that not all get along--just like people and other animals. So in an emergency situation, keeping the troublesome ones separated from others they may harm should be done whenever possible.

* Horses are trained to be led from their left side. They wear a halter on their head, and the lead rope is clipped onto it. Halters are made of leather or nylon. In potential fire exposures, it is important to remove any halters made of nylon, because they can melt on the horse's head.

* Horses are transported on horse trailers, often in the gooseneck and pickup truck configuration. Some young horses don't know how to lead well so they may be hard to move to certain areas or get on a trailer. Even mature horses who haven't left the farm in a while may not easily load on a trailer, so it is strongly recommended to practice loading them periodically, especially if you live in a CAT prone area with the potential to need to evacuate. Most horse properties have more horses than the capacity of the horse trailer, so a priority list is important, as well as the potential and time for multiple evacuation trips.

* Most horses live in a stall in a barn and get several hours out daily in a field or paddock. Some live out all the time with a run-in shed as shelter from the weather. With shelter-in-place rather than evacuation scenarios, decisions need to be made about where the safest place would be for the horses to weather the storm--depending on their regular routine and the ability of the barn and fencing to withstand the storm.

* All horses need access to fresh water, dry ground and the ability to move around. Adequate water and movement keep their digestive tract working properly and lack of it can make them sick, even enough to take their life. So, in thinking about conditions brought on my natural disasters, horses' lives could be threatened if they don't have these basic requirements.

* For food, some horses can live on just grass, but most are fed a grain in the morning and evening, hay multiple times throughout the day, and many need medicine or special health supplements. Having adequate food and supplies on hand when storms strike is critical, because there may be a delay in availability to get more.

* Horses often wear blankets or sheets to keep them warm and dry. This point, similar to the halters, relates to a wildfire situation because it is important to remove them so they don't melt on the horse. It is also important to remove them during major flood situations because they can weigh the horse down and potentially cause drowning.


Harm cannot always be avoided, but we aren't helpless. Effective natural disaster response and recovery starts with a written preparedness plan so that everyone involved knows what to do before, during and after an event.

* Plan for the events that are common in the area (hurricanes, floods, wildfires, blizzards, etc.), but also recognize what's possible. For example, you don't have to live in a high hazard flood zone to suffer a flood.

* Establish both evacuation and shelter-!n-place plans. Geographic considerations should guide planning and may make one more feasible than the other during an event.

*Keep two copies or more of your natural disaster plan in an easily accessible location.

*Review evacuation and shelter-!n-place plans often with those who will assist with the horses and/or staff. Update plans with new resources, different horses, etc.

* Prepare emergency care kits for at home and away. Suggested items include spare halters, lead ropes, medications, first aid supplies, feed, hay and water.

* Gather basic documentation (pictures, Coggins test paperwork, microchip ID, etc.) and place them in an accessible location. This will be particularly helpful if you need to evacuate horses across state lines or identify your horse after an event. ...


Even if the preference is to shelter in place, there are too many circumstances that could change the plan. Always assume that evacuation is a possibility.

* Formalize evacuation plans, including routes and access to other horse facilities near and outside the local area that can accommodate the horses. Identify alternate routes if regular routes are impassible.

* Keep identification documents, health certificates and an emergency care kit in an accessible place. Be sure to know when health certificates must be obtained from the vet before trailering horses across certain state lines.

* Evaluate trailering capacity and amount of supplies for the number of horses. Practice horse loading on trailers, especially if the animals have not traveled recently.

* Have evacuation equipment and supplies ready including trailers, trucks and fuel. Fuel is important on a regular basis and critical during catastrophic events when resources (especially diesel) can be scarce.

* Write down evacuation priorities in advance; it will help all involved navigate difficult decisions during an emergency event.


Staying put requires forethought as well. Formalize shelter-in-place plans and:

* Stock up on adequate supplies.

* Keep identification documents, health certificates and the emergency care kit in an accessible place. Horses may get loose during the event, so it is important to plan how they can have identification on them when possible.

* Prepare signs that can be used to communicate your on-site status to emergency personnel.

* Have on-site equipment ready for snow clearing, debris removal, generating power, etc. Trailering capabilities may also be needed post-event if conditions are not safe to remain in place, such as horses in standing water for prolonged periods.


When it's time to put your plans into action, it's understandably critical to be nimble. Mother Nature has her own agenda, and even the most calculated emergency preparedness plans will require some deviation.

* Contact and organize your local network/community when a natural catastrophe has been forecasted. Use social media to connect with equine evacuation and assistance groups. These are great ways to share best practices and stay informed about conditions.

* When evacuating, confirm the temporary facility you've previously identified is available and leave as soon as possible. Be aware of local laws, as in some areas it is illegal to transport large animals when a hurricane warning is in effect.

* Follow your plan for where the horses will be safest-in the barn or out in a fenced area. If not in the barn, close the barn and stall doors after horses are out, because they are creatures of habit and will reenter a barn if allowed, even if conditions are unsafe. Be prepared to function with a lack of electricity for well pump and lights. Keep horses fed and safe. Take precautions to safeguard human life, and consider that horses can harm people when scared.

* As soon as it's safe to do so, display signs at the front of your property to share your status with emergency personnel. Carefully clean out debris, being on the lookout for downed electric wires and hazardous objects blown into the area.

* When "digging out" after an event, include access to barn and turnout areas. Make repairs and adjustments to damaged barns and fields. Remember, lack of electricity, extensive barn damage and flooding may require post-storm evacuation.


Do a physical hazard assessment of the property to help decrease the potential damage during a storm, emergency situation, and year round. Some key things to look for include:

* Pay close attention to electrical systems, keeping them updated and ideally in metal conduit.

* Manage appropriate storage of fuel and combustibles, including paint, solvents and hay. Hay is not only highly flammable, so it can provide a large fuel load for a fire, but it can spontaneously combust if not properly baled and dried. That is why storing hay in a separate, well-ventilated building away from where the horses are stalled is preferred.

* Keep brush cleared and maintain no overhanging trees by the barn to help avoid fires and damage.


Be proactive - reach out to your clients now, not when the next headline-making weather event is upon us. Encourage clients to think through priorities and anticipate tough decisions at a time when they can consider their choices carefully and rationally. When done in advance, it also allows you time to offer guidance, make introductions to additional specialists and ultimately reinforce your value in their lives. Ask what emergency preparedness plans they have in place for each property location. Are they maintaining adequate equipment and supplies, particularly in the face of disasters that won't come with a multi-day warning? Is there an emergency plan in place, and when was it last updated and communicated to key people? When was the last physical hazard assessment completed? What fire prevention efforts do they use today?

Further your own education by getting involved in trade associations that celebrate the importance of ongoing professional development. One example is the Private Risk Management Association (PRMA), which offers classes and webinars throughout the year to help you stay current on risk trends and related solutions.


Rebecca Hunt is a senior risk manager with AIG Private Client Group, a division of the member companies of American International Group, Inc. (AIG). She is an accomplished horseperson who has been riding and working with horses for over forty years. Her multdiscipline skills include training young horses, Welsh ponies, show hunters, jumpers, equitation, and fox hunting. She has her own farm where she enjoys caring for her horses, as well as maintaining and developing the facilities.

I STOP THE PRESS: Tragic Fire Finds 20 Horses Dead.... The importance of our feature article was underlined by the tragic fire--whose cause is under investigation--that killed 20 horses at an Orange County location on June 2nd. For details on the fire see various reports, June 3rd.- Ed.

(1) Jonah Engel Bromwich, "Dozens of Horses Killed as Fires Tear Through California," 8 Dec 2017,

(2) Pat Raia. "Horse Community Rallies While California Wildfires Rage," 16 Oct 2017,

(3) NOAANCEI, "US Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters," 2018.
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Author:Hunt, Rebecca
Publication:Insurance Advocate
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:May 28, 2018
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