Horses and floods
Floods are one of the more common natural disasters faced by horse owners. Many properties are in floodplains but some owners have a false sense of security.
Living in a 100-year flood plain means the chance of flooding is calculated as a 1% chance of flooding per year or a 30% chance in the lifetime of many mortgages.
Floods can be slow or fast rising. Slow-rising floods are typical as floodwaters move down a river or creek and can often be predicted to reach a certain height. Flash floods are usually the result of extremely heavy rain or melting snow and occur suddenly. They can also result from dam or levee bank failure.
Forward planning will greatly reduce the amount of animal and human suffering in any emergency situation including floods.
Consider the following questions in your planning:
- What plans should I make if I live in a flood-prone area?
- What equipment do I need in an emergency kit?
- How do horses cope with floods?
- What are the health hazards faced by horses during floods?
The following information is offered as the basis of a plan to cope with floods.
Mitigating floods in the area your horse lives
As a horse carer, when undertaking disaster planning for floods, you should make yourself familiar with the area in which your horses live. In particular, proximity to:
- drainage areas.
Councils have information on floodplains in your area. Proper land-use management and compliance with building regulations may reduce some of the costs due to losses from flooding.
The driveway to your property needs to be well constructed and maintained to protect you from being stranded during flooding, if you live in a risk area.
Avoid building in a floodplain. Sheds and stables should be located in high lying areas sufficiently large to be used as a holding area for horses in the event of a flood. If you graze horses on floodplains, be prepared to move them to higher ground before low-lying evacuation routes become flooded.
Construct separate buildings for storage of farm chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and fuels so there is minimal chance of contaminating feed and water.
In broad, level flood plains where floodwaters are seldom deeper than one metre, you may need to establish areas of high ground on which horses can stay until floodwaters recede.
Regularly check the security of fencing and inspect buildings for sharp edges and soundness.
Preparing for floods
Preparing for floods includes actions such as:
- stockpiling and replenishing emergency supplies
- planning evacuation routes
- ensuring equipment and vehicles are in proper working condition.
Plan to be self-reliant for 72 hours. Secure supplies in case of evacuation and in case you need to care for horses without the day to day conveniences of:
- readily available feed
- a safe water source.
Horse evacuation plan
Make a family and animal evacuation plan. Ensure everybody who lives, works or agists at your property understands the plan. Discuss contingency plans with neighbours and friends.
If you are in a flash flood area:
- try to identify safer areas
- have several alternate routes to ensure rapid evacuation
- if you have a large number of horses, anticipate the course floodwaters might take and establish which horses you will move first
- start moving animals in advance of any danger (even if the evacuation turns out to be unnecessary, at least you will have practised an evacuation).
A well-stocked emergency kit should be established and kept where it can be reached easily and quickly. Items that are valuable in a disaster situation include:
- torches and a portable radio (with extra batteries)
- food that requires little or no cooking or refrigeration
- mobile phone charger
- emergency cooking equipment
- drinking water
- a shovel and an axe
- wire cutters
- equine first aid items
- leather gloves
- extra head collars and lead ropes
- extra clothing for both humans and horses.
Identification of horses
Prepare an information list about your horses to assist retrieval of horses from an emergency holding facility, or to help you find them should they get loose or lost during the flood.
Make sure your horse is identified with a microchip and that you have a record of the microchip number.
Include in your list:
- a written description of each horse
- information about any permanent identification features such as brands or microchip number
- photographs of horses
- proof of ownership.
Put all this information in a waterproof container and keep it with you.
Make identification tags that animals can wear on their head collars or around their necks while at a holding facility.
Transport and communication
Keep vehicles and horse floats in good working order and equipped with:
- area maps
- mobile phone
- emergency numbers.
Food and water for horses
In case of emergency evacuation, keep in the float:
- hay in nylon sacks
- feed in plastic bags or containers with tight fitting lids
- buckets and
- an extra 20 litres of drinking water
Food is often initially unavailable or quickly depleted at holding facilities if the horses are evacuated.
Train your horses
Teach your horses to load into a float or horsebox. This will minimise stress and delay if flood strikes and in the event of an emergency evacuation.
Listen to radio announcements from emergency officials. If evacuation becomes necessary, remove horses to a safer area as soon as possible – before access roads become impassable. Only use routes recommended by local authorities. Turn off all utilities at the main switch before you leave. To assist emergency services, place waterproofed notes in the stables and house indicating if there are any animals left on the premises.
Do not attempt to drive over a flooded road. You could become trapped or stranded. Do not try to lead or ride horses through swift moving, deep water.
Horses caught in floods
Ensure your horses have an easy escape route if you have to leave them behind. Do not leave them stabled or in small yards. Many animals have died in floods when owners left them confined.
Horses can swim quite well and can handle water up to their bellies for lengthy periods. However, some limb swelling will occur with prolonged water contact. In general, most horses can handle their limbs submerged for 48 to 72 hours.
They need to be fed where they are and kept warm by eating hay.
In fast rising floods, horses can be swept into obstacles such as fences and corrugated iron. This can cause serious injuries.
Mud can pose a serious hazard for a stranded horse. If trapped and immobile, horses can fracture a limb or seriously injure themselves by struggling in deep, sticky mud.
Eye injuries are common when horses attempt to pull themselves free and hit their faces on stalls or fencing. Other hazards common to horses after floods include:
- foot problems
- wounds (especially to the legs)
- waterborne illnesses such as leptospirosis
- drinking contaminated water
- eating mouldy food.
Contact your local veterinarian as soon as possible when your horse requires medical attention. If your horse is in need of euthanasia you can also contact your local council, the RSPCA, or Agriculture Victoria animal health officers to humanely euthanase your horse in an emergency.
Before restocking flooded pastures, check to make sure the perimeter fences are intact. Remove dangerous debris, especially along fence lines and in corners. Water may have ruined the pasture causing a "green drought". In these circumstances horses will need supplementary feeding. Lack of adequate forage could also force horses to eat poisonous plants.
Mosquitos and other insect pests may be abundant after a flood. As well as annoying animals, some species carry disease. To reduce mosquitoes around horses, purchase insect repellent from your local horse equipment store or veterinarian.
Herbert K and Heath S (1999) Disaster Planning. In The Horse published by The Blood-Horse Inc, Kentucky, June issue, pp 20 – 35.
Madigan J (1998) Recent weather phenomena highlight need for disaster planning World Equine Veterinary Review 3(1):43.
More information on horse ownership and management can be obtained by:
- Contacting us
- Your equine veterinary practitioner