Planning for Bushfires with Horses

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Planning for Bushfires with Horses - Globetrotting horse riding holidaysAs I write this, Australia is burning.
The fires have already seared seven times the land that burnt during last year’s Amazon rainforest fires, and over a billion animals are estimated to have been killed.
On our property in the hills above the Sunshine Coast, we have horses, ponies, dogs, guinea pigs and children. It’s never been clearer that if a bushfire comes, we need to know exactly what to do in order to protect not just our home and our animals, but our family.
If you’re a horse owner in Australia – or elsewhere – please make sure you are ready to ‘prepare, act, survive’ in case of fire. Here in Aus, we call it a bushfire action plan.
Below is a summary of how to plan for fires as a horse owner. We’ll link to more detailed resources at the bottom of the article, too.

Prepare

First things first: make sure your horses are part of your bushfire survival plan, and be sure to update your plan whenever there are changes to your animal, family, property or living situations. Consider microchipping your horses and other animals so that they can be returned to you more easily should they become lost. If you’re in Australia, register horses in your property identification code (PIC) with the Department of Primary Industries in your state, so that the emergency services know what stock belong on your property.

Prepare an emergency pack, including first aid for people and horses; a torch, food and water, blankets, fire resistant clothing, a portable radio with batteries, spare halters and ropes. On severe, extreme or Code Red fire days, remove all gear from your horses. The exception is if your horse is difficult to catch, in which case you may wish to leave a leather halter (leather won’t melt or get extremely hot) on them with an identification tag.

Act

If you plan to move your horses, for example if your property isn’t safe and moving your horses during an emergency situation would not put your life or other lives in danger, ensure that you know exactly how, when and where you will move them. If other horse owners live nearby, it’s a good idea to make a group strategy together. Once a fire has started, you’re unlikely to be able to move your horses safely, so this is something that should be done before a fire starts. Bushfires can travel quickly and roads will be dangerous – possibly even closed. Remember to put your own safety first at all times. You may be required to stay with your horses depending on the location to which you are moving them, so be sure to include provisions for yourself and anyone else accompanying you in your emergency pack.

If you plan to leave your horses, for example if your property is well-defended against fire or if you can’t take them with you, put them in a large, open area with minimal vegetation, ideally with access to a dam or other body of water. They should be moved to such an area before severe, extreme or Code Red fire days. Leave internal gates open to give them the maximum possible area in which to run – horses are quite adept at avoiding fire if they have enough open space. Do not let them out on the roads, as they will be in greater danger from both traffic and fire.

After the fire

If your horses remained on the property…

  • Check the paddock for trees and limbs likely to fall, and check that the fencing is safe.
  • Do not enter or have horses in paddocks with fallen power lines or damaged power poles.
  • Some tree roots may burn underground, creating extremely hot pits that can cause burns if stepped in. Getting horses off hot ground is important to prevent laminitis.
  • Any animal that has been in deep grass or a fire that has burned along the ground through grass and leaves must be moved to cold ground to prevent sloughing of the hooves, which can be fatal.
  • Check that they have clean water and food. Put water right next to your horses’ feed to help prevent colic, and try to resume their normal feeding routing as soon as possible.
  • If your horse has been injured or burned, call a vet as soon as possible. Treat burnt areas with lots of cold water, and if their legs are affected, try standing them in a bucket of water. Homemade saline (a spoonful of salt in 1L of water), honey and Septicide will treat the most wounds.
  • Check your horses’ temperature twice daily (the normal range is 37-38.3 °C / 98.6-100.9 °F) and call a vet if the temperature is outside this range.
  • Be prepared to monitor all of your animals for several weeks following a fire or severe smoke, as some conditions such as pneumonia and laminitis can develop days or even weeks after the event.

If your horses were moved off the property…

  • Before returning your horses to the property, check for trees and limbs likely to fall, and check that the fencing is safe.
  • Do not enter or have horses in paddocks with fallen power lines or damaged power poles.
  • Do not put animals in paddocks where the ground is still hot. Some tree roots may burn underground, creating extremely hot pits that can cause burns if stepped in, so err on the side of caution.
  • Ensure that they have clean water and food. Put water right next to your horses’ feed to help prevent colic, and try to resume their normal feeding routing as soon as possible.
  • Be prepared to monitor all of your animals for several weeks following a fire or severe smoke, as some conditions such as pneumonia and laminitis can develop days or even weeks after the event.

We hope this information has served as a useful starting point and that if the day ever comes when you have to put your bushfire action plan into practice, your horses, property, home and loved ones remain safe.

We based this guide off the following resources, so please check them out for more detailed information.

Horse Safety Australia: horses and bushfires
CFA: horses and bushfires
Animals Australia: your horses in the immediate wake of a bushfire
Racing Victoria: management of horses affected by bushfires

 

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