Tag Archives: large animal emergency

Be Prepared for Natural Disaster: Equine Evacuation

Many of you know Southern California is on fire. I am near San Diego and last Thursday Dec 7, a fire broke out in North County, about an hour north of San Diego. That afternoon I was on my way to the Fox News studio around 2 pm for an interview about my attempt to get a spot for the dogsledding thing when I heard about the fires on the radio. After the interview I saw on facebook there was an urgent need for equine evacuations.

I got home and pulled the furniture (just moved) out of the trailer, left it under a tree, hooked up the truck…and waited. I wanted to jump in and go help evacuate horses…but information was scattered, cell signal was spotty, and it was starting to get dark. It seemed like a bad idea to go out with a rig, alone, in the dark, with a fire moving fast, roadblocks changing, and information coming from a few different sources. A few times, I got in the truck and almost just went as I listened to Zello, the walkie talkie app and heard one facility was unreachable and setting horses loose.

By 10 pm, I secured a co-pilot and headed out. The major equine evacuation effort at that point was focused on a horse rescue with a few hundred horses. They were not in the current path of the fire, but the Santa Anna winds were blowing and shifting. If the wind changed, they would be overtaken quickly with no hope of evacuating from their remote, hill top, single lane road access location.

There were trailers lined up at the bottom of the hill by the road to the farm, staged to load up and take horses to Del Mar Racetrack. It took hours to reach the front of the line where volunteers loaded 2 horses into my trailer.

It was the wee hours of the morning when we arrived at the emergency stabling to leave off the horses.

With no news of urgent need for more trailers to evacuate anywhere, I headed home at 4 am. Around 7 am, I was about to pull out of the driveway to head to the office when I heard on the walkie talkie app that a few trailers were being let past the roadblocks. I put out a call for a co-pilot and let my boss know I wouldn’t be in. My copilot was a vet-tech. As we approached the roadblocks, she was in communication about a horse that was apparently injured too badly to be moved. A vet was on the way. We were possibly closer. We were cleared through the roadblocks and entered the evacuation area.

We got a phone call (off the zello radio channel) that the horse was ‘burned from nose to tail.’ I parked the truck and trailer on the side of the road.
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The vet arrived just after we did.  I put a buff over my nose and mouth and we followed a crying young woman through ashes, burned brush, fences, and trees to where a bay mare stood by a large live oak tree. The owner explained that the mare wouldn’t load and they had to set her loose and leave. The mare was shaking and in shock. The hair on her whole body was singed and curled.

Her muzzle was covered in oozing blisters. Her coronet bands had cracked open and her hooves were smoking.Burned

My co-pilot and I provided shoulders to cry on and hugs as the vet quickly explained that the kindest thing was to euthanize. Quickly. The young woman begged her mare’s forgiveness, thanked her, and said goodbye.
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As the vet turned away,  I saw tears on his cheek below his sunglasses.

We walked back toward the driveway. The young woman’s parents were by the ashes of a house that was burned to the ground. I heard the mother saying something about, ‘I didn’t think it would come HERE.’
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Natural disaster is a new experience for me. Seeing this was life changing. I might have been one of the, ‘wait and see’ people in the past. Thinking the wind wasn’t blowing my way and about how much of a pain in the butt it would be to evacuate if I didn’t have to. But fire is fast and wind changes.

My plea to all horse and animal owners.
Have a disaster plan that includes your animals.

Specifically for fire, evacuate early especially if you need to coordinate a lift for your horses with emergency personnel or if your horses don’t load well. Your plan should include where and how you will set your animals loose if necessary. In the tragic scenario I witnessed, while the horse was ‘set loose’ it was still on a fenced in property and clearly didn’t find it’s way down the driveway. If you are in the path of the fire and either don’t have a trailer or the horse won’t load, roll down the car or truck window and lead the horse at least far enough to escape if you must set them loose. If there are multiple horses, tie them together and lead one. Even if they ‘don’t lead like that’ just do it. Some equine bickering or a kick is manageable. Burns and smoke inhalation may not be. Also make sure your emergency information is posted in the barn or near the animals. If you aren’t home or can’t get home, rescue animal personal may need to reach you to get permission to evacuate your animals.

Here is another really great resource:

What Do I Do With My Horse In Fire, Flood, and/or Earthquake

 

This booklet evolved from the original information contained in “What Do I Do With My Horse In Fire, Flood, and/or Earthquake?” initiated by Rod Bergen and compiled by Stephanie Abronson and the members of the Monte Nido Mountain Ridge Riders, and originally published by the Monte Nido Paddock of Equestrian Trails, Inc., Corral 63, since 1992. The previous printed version of this booklet in a revised edition was by the City of Los Angeles and Stephanie Abronson, March 1997.

*I am not yet part of any official disaster response, but I am working on it. I just got my amateur radio operator (HAM radio) license and plan to get involved with Amateur Radio Emergency Communications. I also hope to get training this coming year and become part of an official emergency animal rescue network.

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Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program

As you may remember from a previous post, Splash and I joined the Ontario Mounted Special Services Unit (OMSSU). From July 14-16 , we participated in the first clinic of its kind in Ontario: the Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program.  While this clinic was open to anyone, it was mandatory training for members of the OMSSU and we had equitation and obstacle/sensory testing that we needed to pass in order to become full members of the unit.

Many topics were covered throughout the weekend.  Friday evening, Wendy Swackhammer of Wellington County Livestock Emergency Response gave us a crash course into what goes into livestock rescue, from seeing all of the various tools used, to learning different techniques to putting strapping on a horse to help it move, to how to contain a loose horse safely.

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Saturday and Sunday were both mounted portions.  First thing Saturday morning, we had formation riding instruction with Toronto Mounted Police officers Constable Houston and Constable McCarthy. Luckily Splash remembered her drill riding training however, I did initially find it difficult to learn the new commands as police drill training had different names for things than we did on the Canadian Cowgirls but once I understood what was being asked and I could translate back into what I knew, we were good to go! An excellent way to start the day!

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Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

Next was an equitation session with retired RCMP Jerry Mayo, which we had both days. While I had initially expected these sessions to be basically a demonstration of what he wanted us to do, then to us go practice it and to have him assist if we were having difficulty, they ran more like a question and answer period.  While there was not as much riding and practicing in these sessions as I had hoped for, it was interesting to watch people work through specific issues they were having and to watch their progression as they utilized the instruction Jerry was giving them.

After this, Captain Lisa Rakes of the Kentucky Horse Park Mounted Police walked us through self defense on horseback, particularly useful to me as I often ride alone. We learned what to do to keep us as safe as possible and what to do if someone tries to attack.  One thing I found interesting about this was if someone grabs your leg to push you off your horse, stay flexible and don’t stiffen up. The more you stiffen and try to brace yourself, the less balance you have and are able to be pushed off easier.

After lunch we had an obstacle course ride/test. While the pattern was relatively simple, the end goal was to test how calm and maneuverable your horse is. Last session of the day was fire prevention. One of the exercises on Friday as part of the large animal rescue session was to walk around the barn at the REACH Centre and pick out the good, the bad, and the ugly (an excellent practice to do in your own barn!)  While the REACH Centre is fairly new, it was shocking to all of us that although they have a state of the art sprinkler system installed, there wasn’t a fire extinguisher to be seen! In the light of recent barn fires in the area, there were many good takeaways from this session and the one on Sunday, including having a fire extinguisher within arm’s reach of every exit and to have a plan established and practised should there ever be an emergency.

A dinner reception was held Saturday evening to swear all of the new OMSSU members in. The dinner was delicious and catered by a member of our own team (thanks Dee!). A professional chef on the team is a great asset as we know we will never starve!

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Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

Sunday was one of my favourite days as we participated in a search and rescue training session and an advanced obstacle/sensory class.  Search and rescue was one of my main reasons for wanting to join the OMSSU and we will be partaking in Canadian and National certification in the spring.  For this particular session, we were given an in-class debriefing on the different type of search techniques that can be implemented and what sort of things to consider when participating in a search, then we set out to do a mock run. It was amazing how much ground we could cover in such a short period of time and we did find our missing target! Horses can be such an asset to searches as they can cover ground faster and can go many places that people, vehicles, or atvs can go!

The last sensory session of the day proved to be interesting as Splash decided that she didn’t want to have any part of anything, even though she had done almost all of the obstacles previously.  While it can be quite frustrating, we just took it as another training opportunity. Horses can have off days too and it is good to know what tools and tactics you have and are useful if this ever happens again. Once she decided that life wasn’t so bad, she happily tried her best at the various obstacles in the ring.  She really surprised me when she quickly understood what was being asked of her when she was presented with the riot cart (designed to simulate having to push through a crowd), considering her initial mood and that she had never seen one of these before. With only a little bit of coaxing, she quickly figured out that all she had to do was push it with her chest and the cart moved.

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This weekend was not only fantastic for training but to get to work more together with the team as a whole (as we are spread out all over the province) and to see what we need to work on before Kentucky.

Thank you to all of the incredible instructors and to Cindy Fuerth for having this vision. I’m super excited to see where this takes us and lots of things are already in the works.

If you are interested in participating in this one of a kind workshop next year, the dates have already been set for June 22-24, 2018 at the REACH Centre in Clinton, Ontario.