Help Your Horse Survive a Disaster

Olympic dressage rider Hilda Gurney shares her plans for creating an equine emergency plan that will help your horse survive a disaster. By Sally Silverman for EquiSearch.
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Olympic dressage rider Hilda Gurney shares her plans for creating an equine emergency plan that will help your horse survive a disaster. By Sally Silverman for EquiSearch.

American dressage pioneer Hilda Gurney--a trainer, judge and Olympic bronze medalist--is no stranger to California wildfires. Her Keenridge Farm is in Moorpark, California, one of the areas that wildfires ripped through last October. "We've been burned-through twice before," she says. Gurney was out of town when the recent wildfires struck; customers and friends came to the farm and evacuated all 65 horses at 2:30 a.m.

"They were taken to neighbors and friends--literally taken everywhere," says Gurney. "I came home on Sunday night (Oct. 26) and went out Monday to round them all up." She found them all safe and healthy, and she was deeply grateful for the kindness of those who helped move them. Gurney says that, though the fire codes are tough, residents cannot lose sight of the fact that deadly fires go through the area. (Article Continues Below)

Had her customers and friends not evacuated the horses, Gurney does have an evacuation plan. Doing everything that you can is what saves lives and properties. Consequently, she has made sure that her barn is as fireproof as it can be. All structures are made of steel. Fencing is made of metal mesh. Gurney planted the perimeter of the property with California pepper trees, a fire-resistant species that she found through researching the Internet. She stores hay far from the stable and is vigilant about removing dead brush from her property.

Hoses are always attached to all of the faucets on the property. Ample halters and lead ropes are close at hand, in a central location. All of her trailers are hitched to rigs, all the time. She has taught her staff that the winds can change at any time, and, with sparks able to travel miles ahead of the actual fire, watering everything down is essential anytime fire is in the area.

With relief that she survived another California wildfire unscathed, Gurney says, "The rains have come and the hills are already turning green. We are safe now for another 10 years."

Resources for Disaster Preparedness

Whether your area is at risk for fire, flood, tornado, etc., you can find resources to help you prepare your horses for a worst-case scenario. Here are a few Web sites that will provide a wealth of information for starting and implementing your own disaster plan.

American Association of Equine Practitioners Emergency & Disaster Preparedness

The value of this site is in the links it provides rather than hard information. Unlike other disaster preparedness Web sites, it is specifically geared to horse owners and compiled by equine professionals.

Maryland Horse Industry Disaster Guide for Horse Owners.

This practical site provides steps to take right now, before a disaster occurs, and coherent, simple guidelines for establishing disaster plans.

American Veterinary Medical Association

This organization's disaster preparedness booklet, entitled "Saving the Whole Family," offers detailed information on planning for both small and large animals in disasters and is available from the AVMA. A valuable excerpt, with brief, concise recommendations, is on the site.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Guide to Citizen Preparedness.

This covers a multitude of situations from tsunamis to earthquakes. Useful information about the nature of different types of disasters is available in the individual Natural Hazard documents.

American Red Cross

The Red Cross offers some common-sense suggestions for preparing your safety or evacuation plan as well as details about the amount of food required by each animal. Short recommendations are given for fire, earthquake and flood.

For more information, see the January 2004 issue of Dressage Today.