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Horses & Tornadoes: How to Be Ready

When it comes to severe weather, horse owners have an extra worry: ensuring their animals are safe from tornados. In this article, you’ll learn about my experience caring for horses when the F5 tornado leveled much of nearby Joplin, Missouri as well as general advice for preparing your horse & farm for tornado season.

Tornadoes can be an especially dangerous form of severe weather for horse farms. They can cause severe damage to property and can quickly turn into life-threatening situations. When a tornado warning is issued, horse owners should take immediate action to protect their animals. “Domestic horses are totally dependent on humans to care for them, especially in emergencies and disasters.” 1

Some sources state that horses should be left in a pasture during a storm (due to the risk of building collapse) while other sources indicate that horses should be moved to a shelter during a storm (due to the risk of flying debris) As you can see, directives are not entirely clear in how to prepare horses for tornadic storm.

It’s best to keep horses in an area that is away from trees or other large objects that could fall and injure the horses. Once in a safe location, keep horses calm and quiet. Try not to let them run or panic, as this could cause them to injure themselves. If possible, keep them in their stalls or pens so they cannot roam freely. Horses are resilient animals, but they can still be injured or killed in a tornado. By taking proper precautions, horse owners can help ensure their animals stay safe during severe weather.

Horses in a pasture as a potential tornado storm forms behind them

Tornadoes Are Common in the US

Over the past several years in Missouri, we’ve witnessed many severe storms, and the term “tornado season” seems to apply more more and more of the calendar year. As much as we anticipate winter’s end, we don’t look forward to the worst part of spring. Taking care of horses makes tornado season much worse because they can stray too far away in pasture, and they’re not the easiest animals to move around. And good luck trying to fit your horse or pony in a bathtub or basement!

In 2012, the U.S. experienced over 930 confirmed tornadoes, in 2021, that number jumped to 1,313. 2 Although there are states that have a higher risk than others, all states are still at risk of tornados.

The Unpredictability of Tornadoes

So how should we take care of our horses when there’s a tornado threat? The hard truth is, there’s not much we can do. There isn’t a way to precisely know when a tornado will hit land and there are so many storms that come in spring.

Attempting to run in the pasture when there’s a storm carrying loads of halters will put you at a high risk of injury.

Also, barns aren’t always a surefire way to protect horses when there’s a tornado. Honestly, after seeing the devastation after an F5 tornado, I now understand there is no way to protect horses from a powerful tornado, short of an underground bunker.

How To Prepare For a Storm

Because we have a limited amount of time to respond to a storm when it comes, we need to dedicate time to prepare before it reaches our barn. In regular storms, trees can destroy fences, allowing the horses to roam free.

So we use halters with name tags. You can label halters with your contact info written with a marker or even embroidered. There are also horse owners who put hook tags on their horses, even going so far as writing contact information with sharpies on their horse’s hide.

It’s also good to think about what to do if your barn and the fencing around it would be destroyed- farm repairs (especially after a large regional storm) can take time. Have a backup plan and contacts at local stables so your horses have a place to stay while you do repairs.

What To Do During A Storm

The heated online debate on equestrian forums is whether you should leave your horses in a barn or let them out in the pasture when there is a bad storm. Many people think horses need to be left out in the pasture because it gives them a chance to run away if they need to.

During a tornado, it makes sense. I haven’t encountered a modern stable that would survive a small tornado. Most modern barns are light construction that would be destroyed easily by flying debris.

In Joplin, I witnessed boards and branches stuck in concrete walls and oak tree trunks after being thrown around in the air like missiles. You don’t want your horses to end up injured by debris- but unless you have a cinderblock barn there aren’t great choices.

Horses and Lightning Strikes

It is possible that a tornado will destroy an entire barn, but what is more likely is strong winds, derechos, bow echos, fallen trees, and a lot of lightning. Horses are common victims of lightning strikes, which is a powerful argument for taking the risks of stabling horses when tornado warnings are forcasted.

One cannot protect horses from everything, but we should at least keep them away from predictable and avoidable weather disasters. That’s why ou main plan for storms is keeping an eye on the weather and moving horses to a barn when there’s a storm approaching.

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Our ideal storm plan is that we use feed to quickly lure horses into our giant shared indoor stall. But for cases when we’re not home, I’m thankful we have small run-in shelters for the horses to take cover.

Lean on your (Horse) Friends

When a natural disaster strikes, it can be a very difficult and stressful time for everyone involved. One of the best things you can do to be ready for these situations is to join a community of local horse owners for support.

This way, you will have people to talk to who understand what you are going through and can offer helpful advice and support. Joining a community of local horse owners after a natural disaster can be a great way to get the help and support you need. These communities are typically very welcoming and supportive, and they can offer a wealth of knowledge and experience. If you are feeling overwhelmed after a natural disaster, reach out to your local horse community for help.

Research sources used for this article:

  1. Husted, R., & McConnico, R. How to Develop an Equine Veterinary Facility All-Hazards Sheltering and Evacuation Plan. School of Agriculture Sciences and Forestry, College of Applied and Natural Sciences, Louisiana Tech University. []
  2. Wikipedia. Tornados in 2021 []

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