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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Saturday, January 22, 2011

One more thing to be totally terrified of....


Fire is a whole new realm of danger for a girl coming out of soggy New England. Out in the flat, bone-dry climate of Northeast Texas, fire is a serious issue and not even in the dead of winter can it be escaped. (By dead of winter, I of course mean 60 degrees and beautifully sunny, but you know.) Everything is seriously dry out here, and the wind howls pretty much nonstop, so we have a seemingly neverending burn ban for the entire area. What happened today was purely accidental; someone down the road was welding and a single spark escaped onto the grass beneath his truck. Before he knew what was happening, the whole area was on fire and spreading fast. The winds today were blowing steadily at somewhere between 20-30mph, and the fire spread from the grass to nearby roundbales, trees and buildings. I had just handed a horse off to my boss to go ride, and she hadn't been out of the barn for more than 5 minutes when one of our own welders who was there putting in new pipe paddocks came sprinting into the barn. "Brush fire," he breathed. "She said put halters on all the horses and get ready." I tossed halters on all the horses in the barn, and trotted out to see what was going on outside. The neighbor's property was lightly smoking, and I could see my boss and her horse stopped at the far edge of our property, watching intently. Without warning, the fire engulfed a metal barn, and huge clouds of billowing black smoke exploded into the air. I could see loose horses galloping wildly around near the blaze, and for a moment didn't know what to do. I had never seen anything like it. Then my boss, whose house burned completely to the ground just a few months ago, appeared at my side to give direction. In a heartbeat, we had her rig hitched and pulled forward, the welder's truck hitched to the other trailer, halters and boots on all the horses, and all six of them loaded, along with all our important tack. The smoke billowed higher and blackened, firetrucks roared onto the scene, and still the neighbor's horses galloped. We stood at the back of the loaded trailers, dogs all in the trucks, waiting to see if the wind would change. Our property backs up to a river, and the prevailing winds almost always take flames away from us. We were lucky this time, although we might not be out of the woods yet. Roundbales are still burning, and the blaze isn't totally contained even now. The fire flanked the road for a good long way on my drive home, and the charred damage path spread nearly a mile. Trees, fences, buildings and more were all totally destroyed. If the wind changes at all tonight, we might very well be totally screwed.

This is the one thing that terrifies me about keeping my horse where she is. If a single spark catches in her field, the blaze will be instantly out of control and she'll have nowhere to go except over or through a fence. She is probably smart enough to jump out over a fence, but I don't think I can guarantee that. Nobody is there at that property during the weekday, so I'd never know about it until it was too late. Same goes for tornadoes... and there is NOTHING you can do if a tornado drops in the middle of her field. Fires and tornadoes are real and serious threats in my area, and truth be told, they kinda freak me out. Okay, they REALLY freak me out.

I guess I know what I absolutely need to do ASAP.... microchip my horse. If a fire takes out my field, everyone tells me to just open the gate and let her loose. Better a loose horse than a charred dead horse. God knows that plain dark bay horses around here are a dime a dozen, and she needs a way to be identified should something happen. Aside from a distinctive freezebrand, a microchip is probably my best chance at not losing her forever should something terrible happen.

Anyone have any fire/tornado/disaster recommendations?


Checkmark115 said...

OMG tornadoes freeeeak me out. I turn into a sobbing baby when tornado warnings come around and I am totally useless for emergency plans in the event of a tornado. Fire seems pretty scary too. Seemed like you guys packed up wicked fast though.

Suzie said...

I have had to evacuate horses four times so far due to fire, three of those times being my own. The best advice I can give is be prepared. Always have a halter by your horse's stall with a name tag, have towels or bandanas available (for both smoke inhalation and covering the eyes of scared horses), and know where you are going to take the horses before you have to go anywhere. I also have introduced the idea of being lead blind to my horses (well... kind of sort of for Yves... brat) so that they are not even more petrified than need be if there ever comes a time when they do need to be blindfolded.

Frizzle said...

Scary! Glad to hear that everything's okay (for now!).

Micrichips are a good idea in theory, but in my very short (two week) career as an equine vet tech, I found that for some reason it's REALLY hard to find a microchip in a horse. Right after we injected them, we would check to make sure they worked, and even though we knew exactly where to scan, it would take a million passes before the stupid things would beep. So, by all means get one, but don't depend on it because for some reason they don't seem to work as well in horses as they do in dogs.

A lot of people down here in Miami have their horses microchipped because of the hurricanes. And, when a hurricane is on the way, we braid luggage tags into their tails and write their phone #s, etc. on them with special livestock crayons. I guess that probably wouldn't work out very well in your situation, since you don't have much time beforehand. I think a distinctive freeze brand would be your best bet.

Deered said...

You could put a freeze brand under where the saddle goes - the placement helps it stand out.
There have been massive floods in Australia in the last week, and a lot of horses have been rescued, and a lot have been lost. sometimes halters were a godsned to be able to grab and guide horses, other times they trapped the horses.

The didaster training that I remember was:
Have a plan - identify the risks, and the directions they may come from, and have an exit plan for them.

Label your horses gear - a cattle ear tag on a halter with the name of the horse or even a number is useful if the horse ends up at an evac center or steperated from you.

Keep a halter and rope near your horse, and get your horse used to loading in "weird" circumstances - in the dark, with a lot of noise etc.

Main thing is always to have a plan, and practice it - is it easy to get the horses and load up and pull out from where the gear is sited, or would it be quicker another way. Keep essential gear/meds in a bin so they can be fired in the rig fast and easily, and don't do dumb stuff - if there is a flash flood, DO NOT drive through water that you don't know the depth of - you're stuffed it it kills your car!

Lisa said...

Here in Oz they recommend (if you can't take them elsewhere) leaving your horse in an open field, make sure they have nothing on (no halter with metal fittings to burn, etc.), and when the fire comes, they gallop through the flames to stand on the already burnt side... I've always been told to NEVER let my horse free on the roads, and to be honest, after my two go out of the paddock due to the neighbors having fire works on NYE this year, I would never risk it. They were very nearly killed by a truck. Might be different in your area, I take it is more rural? I hope you never have to make the decision!

OnTheBit said...

so scary! When big fires came to my sweet NJ a few years back we were on the verge of evacuation which made me do two things, one of which I still do to this day. The first is to get a sharpe marker and write my number on my horses foot. It looks wierd, but it totally works. Over time I stopped doing it, but the thing I do still have is a little dog tag with my horses name, the address of the barn, and my cell number. Since my naughty pony goes out with a halter on I put it there, but the two very old retired horses at my trainers are "tagged also" by braiding the dog tag into their mane. It works great!

Val said...

That is completely terrifying. Lisa made a good point about the danger of the roads. I think having a plan and practicing it was also very good advice, just like fire drills in school.

From your blog, I like to think that your mare is approaching horsey fame. I bet if she got lost a person off the street would see her and say "Oh hey, it's Gogo. Better drop Andrea a line."

Heather said...

Braid a dog tag into her mane with your name and # printed on it.

Dom said...

Microchipping is very easy and super effective. You can even order the chip and inject it yourself. I do all the horses at work and have never had a problem. Definitely easier than branding of any type. That is SO scary.

Ruffles said...

That would be really scary! WE get small tornadoes in winter and it freaks me out. I think getting your horse micro-chipped is a good idea because when something like this happens the horse is better off let loose.

Ambivalent Academic said...

I grew up in wildfire country, and it sounds like your boss has a good program in place. For us, being prepared meant having the truck and trailer always hooked up and pointing OUT the driveway. Boots, halters, critical tack ready to load at a moment's notice, and a plan for where to go (in several possible directions) where the horses could stay for a few days if need be. Most importantly, keep the pastures irrigated! Of course, this is not always allowed if you're experiencing a drought.

Fortunately, in our area the burns usually started in forested areas miles away from our farm, so we were rarely in a situation where we might need to react as quickly as you did. Sounds to me like you did exactly what you should have.

Microchips are a great idea. All of our animals have one.

Emily said...

When it comes to tornado, letting them loose is probably the safest. Tornados can be INCREDIBLY unpredictable, while you can normally load a horse up and outdrive a wildfire, you cannot always outdrive a tornado... especially if you live someplace that has a lot of open country (I used to have my horse kept someplace that was just open fields for miles and miles and miles. Letting that horse is going to be it's best bet for survival.

If you aren't willing to do a visible freezebrand, other options are tattooing the inside of the ear, or under her upper lip (like a TB). I have an OTTB so he's identified, and thankfully, it's still readable.

Jo Belasco said...

Having lost our ranch to a catastrophic wildfire, I can suggest you always be prepared. Never let down your guard. Have an emergency kit with information you need that you can grab to take with you at a moment's notice. Make sure all horses load in ANY circumstance and PRACTICE it. Make sure you know all of the routes out. Fire has a life of its own, so you can never assume that the way you get in and out will be accessible. Have tags on the horses' halters with your information. You can get dog tags and use those. You can also get marker and in a pinch, write your name and phone number on the hindquarters. In the most dire situation - and due to the size and speed of our fire, my fallback position was my first - open the gates and let everyone go. It's Texas. You can round them up later. I had to do that for our wild buffalo and wild Mustangs. They did not leave, but jumped over the fire line and stayed in their pastures the whole time. Grass fire is much easier than a forest fire because it does not burn as hot and it CAN be jumped over. I hope you never have to experience it, but being prepared is the best way to handle it.

As for tornadoes, learn the sky sign. Learn what a wall cloud is and what are the precursors for one. Keep in mind that flying debris is usually the most dangerous part of a tornado and that debris can fly a LONG way from the actual tornado. Your horses, well, there isn't much to do. Tornadoes can change course unpredictably, same as wildfire. I experienced 3 tornadoes within a half mile the first September I was in Texas. Our horses were outside and there really wasn't anything we could do about it. That's the way nature works sometimes. DO NOT, if you are driving any of the roads there, go under an underpass for safety. Years ago, some people thought that was safe because one group of people did it and lived. It is NOT safe and the flying debris can easily kill you under an overpass. Look for a ditch or low lying area, duck and cover your head.

Terry said...

A microchip is a great idea.
I worked rescue for a big wildfire here in Colorado. Some of the horses that came into the fairgrounds had phone #s painted on them in huge numbers. I thought that was a clever idea in an emergency.