Preparedness is Key to Surviving Tornadoes with Horses
In tornado-prone areas, some residents construct storm shelters in order to ride out dangerous ordeals safely. When it comes to protecting horses, however, designing a “tornado-proof” barn is a more complicated matter, one authority said. That’s why preparedness is crucial for helping horses survive potentially life-threatening storms.

Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, primary instructor and president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, said that building a similar shelter for livestock is virtually impossible.

“There is no such thing,” she said.

Still, Gimenez said there are techniques for constructing barns that can help render them more likely to stand up to severe weather, including tornadoes. Constructing such a barn involves using of heavy materials (such as concrete blocks and heavier-weight wood), installing hurricane clips and nails instead of gusset plates, and placing shorter beams between construction members, she said. Such construction is expensive, Gimenez said, and can sacrifice some barn features many horse owners desire.

“This heavier construction contributes to poorer ventilation and light, higher humidity, and (potentially) a poorer quality of life for the horses,” Gimenez said. “In other words, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Instead, Gimenez recommends owners either create an equine evacuation plan in case of dangerous weather or shelter the animals in place on their own properties. The former requires removing horses from at risk areas before a storm arrives and transporting them to a previously determined location, while the latter requires owners to prepare their properties so animals can weather storms as safely as possible.

Gimenez said that with minor retrofitting, such as installing hurricane clips and reinforcing support beams and tie-ins, most equine facilities can survive minor to mid-range tornadoes. Owners who stable their horses during a storm should remove from the barn any items or implements that might become projectiles.

If a barn collapse is likely, Gimenez advises that owners with sufficient space turn their horses out in advance of a storm. She also recommends owners remove any items or debris from pastures that could injure nearby animals.

Meanwhile, Sally Vivrette, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a veterinarian from North Carolina’s Triangle Equine who attended to horses after a tornado swept through Lee County, N.C., in 2011, advises that horses pastured during a tornado should wear fly masks to avoid eye injury. She also recommends owners paint their phone numbers on their horses’ bodies or braid a note containing their contact information into their horses’ manes.

“That way people will know who to call (if the storm drives the animal from its pasture),” Vivrette said.

Finally, Gimenez reminds horse owners that protecting human life should be a priority when strong storms are predicted. She recommends establishing a tornado room in the center of the barn to accommodate people who might be trapped there when the storm strikes. She also recommends that owners become familiar with basic first-aid techniques to apply in the storm’s aftermath if necessary.

“Remember: In a disaster like this, it’s people first,” Gimenez said.