Emergency preparation: ready for anything?

November 5, 2018
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As the saying goes, fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Emergencies by their nature are unplanned and shocking, but with a plan you can make them far more manageable.

Planning for the emergencies is a necessary evil for any horse owner, no matter whether or not you own the yard on which your horse is kept. The most common emergencies that occur within the equestrian sector are fires, floods and theft; therefore protecting yourself and your horses should be a top priority.

Fire

With so much hay, straw and wood around, it is virtually impossible to make a yard flame resistant, therefore all should be done to reduce the risk of accidental fire. Operating a no-smoking policy is fundamental, just one small flake of ash can cause a fast moving fire if it lands on flammable material – it simply isn’t worth the risk on a yard environment!

Preventative measures are vital, the most accessible being smoke detector alarms. Installing these (and making sure they’re serviced regularly) will act as an early warning system and give you precious time for stopping a fire growing, or allowing you to start your evacuation drill. Having fire extinguishers dotted around the yard is also advisable. These can be bought online relatively cheaply and are best kept close to danger spots, such as plug sockets, hay barns and stabling. Having a hose pipe attached to a long reel, and permanently connected to a mains water supply, can also help tackle the early stages of a fire, providing it reaches all the buildings on the yard.

It is good to get into the habit of keeping yard exits free, sweeping up stray strands of hay and straw before the farrier arrives, as well as storing hay, straw and muck a safe distance from stables. A practical fire drill should be in place and on yards with multiple owners, a fire meeting point and allocated area to put horses should be arranged – and made obvious to all through clear signage. It may also be worth conducting regular fire drills, especially when new liveries or staff join the yard. Maintaining good electrical habits is also important to reduce the chance of a fire starting from faults. All cabling should be PVC covered, waterproof, and kept off the floor away from horses. Conducting weekly checks for signs of damage, loose wiring and overheating in plugs and sockets will allow you to prevent any accidental fires from starting. It is also a good habit to check electrical items, such as clippers, before use.

In an event of a fire, it is important to stay calm and focused. If you can contain the fire yourself tackle it with buckets of water and fire extinguishers, but if you are on your own do not risk putting yourself in harms way. Call 999 immediately, and give the Fire Service your name and address, as well as the number you are calling on so they can reach you directly if necessary. Remove the horses closest to the fire to a secure field or arena, away from danger. It can be useful to fashion a blindfold out of a rug or jacket to help a nervous horse, but as time is of the essence, do not waste time fitting it, instead focus on moving the horses. Once all the horses have been relocated to a safe place, check the yard for any other animals or people, and then if possible, close doors and windows in an attempt to contain the fire – if it is safe to do so. Once the flames have been tackled, it is time to assess the damage. Take photos and create a list of things that have been lost or damaged before debriefing with the fire services. With stress levels and adrenaline running so high, take time to check yourself over and think through your options sensibly before tending to the horses. Fires are devastating and every precaution should be made to prevent them from occurring.

Floods

Flooding is damaging and disruptive to life, and unfortunately, can’t be prevented entirely. If you are in a flood prone area or have had above average rainfall, it is worth preparing your yard to reduce the effects of any flooding, and creating a ‘worst case scenario’ plan. This ought to include where the horses can be kept safely from the floodwaters (such as a field on high ground, or school if the stables are affected), how and where to shut off any electric, water and gas supplies, as well as emergency contact details. Also, make sure hay is kept off the floor, as once it becomes wet and contaminated by floodwater, it shouldn’t be fed to horses. Make it a habit of keeping stored items off the floor, such as clippers, tack and rugs, as this could save you precious time in flash floods as well as reduce the financial damage caused.
While it isn’t a particularly pleasant job, guttering and drains ought be cleared regularly and any damage should be corrected straight away else water won’t be drained effectively. It may also be worth checking guttering systems while it is raining, to assess the speed at which water is moved away and highlight any areas that need to be made more efficient. This will also be useful to show how water drains off the yard – crucial knowledge for tackling rising floodwaters as you will be able to direct the water off your property, rather than fight it.

For those without extra turnout, or yards predominantly on one level, you may be unable to keep your horses at home during floods or while the clean-up is taking place, so travelling off site may be your only option. In these cases, ensure you have adequate transport in place, a safe area away from water to load the horses, and most importantly, a sensible route that avoids having to drive down flooded roads.

Must have flood defence products:

Sandbags are a cheap and effective way of stopping floodwater.

– Hydrosacks are eco-friendly and lighter to use than sandbags.

– Water extraction pumps can aid removal of standing water fast.

– Module flood barriers are reusable blocks that slot into each other and protect whole areas from water.

Flooding can have a devastating impact on livelihoods, especially for businesses that struggle to raise funds to repair their facilities, as well as the wellbeing of horses, which often find the experience very stressful. Understanding the trouble spots on your yard will allow you to tailor your defences to suit and it is certainly worth being over cautious and preparing early, rather than waiting for the rain to start.

Theft

An event that can be devastating and somewhat impossible to prepare for is burglary. While we like to think the best of people, there are some instances when our optimism is proven wrong. We work hard to provide our horses with the very best, and it can be heart-breaking if you have to start from square one again, so make every effort to maximise your yard security.

It is good practice to use combination or padlocks on gateways, especially for properties that are not overlooked by neighbours. Just be sure to keep the copies of the keys in a memorable place! However, some locks do little to protect from prepared burglars who come armed with bolt cutters, so ensure you purchase a closed-shackle variety. Items such as ladders and wheelbarrows should be hidden from view, as these can be used by thieves to steal items stored within buildings, as well as move items in bulk. For ultimate security, windows should have steel bars fitted or at least dressings to prevent thieves looking in. Doors and gates can be easily taken down by someone with a screwdriver, so hinges and padlock mounts ought to be a reverse folding type, as these cover the bolt heads and make it much harder to be removed.

To add a further degree of safety and peace of mind, installing sensor-operated security lights can effectively ward off any unwanted attention. These can be battery operated, connected to the mains or even run of solar power. However, these do little to protect during daylight hours and are only fully beneficial when you notice they have been triggered, similarly to burglar alarms. Taking this a step further, security cameras are massively beneficial for not only deterring criminal activity but in the event your yard is broken in to, they can be an invaluable resource for finding the culprit.

Stop thieves in their tracks

– Reverse the top hinge on gates to ensure they can’t be lifted off.

– Store wheelbarrows out of sight and lock away valuable items.

– Never signpost the tackroom, but do use plenty of security warning signs in various locations.

– Use padlocks with closed shackles to protect them from bolt cutters.

– Vary the times you go to the yard, this will make the yard look busy and put off any thieves watching the property.

– Be friendly with neighbours as they may be able to spot suspicious behaviour and alert you to any problems.
Equestrian vehicles can easily be stolen from the yard and quickly moved a considerable distance if left without protection. It is also common for their appearance to be altered by criminals and sold on, so stolen trailers and lorries can be hard to recover in some cases. Trailers should be secured using both hitch and wheel locks and stored in a locked barn, keeping them out of sight and far harder to drive away quickly. You can use immobilisers to protect lorries, as well as using wheel locks. While it can be tempting to use your vehicles as a place to store extra equipment, in the event of it being stolen, you are simply giving the thief an even better haul. It is a good idea to take a selection of photographs of your vehicle, especially focusing on any distinguishable features, bumps or scratches, which can be used in the event of a theft. Keeping a record of thee chassis and identification numbers will be particularly useful information to give to police, so should be kept with official registration and insurance documents at home, in a safe place.

Specific items, such as rugs and tack, can be protected by painting or engraving your home postcode on appropriate areas that can’t be removed by thieves. It may also be worthwhile contacting your local police about tack marking sessions in your area. These sessions are usually free, and some even offer saddle microchipping and registration on Immobilise for a very small fee. It is also a good idea to keep a detailed inventory of all your equipment stored on the yard, as in the event of a theft, this can be indispensible to help track down items. Having photos of saddles and bridles will also be very helpful, and many people are taking to social media to help build up attention in the equestrian community, making items ‘too hot to handle’.

Advice for any emergency preparation:

– If you padlock gates or entrances, make sure everyone knows where the spare key or keys are kept.

– Have emergency lighting fitted if possible. Otherwise, keep heavy-duty torches and unused batteries in an obvious place.

– If there is no telephone line into your yard, arrange for a mobile phone to be kept nearby and make sure it is fully charged.

Equestrian premises and equipment should always be insured against loss, whether by fire, theft or other means. Prevention is by far the best means of protection against emergencies. Maintaining good habits and investing in a range of defensive measures will deter thieves and make horses, tack and vehicles far easier to recover. Flooding and fires are heavily influenced by nature, but organising your property, understanding the weaknesses and making improvements were appropriate, will put you in the best position to overcome any emergency.