Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What's Your Plan?

I was going to write about lead changes, as requested, but had quite the deal at work today.
I was working Pete in the upper arena, and halfway watching a storm build behind me.
Pete is a pretty fancy, awfully cool, bay gelding. He's bred, has the look, and figures if he doesn't try too hard he can live with me forever.
Since I'm big on the "make the wrong thing difficult" concept, I spend a lot of time trying to convince Pete it would suck to live with me forever. (although after reading Fugs blog today, I figure they should ALL live with me forever)
So we were working through some pretty tough flexibility exercises.
Pete takes my total attention when I'm convincing him he needs to move on in life. He is so determined to stay with me that he will do whatever he deems necessary to make me see the light.
"Oh, you meant stop, as in Whoa?" He says.
"Back there? Really? All the way back there?"
Another favorite is, "Oh, you meant turn THAT cow. I see. Well, maybe tomorrow."
The problem with Pete is that he's also a believer in the "make the wrong thing difficult" system. If he doesn't think I'm picking up on his cues quick enough, he has no problem following through with a pretty tasty buck fest.
So it pays to be alert while riding Pete.
Which is why I failed to notice that storm piling up right over my head.
Until the light went white and my ears were split by one of the biggest cracks of thunder I had heard in a long time.
I was out of the saddle, and Pete and I were blowing into the barn before the black dots quit swimming around my eyes. We didn't quite beat all five of the barn dogs in, but we tried.
I was waiting out the rain, in the office, when the boss called.
"Is my place on fire?" She asked.
"I don't know, I'm sitting in the barn. Pete and I almost got our butts fried."
"I've had about five phone calls telling me my place is on fire."
"Let me go look." I said.
I went outside and immediately smelled smoke.
I kept walking and looking, and couldn't find anything. Just as I was going to report the all clear, I saw a thick black cloud of smoke across the road.
"Oh yeah, there it is." I said, just as the fire trucks started blasting up the hill.
"It's right across the street. There's flames about 100 yards from here."
"I'm on my way." The boss said.
I knew I had about 15 minutes before she could show up. The other boss, or Mr. Boss, wouldn't be able to get here any sooner.
A neighbor pulled in and said, "Do we need to move stock?"
"I think we're OK." I said. "The wind's in our favor, and it's back behind the hill."
"Look down at the broodmare pasture." She pointed.
I looked down, and across the way, and saw flames from another fire moving at a pretty good lick towards our pasture.
I started looking behind us for an escape route right about then.
We have about 35 head on our place, not including cattle.
Our three pastures are linked in a row, south to north.
I figured I could move the two and three year olds to the cow pasture. Then I could bring the broodmares from across the street, under the bridge, and into the newly emptied two year old pasture.
If the fire looked like it was going to jump the road, I would lead the stalled horses, the studs, and the momma/baby pairs north to the neighbors field.
Then I was going to start cutting fence and moving each set of horses into the next northern field, and continue leap frogging them until I felt they were safe. I hoped the dogs would stick with me.
I figured we could have a helluva barbecue with what was left of the cattle. I wasn't planning on coming back for them.
The only horses I would have to lead were the studs, stalled horses, and the pairs. The rest I would bring the old fashioned way, with a can of grain.
By the time the neighbor and I had started to implement my plan the bosses showed up.
So did a bunch more fire trucks. The police closed off our road and the highway leading to it. The news crews started showing up.
We got the two and threes in with the cattle, and the broodmares under the bridge and across the road. The can of grain worked fine. I wonder how a carrot stick would have worked in that situation?
The only problem was Annie, my grandma mare. (34 and counting) She came when we called, but very slowly. Then she got confused and started to wander back. I had to halter her and lead her to the rest of the herd. I had a horrible jolt when I realized she's almost blind. My good mare Loki came and took her to the other mares.
The wind stayed in our favor, and the wonderful volunteer fire department got the fire under control.
We didn't have to find out how the neighbors would have felt about our studs rampaging through not only our horses, but theirs as well. Hee hee.
We were lucky.
My emergency last minute plan was pretty good.
We're going to refine it for the future. I spend most of my time at work alone.
I have to have a clear plan in my head.
Next time, I'm going to put the dogs in my car, and drive through the fields to the nearest neighbor. Then, I can head back if possible, after I park the dogs and car, hopefully with help.
All of our horses need to be halter broke. Every one.
I'm going to ride Annie as I move the separate groups. I think she'll be able to keep up if I'm there to help her.
The cows can either come with me and Annie, or plan on being at the barbecue.
Annie let out a heart wrenching nicker, and put her forehead against my chest, when she realized it was me who had come back to get her.
Even in the chaos I automatically put my hand up to rub her poll and talk to her a little.
I guess I do whisper once in a while.
So what's your plan?
What will you do if all hell breaks out and you have a finite amount of time to save your horses?
Where will you put them?
The boss and I are working on an evacuation plan as we speak.
The neighbors were amazing. I heard there were 15 trailers hitched and ready to come.
So what's your plan?


  1. Wow -- what a wake-up call. Glad you're all safe and secure tonight. Very scary to contemplate!

  2. Not much of a plan here. Of course we only have two horses at the moment. Going down to one on Friday :( and then back up to two or three around 4th of July on our road trip to Montana where we’ll possibly pick up a couple. Pretty simple for us. Three horse trailer, load them up and drive.

    Of course, if Mt. Rainier blows its top and there isn’t time because of traffic and mud flows...hop on and RIDE them to the highest ground we can get to!

  3. I am so glad you came out of it OK, mugs! You have lots of logistics to think about and plan for. Maybe your state has some planning resources similar to what we have here:
    Washington State Animal Response Team

  4. The Animal Response Team looks pretty good, I don't know what we've got.
    We did get hold of a friend who has offered us a good solution for an emergency. He has three, safe five acre pastures at his house, about twenty miles from us. Then he owns 80 acres in the next county.
    If disaster struck at least we have a short term solution.
    It's a scary deal, it's only June.

  5. OMG so glad you're all safe & sound tonight.

  6. That's really frightening. It sounds like you did a great job of keeping your cool!

    At our boarding barn, if it was just the barn on fire, I'd probably make sure my horse was safe (priorities!), then open stall doors and make sure everyone was out.

    If the whole property was going up in flames (unlikely), I would probably cut the neighbor's fence and lead the horses in strings into their giant cow pasture. Then apologize later. Time allowing I would take the barn owner's fugly stallion-colt last, and keep the halter on him so no more incidents happen like the one that happened this year. Oh, he's fine, he never acts studdy, perfectly fine to be out with mares...Except all of a sudden his half-sister is pregnant. Oops? Gee, and you thought we were overreacting when we told you to never ever put him out with our mare.


    If we had our own place, it's simple: either ride safely away or toss her in the trailer and go :)

  7. If I were at my current place, bring em to the neighbor's pasture (their horses are in our pasture with mine right now. If at my boarding place in winter there's a lot of pastures, so just the furthest one.

  8. We found out what our plan is just last August. The electrical wiring under the barn sparked up and a fire started brewing.

    All of our 30 head are herded from the stalls to the big pasture on a daily basis. So we scrambled around, opened stalls doors, and let them find their way to the big pasture.

    We were lucky.

  9. Yikes!

    Glad that everyone made it through OK. Its funny that this topic came up... our building had a fire drill just as I was in the middle of reading this...

    I don't really have a plan for evacuation, I only have one horse and she loads/leads well so it would be a matter of hooking up the trailer and loading her. I've even shown my non-horse parents how to halter and load just in case. Thats basically my plan.

    We do have a lot of pasture that is not connected to the barn area. It would be a matter of herding her, our 2 bulls and 15 cows and calves across the lane into another pasture. All of our fields beyond the pastures have crops in them are fenced with split rail fencing so if something bad did happen I guess we could just cut the fence and herd them out into one of the crop fields.

  10. So glad you and yours are okay! Jeez... and the Annie nicker/head into chest part when you went back for her, broke my heart. How sweet! THAT is why I don't understand how people throw older horses away.

  11. Living in western WA, fire is highly unlikely but we could have a flood. We have a lot of big stock trailers on site, so moving them is fine if we have notice. If we don't and if I ever have to ride them out, I'm comfortable ponying pretty much all of the mares, but I don't currently have a well trained pony horse. That's a problem. I'd like to have at least one old polo pony or old ranch horse in my herd, for just that purpose (as well as dragging the naughty yearling around). I should also acquire a muzzle for the VLC so that in the event of an emergency, he could go into an undivided stock trailer with other horses. He isn't mean but he's a 3 year old stud...he chews on other horses.

  12. Step one of our Fire Plan is always to have created a fire safe area on the property.
    Trying to move horses at the last minute is a recipe for disaster.If you want to evacuate then go the day before.
    For 60 horses, our fire paddock is 5 acres of dirt, with no flammable material by way of fences, trees, bushes etc. Sited to have about 400m clear of trees etc on the prevailing wind side.
    Others I know have used a metal indoor arena with internal sprinkler system and sand arenas on the windward side.
    A heap of factors relating to topography, environment, weather go into the placing of the safe paddock so it will be different for each property.
    Whatever your plan, don't leave evacuation as your only option. Sometimes it just isn't possible.

  13. Apologies, last anonymous entry was me but as usual I'd forgotten my password.

  14. dante- huge point. We were trying to decide where to cram them all if I only have a few minutes. We could try the cattle pen, five acres of completely stripped dry lot, and go from there.
    If it comes down to only having time to get a few out I have to admit, I'd go for mine first.
    Luckily we have easy access to surrounding properties.
    I have to quit, this is giving me the heebee jeebies.

  15. Yes. Always makes me feel like vomiting. We based our plan on
    Hope that link works.
    If it doesn't, then try
    and search for "Horses and Bushfires" or follow Agriculture and Food, Information Notes, Animals and Livestock, Horses.
    The plan has worked through 2 major fires, one in which we were 100% burned out, with no injuries.

  16. Thanks again Dante, I forwarded that to the boss...great information!

  17. Thanks again Dante, I forwarded that to the boss...great information!

  18. Thanks. Hadn't really thought of an evac plan with our current barn where we board. Things in our favor, I live 1 mile away. Things not in our favor, we don't have a trailer, yet. If I had to evac our horse, I think I'd just bring him down and put him in the backyard. Really. I'm sure that's what I'd do. It's a 6' wooden privacy fence here. Not much of a yard, about the size of a small paddock but that's how new construction homes go.

    Again, thanks for the reminder!