by  Nicole  Kitchener

From  "Horse  Canada"  -  Nov/Dec  2009

Prepare for the worst

Mother Nature can dish out,

then hope for the best.

When we think of natural disasters, what usually come to mind are tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes and floods - occurrences that generally take place during periods of relatively warm Canadian weather.

However, catastrophic disasters can happen in winter, too. Take for instance, the massive January 1998 ice storm that hit eastern Ontario and Quebec. With its large geographical spread, duration and high amounts of freezing rain - nearly five million homes (16 per cent of the Canadian population) lost power and in some areas, power wasn't restored for weeks. Overall, 28 people died. Rural areas were particularly hard hit. The same 'el nine' weather pattern that brought the ice of '98 is forecast to strike again this winter.

And disasters don't have to be widespread, to be calamitous. They can affect your property alone. In March 2008, an indoor arena collapsed under the weight of snow at Equidae Stables near Ottawa, ON, while snow was being cleared from the roof. Although no humans or horses were hurt in the incident, it was a disaster, to be sure.

Heavy snow, wind and ice accumulation can wreak havoc on power lines and poles and cause trees and branches to crash down on roads, buildings and fences. Power, landline and cell phone services can be cut off, leaving you without communications for days. Electric gates, fencing and waterers won't function, and neither will the electric pump that pulls water out of your well.

With roads potentially blocked with snow and/or debris, you might not be able to get off your property; likewise, anyone else, such as emergency crews or veterinarians won't be able to get in.

Factor in cold temperatures and the situation can become extremely grim.

Horse owners must be prepared for disaster no matter what the season, but winter does present some unique considerations.


During the 1998 ice storm, rural inhabitants without generators found themselves in desperate situations. As the crisis went on, those with portable generators couldn't find enough gas to operate the machines because they couldn't get off their properties, supplies had diminished, or pumps were inoperable without electricity.

A generator can be a godsend during and after a big storm. It can provide enough electricity to power the essentials such as water pumps, appliances and lights. Just make sure you have enough fuel safely stored to keep it running for a while.

There are two types of generators: 

1. Portable

* generally gas, natural gas or diesel powered for temporary applications, 

* quick to set up and run, can be noisy

* Safety cautions:  to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning should never be used indoors, 

in partially enclosed spaces or beside windows, doors or vents; 

pay strict attention to installation and operation rules

2. Standby

* permanently installed by a professional,

* hard-wired into an electrical system,

* detects electrical outages and switches on automatically,

* more powerful than portable generators

• $1,500-$15,000

The size of the generator required is critical. To figure this out, you must determine the total wattage of the items you'll need to power using the generator. To run the essentials of a house and barn, plan for the expense of a machine that can deliver 10,000 watts or greater.

Prepare for the worst

Bring horses in from far-flung pasture and paddocks well before a storm or bad weather. You might not be able to get to them during a storm, plus, it could be dangerous for you and the animals to trudge through deep and drifted snow or over ice. Depending on the circumstances, you might have to face fallen branches or other debris.

It's commonly suggested by disaster authorities that we keep at least three day's of supplies available for ourselves, but, as past experience has proven, that might not be enough. In the 1998 ice storm, for example, people were without power for weeks on end. In winter, think longer-term emergency coverage.

Keep at least two week's worth of horse feed on hand in airtight, waterproof containers. The supply will have to be regularly rotated to prevent spoilage, but at least you won't be stuck without it if you're stranded on the farm or delivery people are unable to get out due to transportation, distribution and stocking difficulties.

But, if worse comes to worst, enough good quality hay will get your horses through a dire situation.

Medications and supplements also need to be stockpiled, as veterinarians might not be able to refill a prescription for some time.


I don't remember much about the television show, 'Little House on the Prairie', but one episode that always stuck in my mind was when Pa Ingalls had to go from the family's little log cabin to the barn during a blizzard. I don't know why poor Pa was forced to make the trek, but he had the foresight to tie a rope from one building to the other. This is a good idea, as I found out during my first Maritime winter on my own horse farm. During a 2004 blizzard that has been (affectionately?) called "White Juan" after its fall predecessor, Hurricane Juan, I lost my way from house to barn - about a 100-metre span. Trudging through snow that was above my waist, I couldn't see for all the flakes and wind. I eventually fell, flailing in the snow, exhausted. I wasn't even going the right way. I was headed instead for a huge field, not the barn at all. Luckily, I was able to catch a glimpse of our big barn light and made my way to safety, warmth and my horses greeting me. But now, every time I head to the barn during a snowy winter's night, I think of Pa and his rope and my own frightening experience. Important lessons learned from a 1970s drama.


Prepare for the Worst