Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Horses in a Hurricane, a little late - pics to follow

I wrote this last Tuesday night, when we were on day 2 of no power. Power came back to the barn on Thursday, but not to the house until Saturday, with internet restored yesterday.  Tethering my phone to the computer gave me limited access, but not enough to blog, so here's the better-late-than-never update on how we fared.

With Sandy’s untimely visit, Facebook abounds with photos of the incredible amount of destruction brought by Sandy’s torrential rain combined with the cold front.  With all the hype the media has given this storm (I suspect because reporters are tired of reporting about the election…), many friends and family have checked in to see how we managed on the farm. For readers who keep horses, this post is going to be kinda dull, but for my rare non-horse-keeping readers, who we will now refer to as NHKs, well, this blog is for you. 

For starters, PA is not really known for hurricanes. Usually by the time they get to us, it’s just a nasty storm with a lot of wind. That being said, we have our fair share of weather-related disasters, usually blizzards, and with so many animals dependent on us, we learn to be prepared. 

The big concern for horse owners during a natural disaster, well, really anytime, is colic.  Colic, for the NHKs, is the biggest fear of horse owners. If you, as an NHK, want to see looks of horror and grief, ask your horse keeping friends about it. But be prepared to hear all of the horror stories of all of their horse friends, who of course you haven’t met, who has lost a horse to this horrible thing. Yes, horses really do die from a belly ache. 

Horses, like us, have only one chamber in their stomachs, so are prone to all of the same GI issues as humans – gas pain, ulcers, constipation, etc. But with horses, with ¼ mile of intestine wrapping around inside of their body cavity with just one attachment spot, all GI issues are a bit more volatile. A horse’s intestine, when under stress, can wrap itself around into all kinds of inappropriate knots.  

The best defense horse owners have against colic is hydration and consistency.  The first item, hydration, becomes much more complicated during a natural disaster.

In pretty much any natural disaster, on a farm, loss of power is a given. In the country, this creates a huge problem—no power means no water. For townies, if you lose power, your water still runs. Not so in the country, as wells require electricity.  And horses drink a LOT of water-on average 15 gallons a day.  Hurricanes come with lots of water, so barring trees falling on buildings or fence lines, a minor hurricane can be easier to deal with than a blizzard. 

To prepare for our water shortage, Doug put water barrels at the ends of the downspouts.  All told, we can collect over 300 gallons of rainwater from the barn roofs.  Plus, prior to Sandy’s arrival, he made sure all of the troughs in the fields were full, in case we needed to bucket-brigade from there.  Several times a day, Amy, Maddy or I faithfully make sure all stall water buckets are full to the top, using water from the rainwater catches, so the catches could refill.  Yes, that means I can’t keep my normally high standards of super-clean-or-else water buckets, but it is a hurricane, I do have to let my standards drop a little.

Once hydration is established, horse owners turn their attention to thier next best defense --consistency. Consistent turnout (NHK translation - time in the grassy fields), consistent diet, consistent exercise, consistent temperatures. But natural disasters, by their very nature, disrupt all consistency. So we do our best to keep the things we can control as consistent as possible. 

Turnout isn’t really an option, and because of that, their diets are missing several hours of grazing. But with our indoor arena (NHK translation – huge, warehouse-style room with a sand floor), we can at least keep them moving.  So once chores were done (by flashlight – we have an impressive flashlight collection these days), we got all of the horses in the arena a bit.  The bare minimum was 20 minutes of hand walking, and everyone pitched in to help.  Some of the boarders were still house-bound by downed trees, but the boarders that could make it happily walked, lunged (NHK translation – human stands in the middle holding a really long rope and the horse makes circles around the human), or rode an extra horse while they were at the barn.  All the horses have been super, no loony bucking or goofing off under saddle. On the lunge line or loose in the arena, well, that was another story.  Harry, at the ripe old age of 4 months, is playful on a normal day. His acrobatics in the arena have been a source of much laughter for all of us.

The rain is supposed to stop sometime Wednesday, so hopefully the horses can get back to their normal routine on Thursday.  Peco still has no idea when they will restore our power, so for now the house is running on our generator. It powers the furnace, the house well (we can schlep water over to the horses once the rain catches run out), and the living room outlets.  The barn doesn’t have a generator, which means no lessons once the sun goes down.  So tonight I enjoyed a couple of good beers, had some pulled pork BBQ that Doug had made ahead, and watched the extended version of Lord of the Rings.  Then attempt to tether my phone to my computer to borrow some internet, and post this masterpiece. 

Stay dry, and enjoy your running water for me.

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