Category Archives: Emergency Preparedness

Fire and Rain—Are You and Your Trailer Evacuation-Ready?

The latest grim joke here in Sonoma County is that our new theme song is “Fire and Rain”—“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain”…

After deadly and devastating wildfires in October 2017, and now massive flooding in February 2019, local residents are getting a bit edgy about natural disasters.  The floods have proven far less deadly than the fires. But in both cases, animal owners were faced with getting their animals out—fast. If you own a horse, that means loading up and heading out. But are you ready?

That’s what I asked myself yesterday while watching the news and social media posts crop up. And the answer is—not really. My trailer has been sitting immobile by the barn for probably nearly a year. I haven’t done much riding, and when I do go out, it’s in my riding buddy’s trailer. But if I needed to get my horses out fast, that trailer would need to be ready to go. My buddy’s trailer will be full of her own horses. That’s something to think about if you don’t own a trailer because you know you can borrow one in a pinch. If it’s an evacuation situation, you may not have one available to you.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to evacuate, or help anyone else evacuate, this time. But today I pulled out my trailer checklist and starting doing a maintenance check. Physically going through that checklist surfaced a few “gotchas”. I’m sharing them here as an example of little things that trip you up, and why it’s best to do this check in a non-emergency mode, because often the most routine tasks don’t go quite as you expected.

An obvious first step is to check the tire pressure. I did finally buy a portable air compressor and had checked the tires when I got it a few months ago, but now I couldn’t remember what the PSI should be. It is on the tire sidewall (maximum recommended at cold temps) but the pressure listed on the sidewall is not necessarily the pressure that is correct for the vehicle—my car tires have a much higher PSI listed on the sidewall than the car manufacturer recommends (my old tires didn’t even list PSI—they listed KPa which means Kilopascal, and I had to look up how to convert it—here’s a link https://www.unitconverters.net/pressure/kpa-to-psi.htm).  I had done research months ago about what the PSI for my trailer should be, but did I put that information anywhere useful? Like in the tack compartment? Apparently not. Finally I remembered that my trailer service guy had told me to inflate them to 50 PSI (sidewall says 65). So lesson 1—know what your tire pressure should be and post it somewhere useful. Today I printed it out on a label maker and stuck it to the inside of the tack compartment—it won’t fade and the label is waterproof. Also (and maybe it’s just me that has trouble with this), make sure you know how to use the pressure gauge and the compressor’s air nozzle. I always feel like I’m letting more air out than I’m getting in. AND remember to check the spare. That was the only tire that needed to be inflated during today’s check.  One thing to look for is missing valve stem caps. It’s a good idea to buy a pack and keep them on hand. This is the one item in the automotive world where one size fits all.

While you’re checking the pressure, give the tires a good looking over. Check for uneven wear, shallow tread depth, and sidewall damage, including sun damage. UV rays can really destroy your tires, causing cracking and breakdown of the rubber. It’s recommended that tires be replaced every 7 years even if the tread is good, mostly because of sun damage. I bought tire covers for mine to protect them from sun damage and hopefully get some extra wear from them.

Check the lug nuts for loose or missing lug nuts. Speaking of which—do you have a lug wrench handy?

On to checking the lights. One of the marker light lenses had blown off. It’s one of the original lenses and wouldn’t stay on when I tried to put it back where it belonged. This isn’t the first time this has happened with this trailer, and finally I bought a 10-pack of both red and amber lenses, so I had one handy. The replacements seem to stay put a lot better than the originals. So think about getting some spares to keep on hand. Even if yours stay on, I’ve had horses damage them if they get a bit squirrely while loading or while tied to the trailer.

Some of my marker lights were out. Interestingly enough, I had checked them last summer and more of them were out then than were out today. Self-healing marker lights, apparently. Three of them were still out. I got one to come back on by removing the lens and tapping the light fixture and jiggling the bulb, and it finally came on and stayed on. The other two seem to be non-operational. My plan is to buy replacement bulbs and see if that does the trick and if not, I’ll have them fixed when the trailer goes in for routine maintenance.

Other things that can go wrong with lights are fuses and wiring. Know where your fuses are and what kind they are and keep some spares on hand. If it’s a wiring problem, well, I leave it to the experts. I can tell a blue wire from a red wire and that’s where my expertise ends.

On to the breakaway brake battery. This is your trailer’s “emergency brake”. A cable gets looped over your hitch and if the trailer comes loose from the tow vehicle, the cable pulls a pin on the trailer that activates a battery operated brake. The batteries tend to go dead if the trailer sits a while (most are hooked into the trailer wiring system and the battery will re-charge when the tow vehicle is running). The battery can be tested with a battery tester. Alternatively, try pulling the pin manually and listen for the click as the trailer brakes go on. You can also pull the pin and then (gently) see if the tow vehicle can move the trailer.

The battery for my system appeared (not surprisingly) to be dead. I was feeling pretty smug because I just got a trickle charger for this purpose. On to the next humbling experience: I had never actually looked at the battery. It’s been either charged up or replaced during the routine maintenance checks but I’ve never looked at it myself. I just assumed it was the same type of battery in my last trailer that could be trickle charged using clamps. But the battery for this trailer has slip on cables and neither of the attachments that came with the trickle charger appear to connect to it. So I still need to figure this one out but the batteries don’t seem to be that expensive so I may just replace it. Or drive around with the trailer empty and see if the battery charges up again–obviously not the best plan

Next step: check the trailer floor. I do this periodically and it’s always been fine, so I was a little surprised to see that the boards were wet under the mats, and in fact had some mud wedged between the mats and the trailer wall. The trailer is aluminum so fortunately there was no rust, and the floor boards don’t seem to have any rot in spite of being wet, but the mats are now pulled up and the floor is airing out. Thankfully the rains have stopped for a couple days so with luck those boards will dry out. Incidentally, if your trailer floor is aluminum, it still needs to be checked. If urine accumulates under the mat, the aluminum can corrode.

Also check the rubber mats on the sides of the trailer and make sure they are secure. I had a horse pull one part way down and rip it, and I know of one person who got to her destination to discover that the side mat had come down sometime during the haul. Fortunately, she had a calm horse who seemed more surprised than concerned, but he did have to straddle it during that trip.

My trailer has an additional “feature” (read: curse) in the form of a crank-up skylight in the tack compartment. Sounds nice, but in fact the plastic cover is definitely not UV resistant and doesn’t seem to last very long. I got it replaced 4 years ago but when I checked it today, sure enough, it has cracks in it, and I have water on my tack compartment floor. Replacement for this cover runs around $350 so that’s where the curse comes in. Note to self: see if it can be replaced with a metal cover. There is a window in the door so the extra light from the skylight isn’t all that significant. When the plastic cracks, it tends to shatter and blow off, so I’d like to spare the driver behind me from having it blown back at him. Plus I’m pretty sure that would get me a ticket.

Tomorrow I’ll be going over the trailer some more, checking the condition of the windows, vents, latches, etc. I leave tasks like packing the wheel bearings and checking the undercarriage to my trailer maintenance specialist.

Of course, your tow vehicle should also be gone over regularly as well. Some handy things to keep in your tow vehicle include a tool kit, flares or, preferably, weighted reflective triangles, extra fuses, hose repair tape, ties, jumper cables (be sure they are rated for your vehicle), flashlights, and chocolate (just seeing if you’re paying attention).

Things to keep in your trailer: extra halters and lead ropes, buckets, tire repair tools (I have a drive-on ramp instead of a jack for the trailer—if a tire goes flat, drive the good tire on the same side up on the ramp for easy changing https://amzn.to/2SChguq), duct tape, first aid kit (check contents regularly), nitrile gloves, baby wipes, a hose, fire extinguisher…the list goes on and on.

That’s just the list of trailer maintenance tasks. Other considerations that are equally important and topics in their own right:

  • Does your horse load willingly and calmly into the trailer? This is not an issue to tackle during an evacuation! Train your horse to do this before it becomes a non-negotiable. People have lost their horses because they couldn’t get them in the trailer in a pinch, or the horse became injured in a frantic scramble.
  • Can you competently maneuver your trailer? I have to admit I’m not really there. I can get the trailer where I want it, but it’s not a pretty process. There’s one for my “Goals” list.
  • Do you and your animals have “go packs” set up and ready to go? Do you have a plan for packing up feed, water, and other necessities?
  • Do you have a plan for identifying your horse if you become separated in an emergency? Microchipping, marking your horse with a livestock crayon, clipping, tagging, etc. I’ve seen examples of people marking their horses hooves with a marking pen, but that can get worn off or covered with mud so have a backup method.

This information sure doesn’t come under the heading of “fun with your horse”, but it does lead to peace of mind, and that’s worth a lot!

Leaving Your Horse in Someone Else’s Care

Vacation Beach

So you are planning a vacation without your horse. The first question that comes to mind is, WHY? Why would you do such a thing? Is it really a vacation if you aren’t packing up your rig and Fluffy the horse and heading cross-country to a clinic 1,000 miles away?

OK, I get it. Everyone needs some time away from the “kids”. And of course you have arranged for Fluffy to be fed, watered, and loved on a bit. What could go wrong?

Well…let me share with you the experience a friend had recently. This friend admires horses but has not spent time around them and is not comfortable or familiar with them. Nevertheless, some of her friends decided that she would be the ideal person to take care of their horse while they are away. They’ve made several trips and all went well. Until the last trip, when the horse came down with colic.

Now fortunately, my friend has spent enough time around the neighborhood horses that she did recognize that this was a problem. But guess what? a) She did not know the name of their veterinarian. b) When a veterinarian was tracked down, my friend did not know the age of the horse or any of its medical history. c) If the horse had needed to be transported, there was no way to make that happen. And the final insult, d), the veterinarian was not prepared to extend credit to the owners, and my friend, who has limited means, was forced to come up with payment for the treatment. And on top of all this, she is, of course, not comfortable with handling any horse, much less a sick one.

So there is the answer to “what could possibly go wrong?”. And in this case, the horse responded to treatment, it did not have to be transported, and the veterinarian was paid, so things could have been much worse.

So, when you leave town without Fluffy in tow, here are a few pointers:

-Get a qualified, experienced, reliable person to take care of your horse.

-Leave documents in the horse’s stable area noting the horse’s name, age, medical history, and who to contact in case of emergency. It’s a good idea to have this in the stable area ANYWAY as part of your emergency preparedness plan.

-Notify your veterinarian that you will be out of town and who will be tending your horse and how much authority they have to make decisions on your behalf.

-Make a payment arrangement in advance with your veterinarian–either they agree to extend credit, you leave them a deposit, or leave them with a credit card number.

-Make sure transportation is available for the horse. If you have a rig and the person tending the horse is qualified and comfortable with driving it, have it hooked up, fueled up, and pointing in the right direction. Otherwise, make arrangements in advance with someone who can provide transportation.

-Make sure your horse will load in the trailer!

-Leave your contact information. If you are truly going to be incommunicado, make sure the horse’s caregiver is capable of making tough decisions, or have a backup person available who is.

And once all this is done, NOW you may go on vacation!

Trailering Notes

I’ve had my horse trailer for several years and used it very little. I almost always ride with a neighbor who has a nicer rig and who likes to drive, so my rig is mostly parked. Recently, though, I’ve started taking some lessons and that means I trailer my horse to the lesson place, and the trailer has come out of retirement.

That means the trailer has needed some assessment and attention that, really, should be done on a regular basis whether or not it is being used. You can never tell when you will need it for an emergency, be it a trip to the veterinary hospital or an evacuation, so it should be ready for action at all times.

Some of the basics include pulling up the mats and checking the floors, making sure the lights and brakes are in working order (and the brakes are adjusted properly), checking the emergency brake battery, and of course, checking the tires.

Tires are a particular challenge for me because, honestly, I’ve never been good at using a tire gauge. The minute the thing starts hissing at me, I just want to pull it off the stem. OK, I’m a wuss. But I did manage to ignore the hissing and actually get it seated properly to get an accurate reading, which was way too low. Fortunately, I have one of those portable battery chargers/air compressors and was able to get the tires, (including the spare–don’t forget the spare!) properly inflated. Figuring out proper inflation was a little tricky. This is printed on the sidewall of the tires, and I was looking for a “PSI” number, but my tires happen to have the inflation printed in “KPa” and not “PSI” so it took a while to figure out what number I was looking for. Then I had to go online to figure out the conversion to PSI. By the way, if you divide your “KPa” number by 7, you get the approximate PSI. In my case, it was 60 PSI.

The tires on the trailer are the original tires but have very few miles on them so the tread is great. A bigger concern is the fact that the trailer sits still so much, and sun exposure tends to cause sidewall cracks. There are a few minor cracks and I’ll be looking into replacing the tires soon. I also purchased some tire covers online. These are pretty inexpensive (I think I paid about $35 to cover all the tires) and you can buy covers to cover the tandem wheels on the trailer. Be sure to check the size. I got the “Small” size which fits my 15″ rims. Of course, check the specs on the particular covers you are buying. The covers should protect the tires from sun exposure and extend their life. Remember to take them off before moving the trailer! Yes, that sounds obvious, but still…And if you think that the sidewalls won’t blow out from sitting too much, think again. A neighbor borrowed my little-used pickup and the sidewall blew out on the freeway on a rather high bridge.

In the event of a flat, there is tool that will make your life a lot easier. This is a drive-on tool that elevates the good tire on the same side of the trailer so that the flat can be removed, eliminating the need for a jack. The brand name of the one I bought is Trailer-Aid, which seems to be the industry leader. One tip I learned a long time ago for changing tires is to loosen the lug nuts BEFORE raising the tire off the ground. It can eliminate a lot of tire spinning while you are trying to get those lug nuts loose! Speaking of which, make sure you have a lug nut wrench that fits your wheels, and that you know where it is and how to get to it. Smart idea to practice ahead of time.

If all this seems boring and excessive, let me share a story. While riding at a local recreation area, we encountered an acquaintance whose trailer had gotten sideswiped while leaving the parking lot. It blew out one tire completely (fortunately, that was the worst damage). She limped the rig back to the lot and there she found out how many things can go wrong. She did not have a jack. Her spare tire was flat. She couldn’t get hold of her husband.

Fortunately, my riding companion is “Miss Preparedness” and had the Trailer Aid. We helped the woman find a lug nut wrench that worked with her tires, and then we were able to remove the flat. That’s when we found out the spare was flat. Enter the park ranger, who had the portable compressor in his vehicle. We were able to inflate the spare, which thankfully held air, change the tire, and get the rig rolling again. But it took a team of people with the right equipment. (By the way, if you think the Highway Patrol is going to live up to the “To Protect and To Serve” motto and help out with this operation, you are wrong. They are not allowed to assist. Especially the seemingly 12-year-old officer who showed up for this event).

If all this has put you in the mood for shopping, here’s a pic of the tire cover and of the Trailer Aid, both purchased through Amazon. The tire cover is surprisingly easy to put on and take off.

Trailer cover and TrailerAid

One other item I bought is a cap for the trailer plug. “Stuff” tends to get in the holes in the plug and I’ve know people who blew fuses while plugging in the trailer, usually because some bug has taken up residence inside the plug. Really slows you down, and not so good for the bug either. The cap can keep the plug dry and clean. And make the world a little safer for bugs.

Your Horse Needs a Passport

PassportThe last few months have served as a reminder that we should all be prepared for a disaster. Fires, earthquakes, flooding, hurricanes have enormous potential to create emergency situations for people, pets and livestock.  Horses present a unique set of problems due to their size. One of those problems is that, in case evacuation is necessary, the potential for separation from their owners is great.

One step you can take to help re-unite you with your horse in the unspeakable event of separation is to create a passport for your horse–in fact, a passport system. This would consist of an identification sheet for your horse, and smaller versions that can be attached to your horse in an emergency if there is potential for separation.

The contents of the information sheet should be detailed and include photos of your horse with yourself (to establish ownership). Photos should include details of any identifying marks such as brands, tattoos, scars, etc.

Seriously consider microchipping your horse and registering the microchip. There are a variety of registries. See the previous post in this blog for more details. The microchip number should be included on the information sheet and also on the passport.

Other information on the ID sheet should include the horse’s name (registered and stable name), registration number, your name, address and phone number, medical information. Coggins information including a the certificate should be placed in a plastic ziploc bag with the ID sheet (DO NOT keep the Coggins certificate with the horse in case of separation–it can be used to claim ownership).

Some of the information on the ID sheet should be on a smaller tag that can be attached to the horse if separation seems possible. This tag should include a photo, the horse’s name, your name and contact information, and medication information. This can be inserted into a luggage tag and braided into the horse’s mane or tail. It’s a good idea to practice this technique in advance so you’re sure it is secure!

Other ways to mark your horse for identification in an emergency include using a livestock-marking crayon to write your information on your horse’s coat, using clippers to shave your phone number onto the horse, marking hooves with permanent color marker (“my horse has blue hooves”), leg bands, neck collars such as those used in broodmare operations, and halter tags. If you put a halter on your horse in an emergency, leather works best as it will break if the horse gets caught in something.

The ID sheet and tags should be laminated to protect them in a chaotic emergency situation. Store them where you know you can get to them easily in an emergency! Review them periodically to see if the data needs to be updated–put a review date on your calendar every few months.

Nobody wants to think about being separated from their animals and you may think you would simply never leave them, but it’s impossible to anticipate what may happen in an emergency. Knowing you have a plan in case of separation is a part of your emergency plan designed to give you some peace of mind.

Microchip Day!

Today the horses got microchipped, part of our emergency preparedness plan. This is a good idea for all your companion animals and involves implanting a readable device under the skin which can be scanned for identification purposes in the event of separation during a disaster, or theft.

Once chipped, you will get a bar code label with the chip number on it–you will probably get several copies. One should go in the horse’s permanent file, one can be used to make a horse “passport” for the barn or to take traveling, and another can be put in your emergency evacuation kit.

There are various organizations which will register the chip number. Unfortunately, there is no “one” central database. Building a local database would be a good suggestion for your county’s emergency services unit!

The largest independent registration for equine microchips appears to be the Equine Protection Registry through Microchip ID Equine. You can register your horse’s microchip at this site for a fee of $19.50.  I can also register that microchip with the same registry that has my cat’s info, so if you already have a microchipped pet, check with that registry. It’s convenient to have all that info in the same place! The cat’s registry is Petlink. There is a fee of $19.99, which seems to be standard.

The microchips give us a bit more peace of mind about our horses’ safety. The only horse who did not get a chip is my Thoroughbred, Dublin, who has a legible lip tattoo through the Jockey Club. If your horse has a tattoo, you may not need a microchip–but be sure that the tattoo is legible and your horse will allow someone to look at it! And that you are the registered owner of the horse.