Gustav Evacuation Plans: Mississippi Horse Park Open for Storm Avoidance

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Here he comes.

Three days ago I was talking to someone at Louisiana State University who couldn't get a hotel room in Baton Rouge for his parents...because all the hotel rooms in the area have been booked by coastal residents hoping to avoid Hurricane (or Tropical Storm, depending on his mood) Gustav when he crosses the Gulf of Mexico on Monday.

And if he goes toward Texas instead of Louisiana, they'll just cancel the rooms.

But what about the horses? Are horse owners in the coastal zones planning to evacuate? Which way should they head? According to today's projected route, horse owners would be advised to head east of Louisiana, not west. You may remember that Katrina sent horses toward Texas as the Mississippi coast flooded. And the 1-2 punch of Rita hit west of New Orleans.

Many coastal horse owners will seek refuge at the Mississippi Horse Park near Starkville.

"We expect to see a lot of repeat customers from past hurricane evacuations," said Bricklee Miller, manager of the Mississippi Horse Park and Agricenter. The facility is located on Mississippi State University's South Farm.

"The horse park is an ideal facility -- far enough from the coast to be safe, but not too far to drive," Miller said. "It has excellent stalls, arenas, RV hook-ups, showers and bathrooms. It is also a location that is very hospitable to other animals fleeing the storm with families."

The horse park has 300 stalls and 150 RV sites.

"We want people to feel welcome and comfortable coming to this facility and to this community to ride out the storm," she said. "In past years, local horse owners donated hay and assisted with animal care. Our intention is to expand our care for future refugees by providing snacks and a meal each day."

Dr. Carla Huston, an MSU College of Veterinary Medicine associate professor of pathobiology and population medicine, serves on the Mississippi Animal Response Team. This team responds after disasters and in emergency situations to assist with animal care and recovery.

"If emergency management is recommending people leave the coast because of pending weather, horses and other animals need to evacuate, also," Huston said. "When a hurricane approaches, horse owners want to have their animals in the first wave of refugees leaving the warning area to avoid getting caught in traffic and risking overheating trucks pulling trailers."

Certain measures should be taken before evacuation orders are given. Animals should have current tetanus shots, and owners should have medical kits packed with supplies for treating cuts and abrasions. Have paperwork such as Coggins tests, photos and descriptions of each animal handy.

"When evacuation orders are given, all people should leave. It's not unusual to have to leave some animals behind during an evacuation. Make sure they have at least a week's worth of food and water and some sort of identification on them," Huston said. "Some people spray paint phone numbers on horses and livestock or use permanent markers on hooves. Identification tags can be woven into the mane to help reunite animals with owners if fencing is damaged."

Secure all barn windows and doors. Depending on the structure, turning horses out to pasture could be the safest thing for them. Animals will still be at risk from flying debris, and they will need to have access to water and food.

When horses are taken to unfamiliar pastures, they may need help seeing wire fencing. If caught in stormy weather, horses may need some type of eye protection to keep them from becoming frightened and to protect their eyes from debris.

"Most people do not have horse blinders, but other materials can be adapted for that purpose. I've seen handlers use life jackets and bras to cover horses' eyes," Huston said. "During a time of stress, horses will be prone to specific types of injuries and illnesses including cuts and abrasions, colic and laminitis."

Thanks to Linda Breazeale of Mississippi State University Office of Agricultural Communications for her help with this post.