Tis the Season: Lightning Can Kill Horses

Thunderstorms come rumbling through here with regularity this time of year. Something happens when the big banks of thunderheads build up over the land and move toward the coast here in Massachusetts. I’m not a meteorologist, but I think the cooler air over the ocean kicks up squalls and makes the chaotic thunderstorms pack more punch–or at least make more noise–when they run into a new, third air mass.

I worry a lot about people out on boats when the storms hit, because I’ve been caught out there myself and it’s terrifying. But I also think about horses and I’d like to read some research on horse behavior to see how horses instinctively react to the electric feeling in the air that precedes a storm, and to the storm itself.

There’s a lot of talk about how horseshoes naturally conduct electricity and can attract lightning to a horse, such as when a horse is standing under a tree and the lightning passes through the tree and its roots to kill the horse.

I believe that barefoot horses also are susceptible to lightning strikes, but what about horses with rubber shoes or hoof boots? Will those act as insulators?

Last Friday, lightning struck and killed four horses, including a four-week-old colt, in Leesburg, Georgia. The horses were huddled under a tree during the storm when the lightning killed all but the oldest mare.

I’ll be writing more about lightning this summer. Please share your experiences with me by clicking on the “comments” button below.

I know that Dr Nicholas Dodman, the famous animal behaviorist at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, has done research and provides treatment for horses that are traumatized by the sound of thunder.

And does your barn have lightning rods? I love driving through the New England countryside and seeing the old isinglass bulbs on old fixtures that were often hand-forged by local blacksmiths. But I don’t see them on new barns. Maybe modern electricians can “ground” the wiring but what about lightning danger? Can someone tell me why lightning rods aren’t in use anymore?

What’s your favorite lightning-strike story?




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