Dr. Tania Sundra

18 November 2019

Horses & Bushfires

We are in bushfire season.

The greatest danger for fires in the southwest of WA is between late spring and early autumn when fuels have dried after the winter rains. Heat troughs intensifying near the Pilbara, with surges of hot air from the interior produce dangerous fire weather conditions.

Each farm should have a written disaster plan to optimize safety and survival of all animals. Once a fire is already approaching your property, it is unlikely that you will be able to safely move your horses. On days with a high fire danger rating you should practice floating your horse, having other people catch, halter and float your horse, move your horse around the property so they know where internal gates are and remove all flammable items including rugs, fly veils, boots, halters and head collars.

If an extreme fire weather announcement is made you should consider moving your horses to a safer location nearby.

Areas to temporarily move your horse include:
· a neighbour or friend’s property that is safer than yours
· local showgrounds
· saleyards
· racetracks
· pony club grounds.


Identify a Safe Place :

Walk around your property and choose a safe area where horses can be placed if it is not possible or practical to relocate them. The area should:
· be as large as possible. This may be created by opening gates to several paddocks.
· be closely grazed or a large well fenced sand area that does not have any trees or buildings nearby that will burn easily.
· have a dam with easy access.

Identify several routes to get the horse to its safe place from your property, as it will depend where the fire is

Relocation Plan

If your plan is to relocate your horse you need to make arrangements ahead of time for a place to temporarily relocate your horse. If you cannot take your horse to family or friends, contact your local ranger when writing your bushfire plan to get advice on where there may be emergency paddocks or stables in your area. These safe places cannot be guaranteed, as conditions could change on the day, so make sure you also have a back-up plan. Decide which horses you will move. Ensure your horse float is roadworthy and ready to make the trip.


· Identification: Microchipping and registration with the Australian Animal Registry is the simplest way to ensure your horse can be identified if found loose or seized by rangers.

· A luggage tag with the horse name and owner’s phone number braided into tail could also be helpful.

· Photos of each horse as proof of ownership highlighting obvious identifying marks. Again, microchopping is the simplest way of permanently identifying your horse with the owner’s details provided those details are registered with a national registry such as the Australia Animal Registry (AAR)

· Make sure your horses are float trained and if the fire is at night you need to be confident that you will be able to move the horses in the dark.

· Vaccination: All horses should have a tetanus toxoid vaccine within the last year.

Emergency First Aid Kit

o Bandages (leg wraps and quilts)

o Antiseptics

o Scissors/Knife

o Topical antibiotic ointments

o Flashlight and extra batteries

o Extra halters/lead ropes

o Clean towels

o Fly spray

Emergency Tools

o Chain saw / fuel

o Hammer/nails

o Fence repair materials

o Wire cutters / tool box / pry bar

o Fire Extinguisher

o Duct tape


Once a bushfire starts visibility is poor and travelling can become dangerous. Horses can panic in a float filled with smoke or when around the loud noises of sirens, which is why it is important to move or prepare horses before the fire is close.

If it is unsafe to move the horses and they are left in a large paddock, they should have plenty of water and three days worth of food. However, they may suffer minimal burns from galloping through flames or around a fire’s edge and from standing on previously burnt areas that are still hot.

After the fire front has passed and it is safe, check on your horses to reassure them and calm them down. If they do have burns, call a vet and start to administer first-aid if advised to do so by a veterinarian. This could include:

– sponging affected areas with cold water
– if legs are affected, try to stand your horse in a bucket of cold water
– anti-inflammatory first-aid.

Continue to monitor your horses over the next few days as some symptoms can take a while to appear.


· Carefully inspect each horse for injury and burns. Seek veterinary attention for burns immediately.
· Check the paddock for trees and limbs likely to fall.
· Do not enter or have horses in paddocks with fallen power lines or damaged power poles.
· Some tree roots may burn underground creating extremely hot pits that could cause burns if stepped in.
· Getting horses off hot ground is important to prevent laminitis
· Check that their water is not contaminated and that they have food
· Check that fencing is safe
· If your horse is missing, contact local authorities.

Do not lock your horses in a stable, holding yard or similar environment. The horse may panic and hurt themselves if confined. The building may also catch on fire.

Do not let your horses out on the roads as they will be in more danger from traffic and fire.

A horse’s natural instinct is to run from danger including bushfire and they will quickly move to burnt ground to survive.