Preparing for the Unexpected

by Susan Dudasik, Salmon, Idaho
Bam, it can happen in a heartbeat. One second life is normal then you get a phone call, have an auto accident, get hurt at work or there’s an in-home accident and everything gets turned upside down. Things happen very quickly yet it seems to go in slow motion. Your life is about to change. There are 50 things you need to do all at once; call folks, make arrangements…feed the equines, dogs or cats. With today’s technology, lots of stuff can be done by cell phone and computers, but feeding and caring for the animals can’t. 
A few weeks ago there was a post going around on Facebook about putting a card in your wallet that simply stated: I have pets alone at home. Please contact ______ to check on them. I thought, “Wow, what a simple concept. I really should do that.”  But like most, I just scrolled past it and didn’t give it a second thought. Then about a week later I had a family emergency at the house. I was lucky that I had a few minutes to toss some hay and let the equines out right after the ambulance pulled away with my roommate who I am a caregiver for. Luckily the equines were taken care of for the morning and I was able to get my roommate settled in the hospital so I could get back to feed for the night. 
But what if I hadn’t been able to feed beforehand or what if I was away from the house? Who would I call to feed? What if I had been hurt and no one knew I had animals at home? Suddenly that little card mentioned on Facebook took on a whole new meaning.
So, are you really prepared for something like this? Is there someone who knows your equines and how you feed? If your equines are out on pasture 24/7 it might not be a big issue. But what about those in pens, paddocks or stalls?  Unfortunately most equine owners I know, including myself, tend to be very self-sufficient and don’t think about stuff like this. They are my equines, and I will feed them myself! For years I never went away, even just overnight because I would need someone to feed my “kids.” I’ve gotten better over the past few years, but I still have a detailed plan in place for that.
To put a basic plan in place, start by figuring out who to list as a contact person. I have Getta as my first emergency contact since she has her equines here and knows the routine. But, we also travel a lot together so I have a second person as backup to my back up. This is the information you need to put on your wallet card, their name and phone numbers. It’s best to have someone that knows your equines, not just the neighbor down the road. You want someone who knows the personalities of your herd and how they interact. If you’re in a situation where you need your emergency backup to feed, chances are they will arrive after your herd’s regular feeding time and the equines can get antsy waiting to be fed. If they’re in a group setting, there could be some kicking and pushing each other around or trying to run each other off the feed bins. You want someone who knows who acts like what in this situation. We have a pony that is extremely focused on eating and if you walk up near her she startles really easily. Everyone in the barn knows this about the pony and gets her attention before trying to walk near her if she has her head in the feed bin. This sounds like a simple common sense thing to do, but if the person feeding doesn’t know equines, they may get kicked or run over. One of the mules tends to be wary of strangers and will try to stay away from the person or dash out of the way. Another mule is very uncomfortable if she gets boxed in by the others and has to make a big dramatic “escape.”  Each one has their own personality and behaviors, especially at feeding time. So it’s important that the person feeding understands this, for their own safety, and the equines.
So, once you’ve selected your emergency feeders, there are a few things you can do to help them out. First, have an emergency number list in the barn. Be sure to list the vet’s numbers and anyone you might need, like the blacksmith, plumber, electrician and one of the neighbors. Also include your physical location and directions to your barn in case 911 needs to be called.
Next, make an equine page that includes a photo of each equine, their personality traits, any bad or weird habits and if they have any physical issues. We have one mare that is prone to mild colic and one mule that gets bug-eyed when the vet gives her a shot. Two of the others are masters at opening gates and one of them loves to go hide in the tackroom. She will simply turn around and walk out if you tell her to get out. But I’ve had folks panic and try to go in the tackroom with her to get her out, and then she panics and flies out. Little things like this should be noted to keep everyone safe.  
Finally make a Barn Notes page. On my page, I have a general feed schedule and list where the light switches and automatic waterer turn-off valves are located and where to find fuse box. 

With the start of a new year and lots of long indoor days, now might be a great time to work on something like this, because you never know when you will need it. And when things happen, it’s really comforting to know that your equines and other critters will be well cared for.