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Mississippi Horse Park offers refuge in a storm
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hurricane Ivan in 2004 served as a wake-up call for many coastal horse owners who drove hundreds of miles to find refuge at the Mississippi Horse Park near Starkville.
The 2005 hurricane season is already validating predictions for another eventful year for Gulf Coast residents still looking at months of risks before the season concludes on Nov. 1.
"As Ivan approached, our biggest challenge was getting word to coastal horse owners that we were available to assist with stalls for animals and hook-ups for recreational vehicles," said Bricklee Miller, manager of the Mississippi Horse Park and Agricenter. The facility is located on Mississippi State University's South Farm.
"Now is the time for people to be making their evacuation route plans, and sites outside of the warning zone will fill up quickly when another large hurricane threatens," Miller said. "The horse park is an ideal facility -- far enough from the coast to be safe, but not too far to drive. 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."
Miller said the standard fee for boarding at the park is $10 per day per horse, and 47 RV lots are available for $15 per day. During Ivan, horse rates were reduced to $5.
"We want people to feel welcome and comfortable coming to this facility and to this community to ride out the storm," she said. "Last year, 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."
Hurricane Ivan served to make agricenter managers more aware of the role these facilities in Mississippi can play in assisting coastal residents and horse owners from other states. The American Red Cross actually set up their field offices in some of these facilities.
"These are among the most sturdy facilities available for animals. Most of Mississippi's agricenters are fairly new and high-quality facilities that will be comfortable for animals and people," Miller said. "The Mississippi agricenter managers' association Web site has maps and information on facilities at http://www.maam.info."
Dr. Carla Huston, an MSU College of Veterinary Medicine assistant professor of pathobiology and population medicine, serves on the Mississippi Animal Response Team. This newly formed team will respond 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," she 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 them 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 place 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 (lameness)."
For more advice on preparation needs and first aid kits, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association's Web site at http://www.avma.org and look for disaster preparedness information.