horses and fire

Do you know what you will do to look after your horse in a bushfire?

With the season already upon us, now is the time to make those plans.
Here are some key points for you to consider.

Planning before there is a fire near you.
As with your general bush fire plan, you should make a decision to stay or go early? Your own personal safety is paramount.

Talk with all members of your family about your plan so they are familiar with it and understand their roles. Practice and revise your plan before each bushfire season.

Ensure your horses are readily identifiable - have a record of their brands and microchip numbers. Keeping photos with this information also can help identify your horse. Keep this record electronically in the cloud. (In case in an extreme event your computer and paper files are lost in a fire or not accessible) Make sure your Property Identification Code (PIC) details relevant to your state are current.

Do you have enough feed and water for at least three days?

Ensure you have sufficient Veterinary medical supplies to treat injured horses. Discuss with your vet well in advance what you may need as a basic emergency kit.

If you have horses on agistment, ensure that the property owner has a bush fire plan for your horses, find out what it says and know if you are expected to do anything. If there is no bush fire plan in existence, engage with the property owner about creating one.

Prepare a “safe” paddock.

Plan where you will put your horses when a fire event is in your area. Evacuation may not be safe or possible so this might be vital for their survival.
A safe paddock should be:

  • One that is large and heavily grazed.

  • Is easy to access and well fenced.

  • Has access to a water source that does not rely on electricity. Also consider what you

    will do if you have plastic water tanks and water troughs.

  • Is not surrounded by heavy vegetation.

  • Ideally, it is a paddock your horses are familiar with.

  • Ensure that the paddock is easily accessible - gates not locked or blocked in anyway.

  • Tell your neighbours what your plans are for your horses in the event you are not


    In the event of a fire threat - high or catastrophic/Code red fire danger days

    If your plan is to leave

    If you plan to transport your horses to another area, do this well before fire or smoke arrive. Travelling on roads with horses in a float or horse truck in the midst of a fire emergency can be very dangerous to yourself and emergency services.

    As part of your plan you would have already identified and arranged a place to move your horses which is better prepared than your own – or out of the immediate fire danger area. This could include:

  • A neighbour or friend’s property

  • Local showgrounds

  • Saleyards

  • Racetracks

  • Pony club grounds

  • Commons
    You will need to check that these places are open and willing to take horses prior to arriving.

    You may also be expected to stay with your horse in some places. Arrange a group strategy with friends, other agistees or club members.

    If your fire plan is to stay - Move your horses to the safe paddock area early – it can be dangerous to yourself, your horses and emergency services if you are trying to move horses that are panicked in the midst of a fire emergency.

    Remove anything from your horses which might be flammable or melt- rugs, halters, fly veils.

    Write your contact information on your horse - on their hooves with marker pen or on their body. Remember to have your address or property name included – in a fire emergency it is highly likely that mobile communications will be compromised.

    If there is time, plait and tie up their mane and tail to reduce the chance of them catching fire.

    Check that water troughs are full. Fill additional containers as a back-up. You may lose power and water supply during a fire emergency. Plastic troughs and water tanks may melt.

Open any internal gates to give your horses as much available space as possible. Ensure thathorses can’t get trapped with paddock layout.

Do not turn your horses out on the road, they will be a danger to themselves and emergency vehicles.

After the fire has passed

When the fire threat has passed, inspect your animals for burns or injuries.

A horse suffering from burns or smoke inhalation or both requires prompt veterinary attention. Until the vet arrives, you can:

  • Hose affected areas with cold water or sponge if hosing is not available

  • If legs are affected, try standing your horse in a bucket of water

  • Any first-aid administered should be anti-inflammatory.

    Continue to monitor horses closely for several days as some injuries (to feet especially) may not be immediately obvious.

    Move horses away from hot ground as this can lead to further injuries including laminitis.

    Look for hot spots in the paddock such as tree roots which may still be burning and could cause injuries to feet and legs.

    Check that the water supplies are adequate and haven’t been contaminated by falling ash orfire-fighting foam.

    Have a look at fencing and shelters and any other structures in the paddock to ensure their integrity.

    Do not feed hay on burnt ground covered in ash if possible.

    Preparation is key for the survival of your horses in the event of a bushfire. There are many additional resources available to help you and tailor this information to your area. Contact your local Rural Fire or CFA Services and State Primary Industry Departments.

    Information for this article has been sourced from -

    Lecture by Courtney Stevens, veterinary nurse, farmer and former RSPCA inspector, at the St Albans Rural Fire Service “Get Ready”weekend October 19.
    NSW Department of Primary Industries publication – “Emergency Management – Horse Safety in Disasters”
    South Australian Country Fire Service publication - “Looking after Horses in Bushfires”

    NSW RFS and NSW Fire and Rescue publication - “Information for Rural Landholders and Farmers – Livestock and Large Animals” Victorian CFA publication – “Horses and Bushfires”