Horse safety during bushires

Four workers from overseas died trying to save a horse from the recent bushfires north of Esperance, on WA’s south coast. They  were towing the horse in a horsefloat.

ATTEMPTS TO HASTILY EVACUATE HORSES by foot or by float when fire is in the area have always been more likely to end in disaster and death than in escape: for owners and horses. Stock owners should put as much early planning and preparation into bushfire protection for their animals and for themselves and their homes.

2014-02-09 Gisborne horses 2

This man (wearing no protective clothing) and the horse are in great danger.

* Stables of brick, stone or concrete. These need roof and perimeter sprinklers, with vegetation and debris cleared all round for 10 m.

WHEN newcomers to the Maryborough district learned that a major grass fire was in their area, on 14 January 1985, they put their horses in an incomplete double-brick stable complex.  They removed straw from the floor, thoroughly soaked the timber doors, filled the horses’ water trough and left them. After the fire had passed, the contented horses appeared as if nothing had happened.

* A refuge paddock. This needs a bare earth area beneath a large, spreading, fire resistant shade tree (20–30 m bare if there are other trees in the paddock; 10 m bare if only grass in the paddock), with a water trough, filled daily. The earth of the refuge area needs to be kept bare all summer – no grass or other vegetation on it at all. Horses usually have the ‘horse-sense’  to go to the bare area if the grass of its paddock ignites.

stock Horse in safe refuge paddock

This horse in its bare-ground refuge paddock is well protected from a grass fire. (Photo courtesy of CFA, Victoria.)

EXTRA PROTECTION can be given with a radiant heat shield wall of stone, concrete or even galvanised iron or fire-resistant hedge on the fireward side of the bare area. A shield approximately 4 m long and at least as high as the horse will shelter the horse’s body from the radiant heat of any approaching flames.

ON A DAY OF BUSHFIRE THREAT, remove metal shoes, rugs (unless specially designed protective rugs), fly-veils and halters(metal buckles burn flesh and plastic melt), clear the straw from stable floors, soak timber doors and fill water troughs.

FOR FULL DETAILS on care for animals before and after bushfire, see The Complete Bushfire Safety Book
and its CFA endorsed ready reference Essential Bushfire Safety Tips

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2 Responses to Horse safety during bushires

  1. Joan, I have been a long time supporter of your straightforward and easy to understand advice regarding surviving bushfires but I am disappointed that you are perpetuating the myth of “removing the halter” because the buckles will burn flesh and the plastic melt.

    Firstly if the buckle on a halter gets hot enough to burn the flesh of a horse, the horses is well cooked before, by radiant heat. Just try laying a halter across your bare leg and stand close enough to an open fire – and remember that a horse’s skin is as thin as a humans.

    Secondly, I would not leave a halter on a horse normally, but if my horse property was threatened by a bushfire and there was a chance that the horses would escape the property during or after the fire then a horse wearing a halter is much more easily bought under control.

    That agencies have been pushing these misinformations despite being asked to reassess is really disappointing. I hope you will reconsider your advice.


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