The question of what to do with your horses when thunderstorms are forecast has been debated many times over by horsemen of all kinds. Each has probable safety factors and inherent risks.
On the positive side, stalling your horses in a solidly built structure will keep them dry, away from direct lightning strikes, and possibly out of the direct line of blowing debris. Horses pastured in small paddocks or pastures situated on hillsides with no low gullies, may be safer weathering the storm in their stall.
The negative side of stalling prevents horses the chance to run away from potential danger. Straight line winds or a tornado may damage a barn so badly that horses stalled within will be injured. Lightning may strike the barn, trapping horses inside with no way to escape. High strung horses that are very reactive to loud noises can panic if enclosed in a stall or barn and will injure themselves or others trying to flee. Stalling isolates horses from each other and may add to their stress.
Lightning rods can be installed on your barn to directly ground a strike and prevent a deadly barn fire. Giving your horses grain or hay to eat to keep them “busy” may calm them while the storm shakes, rattles, and rolls through.
The pros for leaving your horses outside during severe weather include the innate ability for them to take care of themselves. Horses are very weather aware and will position themselves where they need to be when storms move through. Run in sheds allow pastured horses the opportunity to seek shelter and also the freedom to flee to safety if instincts tell them to run. Larger pastures, with room to run, offer horses the chance to get out of harm’s way and to seek refuge from the wind in a lower lying area or from flooding by moving to higher ground. Often times, horses left in their pastures are completely unscathed, without a scratch, when severe weather plows through.
The cons for horses left to bare the elements could be increased risk of injury from flying debris. Horses occupying small pastures or paddocks may not have anywhere to run and may panic, running through fencing in their efforts to flee. Hillside pastures may increase the risk of lightning strikes.
You can enhance the safety of your paddocks and pastures to withstand severe weather assault by installing grounding lightning rods to your ground. In the event of a strike, the lightning will hit the rod and not your horses. Remove any items that may be blown about by high winds and become injurious projectiles. If you do leave your horses out in pasture and know severe weather is coming, it may be a good idea to “band” your contact information into their manes, in the event pasture fencing is damaged and your horses run loose.
While you may feel the most important thing is to keep your horses safe, the major thing to remember is to keep yourself safe. Do not put yourself at risk to protect your horses. There is only one you!
Regardless of what side of this debate you may stand, it all boils down to your comfort level of knowing where your horses are during a storm. Once the wind and rain subsides, the clouds clear, and the sun begins to shine, concerned owners will do a headcount of their horses no matter where they rode out the storm.
By: Darlene M. Cox