What Should You Do with Horses During a Storm?

December 1, 2021

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

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Here in Oklahoma, we experience some scarily powerful storms. Thunder and lightning, tornadoes and hail, we see it all.  And while we can cozy up inside and wait these storms out, our horses are not so lucky. So, what should you do with horses during a storm?

What are the best ways to keep horses safe and calm when the weather is anything but that? Today we are answering some common questions about what to do with your horse during storms.

Table of Contents:

What should you do with your horses during a storm? 

When heavy rain comes, what do you do with your horses? What about thunder and lightning? 

It’s important that every horse owner can answer these questions. But, those answers will very much depend on where you live and what types of storms you are preparing for. For example, do you live in an area that experiences hurricanes? Do you live in an area with tornadoes? 

Finding the best strategy to combat the storms in your region really depends upon your horse itself. Plus, it depends on the layout of your property. Knowing how prone your property is to lightning strikes and how your horse reacts during storms will help you map out your safest plan of action for your horse during a storm.

Know your horse’s tendencies

If you’ve never noticed your horse acting anxious when thunder rolls in, it won’t hurt to leave them outside in storms. (So long as they aren’t too severe, of course.) Your horse might even enjoy a nice rain to cool them off and wash away pesky bugs.

Do be aware of how heavy the rains are during storms. You’ll probably want to bring your horses into the stables if the rain is really coming down. This goes especially for any young foals.

If your horses are a little more skittish when it comes to storms, it’s typically best to keep them somewhere they feel safe. While one horse may feel the most comfortable waiting out a storm in a barn stall (perhaps next to a calmer equine companion), another horse could feel trapped.  If your horse seems more nervous in its stall while it’s storming, try bringing them into a smaller but secure paddock.

It’s difficult to soothe a horse who isn’t a fan of storms. The best way to help is simply to put them in a safe and secure place where they can stay until the storm passes. Your horse may even become less anxious after spending a few storms in a safe place with a calm horse from your herd. 

Even if you bring your horses in during a storm, lightning can still be a threat. Below you’ll find out how to protect your horses from lightning, whether you keep them in the barn or turn them out.

How to protect your horse farm from lightning

Is your barn protected from lightning? Are your paddocks safe from lightning? Lightning safety is another topic where it’s important to know your horses’ habits and the lay of your land. 

While the risk of your horses being seriously injured by lightning is pretty low, there are some things you should assess when it comes to your barn and your land. Also be sure to check out our article on equine insurance to learn more about protecting your horse when serious injuries happen.

Protecting your horse shelters from lightning during storms

For starters, you should make sure your shelters are truly a safe place for your horses to stay while they wait for thunderstorms to pass. A lightning storm’s dream would be a tall, isolated, metal barn right next to a body of water. Your goal? Make sure those dreams never come true. 

It’s best to make your shelters blend in with the topography of your land. For example, a small, isolated shelter is a magnet for lightning. A better alternative would be to build your shelter around a group of similar sized trees or other structures. Also look to build in low spots of your land (but not so low that it floods or collects water during a thunderstorm.)

If you are building something like loafing sheds for your horses, always try to use wood. A metal shelter that attracts lightning kind of defeats the whole point of a shelter…

If you do have a metal shelter or barn, make sure you have a solid grounding system. Having a properly grounded lightning rod will help direct the lightning’s energy into the ground, instead of into the structure of your barn. This will prevent your barn from catching fire, or even exploding, and keep your horses safe.

If you are unsure about the soundness of your lightning rods or grounding systems, call an electrician to come check them out.

Water is a great conductor for lightning

While you may prefer to turn your horses out during a storm, you don’t want them to hang out near streams or ponds on your horse farm. If possible, build your horse shelters far from bodies of water to prevent the lightning from jumping from the water to your horses.

If you notice, for example, that your horse likes to play in the stream that runs through your property when it’s storming, it may be a good idea to bring them inside during storms to avoid a run in with lightning. 

Keep in mind what parts of your property pool water or flash flood. Be sure to bring horses in if their paddocks or shelters are near these watery areas.

Trees are a deceptive shelter

While it is natural for horses to seek shelter from the rain under a tree, this can be very dangerous, as you probably know. But if you turn your horses out during a storm because they prefer it, the electrician hasn’t made it out to inspect your barn’s grounding system, your paddock tends to flood, etc., how do you keep them away from your trees?

The most risk comes from your horse hanging out under a tall, isolated tree. It may be worth it to fence off these stand-alone trees with a non-conductive material to prevent your horse from taking shelter under them. But, if you do not have a small grove of trees somewhere else on your property, keep in mind that your horses may need the natural shade of these isolated trees when the hot sun returns.

Check out this article to learn other ways to protect your horses from trees with our list of poisonous species.

Lightning does strike twice

Electricity generally prefers the path of least resistance. So if it’s been successful striking your property in the past, it’s likely to strike again. If you have already experienced lightning strikes on your property, take extra precautions to make sure your horses are as safe as possible when storms roll in.

How to protect your horses from tornadoes 

Being from Oklahoma, I know first hand that tornadoes are unpredictable and can form with little warning. It’s often difficult to prepare yourself, not to mention your animals. So what should you do with your horses when there are tornado warnings in your area? Should you bring your horses in during tornado weather or turn them out?

While it really can be hard to say what’s best in such powerful and unpredictable storms, there are a few things to consider.

Bringing horses in for a tornado

Horse owner’s typically bring their horses inside for tornados if they are worried about flying debris injuring their horses. However, the structural integrity of your barn is important to note.

A barn made of brick or concrete can usually protect you horses from an F1 or F2 tornado. These barns obviously hold up a lot better in a storm than other materials, but not everyone has the luxury of tornado-proof barns. In some cases, a less sturdy barn could be even more dangerous because horses can’t escape falling or flying debris within the structure.

Turning horses out in a tornado

Most horse owner’s favor turning their horses out in a tornado, trusting their natural instincts to guide them out of danger. Putting your horse in a large pasture gives them the space to run out of the path of the twister, and gives them the choice of seeking shelter or running. 

Turning horses out is usually the best option for stronger tornadoes like F4s and F5s because even the strongest of barns will not usually survive a direct hit.

Preparing your horses for a tornado

There’s usually not much warning when tornadoes arrive, so try to stay prepared for a tornado to hit your horse farm, especially during tornado season (April-June in the U.S.)

You can prepare your outdoor areas by keeping your paddocks and pastures free of debris that could injure your horses when high winds hit. It’s also recommended that your horses wear fly masks when enduring the tornado outdoors. This will help protect their eyes from flying debris.

Make sure your horses can be traced back to you in case they break loose from your horse farm during the storm. While some horse owners have their horses microchipped, you could also leave your contact information attached to your horse’s halter.

Finally, rest assured that horses are already more prepared for tornadoes than we are. Horses have a way of sensing the weather before humans do. You’ve probably noticed your horse’s mood changing with the weather; you may have observed them acting more excitable or more anxious when clouds start to gather. 

While our horses may be domesticated, they still have deeply rooted instincts that alert them to things like dangerous storms. We can help them prepare to a point, but it’s generally best to let these creatures protect themselves.

What to do if you’re riding horses during a storm

Have you ever gone for a ride in what you thought was perfect weather, and then found yourself caught in a storm? Some light rain is usually no big deal, but what do you do when the unexpected weather takes a turn for the worse when you are out on a ride?

What to do if you’re riding your horses in heavy storm rains

If you find yourself riding in a downpour, just make your way home. Your horse will be able to handle the rain and maintain decent sight despite the heavy rain. While you may be soaked by the time you get home, you will stay warmer by continuing to ride home instead of stopping to wait out the storm. 

If you have to cross any water on your way home, be careful not to get caught in the current of a rising stream.

What to do if you’re riding horses in a lightning storm

As you read earlier, lightning is a formidable opponent. If you find yourself out with your horse in lightning, look for a sturdy shelter to take cover in such as a barn. Of course, if you are out riding, that may not be an option.

You can also look to take shelter in an area like a grove of trees. This is a good spot because you won’t be the tallest object around. Don’t stop in an open field; keep looking for something that is taller than you are. Lightning also likes ridges, so if you are riding on a trail, stay as far away from them as possible. Even more importantly, steer clear of water. 

If your horse is so nervous in the storm that he may injure you or himself, it’s best to let him go.

What to do if you’re riding in strong winds

If you are riding in strong winds, bring your horse into an open space to avoid debri from injuring you in areas more crowded with trees or structures. Let your horse take the lead, as he will tend to turn away from the wind to protect himself from dust and other debris.

If you dismount, let your horse act as a windbreaker by standing in front of his chest after he situates himself away from the wind.

What to do if you’re riding horses in a hail storm

If you find yourself in a hail storm while riding, look for some sort of shelter from the falling hail. In the case that you cannot find shelter, the best course of action depends on your horse’s demeanor. 

If your horse stays calm, you can shield yourself from the hail under his neck. However, if your horse is nervous to the point of putting you or himself in danger, let him find his own makeshift shelter. As for you, look for a place to hunker down, ideally away from the wind, and cover your head and neck with something, even if it’s just with your arms.

In Conclusion…

In an ideal world, we would have plenty of time to prepare ourselves and our horses for every brewing storm. Unfortunately, we rarely have any time to do those final safety checks when storms hit. The best we can do is stay prepared. 

Take note of your horses’ behavior during storms, and decide where they would feel most comfortable. Evaluate your barns’ and shelters’ ability to hold up against lightning and tornadoes, and know where pools of water form on your horse farm.

Remember to walk through your pastures and paddocks before storms to remove debri. After storms, always check for any damage to fences or shelters and for fallen debris that could be hazardous. 

Finally, make sure you account for your own safety, whether you are caught in a storm on a ride or you are trying to prepare your horse farm before storms grow stronger. Know that it is sometimes too dangerous to bring horses in during thunderstorms and tornadoes, and make the right choice for yourself.

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