Horses and Tornadoes

Horses and Tornadoes

Tornado by airwaves1

In the last two years we’ve experienced several violent spring storms come through east Tennessee and are starting to refer to spring as “tornado season.” We’re looking forward to the end of winter but not to the scary part of spring. It’s bad enough to not know when and if a tornado is coming but having horses makes it worse because they could be far out in pasture, they aren’t easy to move quickly and they don’t fit in the basement or the bathtub.

There were 936 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2012, according to NOAA/National Weather Service. And while some areas are at much higher average risk, all states are at risk. This map is a little old (1950-2005) but gives a quick visual idea of where tornadoes can occur.

US Tornadoes 1950-2005 map

So what should we do with our horses during a tornado threat? The truth is, there isn’t much that can be done. There is no way to accurately predict if one will hit our land and we have lots of heavy storms in the spring that roll in fast. Trying to run out into the pasture during a storm with an armful of halters only increases our risk of injury. And even if we could halter our horses in time, where should we put them? As the picture below shows, the barn isn’t necessarily the safest place for them.

Barn vs. Tornado
Barn vs. Tornado by Houser Photography


Since we have little time to react to a storm, the time to prepare is well beforehand. Even in a regular storm, trees can knock over fences, letting the horses run free. It’s a good idea for them to have identification, such as halters with contact info embroidered or written with a Sharpie. I’ve also heard of some horse owners using hoof tags and writing their contact info on their hair with lipstick.

For a while now, we have carried a lead rope and halter or two in each our cars in case we see escaped horses (as we, in fact, have). That preparation would come in handy too if our own horses get out, as we’re going to need to be mobile quickly.

Also, it’s good to give some thought to what we would do if our barn and fencing was destroyed beyond our capability to repair them quickly. We have a few horse friends who would be willing to board them for a while as we make repairs.


My internet research showed a variety of recommendations about whether to leave horses in the barn or in pasture during bad storms. Some prefer to leave horses out so they can run away if needed. In a tornado, that seems logical. I’ve never seen a barn that looked like it could survive even a minor tornado but I’ve seen plenty of barns that have been destroyed by strong storms. But I’ve also seen pictures of boards and tree limbs stuck into other trees and boards, having flown through the air like missiles. I don’t really want my horses ending up like pin cushions, either and a barn could absorb some of those impacts.

A 2x4
A 2×4 by fdtate

What it came down to for us is what’s “likely” versus “worst case.” While it’s always possible a storm could destroy our barn, it’s more likely we’ll get high winds, downed trees and lightning. Lots of lightning. Horses are very susceptible to lightning strikes and these are common. Do a search on Google for “lightning horse deaths” and you’ll see pages of news articles from around the world. I can’t protect them from everything but I can try and protect them from the most common weather dangers. Thus, our storm plan is to always keep an eye on the weather and put them up in the barn well ahead of a storm. And although we’d like to walk them into our main barn every time inclement weather looms, we’re fortunate they have a smaller run-in barn for shelter during storms that hit when we’re not at home.

Horse Friends

A last note that applies in all weather, good or bad. When you have horses, you’ll start meeting people in your area who also have horses and you’ll probably end up with horse friends. These are invaluable, for advice, companionship but also during difficult times. If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you’ve heard us talk about how important our horse friends have been to us. I strongly recommend making an effort to participate in your local horse community.



4 thoughts on “Horses and Tornadoes

  1. What would you recommend? I’m a new horse owner and I’m scared that my barn and fence is not be ready when a storm hits!

    Long story short the owner before I got my horse was trying to sell her and my dad gave him some tractor parts and he did not want money from his friend so his friend gave me a horse and he thought it was going to be about 1 year to put a fence and barn up but it was going to take longer then a year so he hade to give her away so we put her in a small pin that my donkey used to be in and cut it in half so my donkey was on one side and my horse on the other and she doesn’t even have a proper barn! I’m worried!

  2. With a situation like this, I always place my horse at a secure place. Sometimes I let my horse run freely as what the article says with this they know how to get themselves to safety. However, you must always take note that you must have a tag put over your horses for identification purposes.

  3. Most tornado fatalities (human and animal) are caused by flying debris. What about wood or glass that could impale your horse or take out an eye? Both are very hard to remove because they don’t show up on X-Ray.
    Seriously, if you were told a tornado was heading your way, would your first instinct be to go stand in the middle of an open field? I’d hope not!
    Any structure gives better protection than nothing at all, even a pole barn. My cousin’s (traditional) barn took a direct hit from a tornado; it took off the roof (they lost hay) but the barn itself was intact. It’s over 100 years old now, and still standing–with a new roof.

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