In which we consider crisis preparation, part one: "Hunker Down"

Sitting around the campfire is a good time to just talk and talk and talk, and Sky and I spent several peaceful nights in camp doing exactly that.  We talked about our lives, our jobs, our families, our horses and dogs, the books we've been reading (booklist forthcoming in a future post), and all sorts of things.

Eventually, we ended up talking about horses and crises.  After all, some of our friends in the East were coping with the effects of Hurricane Irene on their barns and fences, and we are both practical people--we like to be ready for stuff rather than get ambushed.

I take this to a natural extreme.  I was raised by Boy Scouts: "Be Prepared" isn't a motto in my family; it is, rather, tattooed on our brains at birth.  After all,  our Swampland is in the strike zone for tsunami, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, not to mention washed-out roads, fallen power lines, and ongoing lousy weather.  All that stuff, plus disasters brought on by human action or inaction, can make for stress (at best) or injury (or worse) to you or your horse. 

Plus, there's always the unexpected. 

I figure, with winter on the horizon, it's time to talk about crisis.

I'd like to get reader input about how you plan to cope when things go wrong at home, in a ridecamp, and on the trail.

Of course, there's always a way to avoid crisis.  You could hire guardians to follow you everywhere, equipped with high-powered shortwave radio and gigantic first-aid kits.  Heck, you could refuse to go anywhere that would be more than 5 minutes response distance to the nearest world-class health facility or board-certified veterinarian. You could even refuse to leave home at all. Some people, in fact, refuse to venture beyond the Disneyland-certified safety of civilization.

I don't want to live my life that way, so I make a lot of plans for when things (inevitably) go wrong.

I'll sort this into three blog posts to keep from overwhelming everyone, and to allow everyone to think and share their thoughts and experiences:
  • 1.  Hunker down
  • 2.  Run like hell
  • 3.  Stand and fight
This post will discuss how--and why--you can stay safe by staying put.

There are plenty of reasons that you might want to stop what you are doing and hunker down for a while with your horse.  Maybe bad weather has moved in suddenly.  Maybe your truck won't start. Perhaps you, or your riding partner, or one of your horses has sustained a non-life-threatening injury. Maybe the road is blocked or washed out. Maybe there's blood.  Maybe there's a concussion. Maybe there's a bee-sting.  Maybe you are lost. 

I'm going to assume that your house and/or barn are well-equipped for "hunker down" emergencies.  You probably have food there (for you and your horse and anybody else who gets stuck there), even if means that he'll be eating hay without supplements and you'll be eating canned chili for a week.  I hope that you also have a supply of water for a few days if the power goes out or the water main breaks...and if you don't (yet), here's your reminder to go do that before winter moves in. 

We bought a $30 rain barrel to put under the gutter of the barn, and it stores 50 gallons.  That, plus the water tank that is also filled by rain gutters, gives us more than 100 gallons of water for horses.   We also have potable water in the horse trailer (25 gallons) in the camper (30 gallons), plus a bunch of water jugs stored in various outbuildings around the property.

What about in a ridecamp?  You aren't going to take your rain barrel to camp, so what happens if the road into camp washes out and you get stuck there for a few extra days?  Do you carry extra food and water for people and horses?  Do you carry warm/dry clothes for people, and a blanket for your horse?  What else do you do to prepare for an unexpected "hunker down" in camp?

Now, think about the stuff you normally carry out on the trail.  I have posted in the past about the Ten Essentials that the Mountaineers recommend every wilderness traveler carry.  These are:
  • Navigation (map & compass)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  • Insulation (extra clothing)
  • Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Nutrition (extra food)
  • Hydration (extra water)
  • Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)
It is surprisingly easy to cary this stuff on a saddle without looking like a Sherpa--I actually carry most of it routinely, either on my horse or in my fanny pack or pocket.  If I needed to spend an unplanned night out on one of my training trails, I could do it--I might not be comfortable, but I could stay out safely if necessary. 

Can you?  What do you carry?  What do you NOT carry?  What do you think you'd wish for if you got stuck on the trail tomorrow afternoon?

Okay, the comment box is open.  I want to hear about your "hunker down" strategies and plans for when something goes wrong and your best option is to stay where you are.  Has anybody had to do this with horses?  Let's hear from you!

For those of you how have lived under a rock for the past 100 years without knowledge of the astonishing talents of Tom Lehrer, let me caution you that the following video/song is hilarious, but not NSFW!!!

Next post:  How to be ready to run like hell.


      1. Well, my house sits on Arkansas Creek and is about 1/4 mile from the mouth of that creek where it empties into the Cowlitz River. The house itself has never flooded but our pasture has been under about 6 feet of water several times.
        The water comes up fast if there is a certain weather pattern (snow, followed by fast warming and more rain). My husband checked our mares one day after work about noon. All was well, but when I got home at 3:30 I had to drive thru about a foot of water to get across the bridge and my mares were standing in the middle of our field surrounded by water. I actually swamped my muck boots going out to bring them up to the barn.
        I've hauled the horses up to the neighbors large cattle barn once when I started to get worried my barn might go under water too.
        Unfortunately once the water gets to a certain point we are basically trapped here, bridges on both ends of the road tend to flood.
        Last fall we installed a 1000gallon water holding tank in the hay barn so we will have clean water if it floods again. Our spring box actually got flooded last time and was spitting out the nastiest brown water. I also try to make sure and keep extra hay and bedding just in case!

      2. Let me suggest your readers, who haven't got that far in their thinking or planning start at and There's a ton of information on how to plan and prepare for the more common disasters customized to where your readers live.

        Now, before y'all go into full-on Zombie Apocalypse Survivalist mode, realistically evaluate what can go wrong from minor disasters (flat tire) to major (bridge washes out--while you're on it, and by the way, the volcano is spewing and the lahar is coming). War-game each scenario and try to build preparedness into your life. It become darn near second nature after a time. And nowhere near as paranoid as you might think.

      3. #1: I love that song.

        #2: I really, really, really, really like that you decided to write this series of posts. It's informative... and inspiring.

        Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go finish doing my morning chores so I can head down to Smart & Final and get a couple of flats of water and some Dinty Moore Stew.

      4. I realized this was a series of (most excellent!) posts and came back to read from the beginning.

        A long time ago, in a valley far far away, I was riding alone over a couple thousand acres of hills that belonged to the cattle ranch I worked for. I spent my weekends riding the fence line checking for "breaks" (read: city people with wire cutters who want to picnic on THAT hill.) Ho hum.

        I carried a mini roll of barbwire, a come along, wire cutters, and a roping rope that the cowboys sent me out with, to slap away annoying things like mama cows with horns or mountain lions (the noise and big movement made them think twice). I also had an extra halter and lead, food, water, knife, blah blah.

        I came around the corner of the bottom of a hill into a very secluded and tight little wedge of a gully. 5 adult men clearly had been target shooting beer cans on a log. A couple of dead birds told me it was live ammo, and the volume of empty beer cans that I was in very deep trouble. One of them made a staggering kind of grab for my reins. The others made a lot of lewd comments. I didn't feel, um, secure.

        The best thing I carried? The thing that kept the reins from getting grabbed?

        WORDS and ATTITUDE. (the other junk looked dangerous though, that helped!)

        I put my hands on my hips, laughed, and said "go ahead...I dare you. Try to grab this mare." Pause. "Be ready for a lot of blood though. You guys got bandages...?"

        Luckily, I did have a mare that hated men and frequently tried to bite any strays. She lunged, ears pinned, snapping. The guy scrambled back.

        I was scared out of my mind, mentally checking the minimal escape routes. Those weren't BB guns. In the end it was the rope (as a prop) and my insane attitude (fueled by terror) that got me out of there.

        I edged my mare sideways (which annoyed the crap out of her), causing her to toss her head and threaten to rear (she really was terrible) so she looked like a killer evil horse, held up the rope and said "I can get this around any of your necks in 2 seconds. Who wants to be dragged first?"

        I'm pretty sure I wasn't holding the rope correctly, and God knows I couldn't rope my own foot if I leaned over, but it was enough. I yelled "Get the H off my land!" at the men (too many John Wayne movies??), spun around and kicked her for all I was worth.

        I don't think I stopped shaking for DAYS.

        Good things to think about:
        1."Private land" isn't necessarily private.
        2. Shock and Awe, if you can muster the attitude, is worth it's weight in arrest warrants.
        3. Pay attention going around blind corners
        4. Invest in something evil looking (used rope) that can't hurt you or your horse - and practice carrying it safely.
        5. Don't go out ALONE.

        Oh, and tie the laces of a pair of tennis shoes together, and sling them over your shoulder. When you get thrown by your unpredictable and unstable mare? You don't have to walk 5 miles in heels! :)

        Excellent post.

      5. We live on a couple of hundred acres in rural sw Oregon. Power goes out a lot in the winter, so we have a half dozen kerosene lamps, and heat with wood for the most part, though a small oil fired heater helps if I 'm not up to hauling the wood in or if I'll be gone for more than 24 hrs in the winter. We have both springs and a well, rely on the springs, but they are 1/2 mile run of pipe from the house and barns, so the well is the back up if there is a problem with the spring system. But that needs power. We have a bridge into the ranch that has never flooded, but was blocked by a broken down truck once for 9 hrs. We now have an access gate into a neighbors that goes to another bridge over the creek. We have consciously developed an extensive pantry. Not quite like it was y2k, but actually a lot deeper in intent. I think we could live for about a year on our larder... Not just canned stuff, but essentials like flour, rice, beans, sugar, coffee. I always think if the proverbial sh** hit the fan we could do well here...Big garden, chickens, sheep, cattle. Heck, if times were hard enough I suppose we could even eat the horses (have to be pretty bad, my horses are all old!)

        Short run, hunkering at home is pretty comfy for all.

        I am pretty obsessed with planning for trips, we travel to at least 6 or 8 different wilderness areas every year, mostly around the end of Aug, early to mid Sept. In addition to what you talk about, we carry light-sticks in the packs, and a bit of baleing twine. Break a couple of these, and tie them on the breast collar and you can see the trail well enough to keep riding on it, so long as you are not lost, in which case HUNKER DOWN. But they are cheap and bright enough to gather wood by and tend horses, without wasting battery life. We keep a quart ziplock bag in each saddle bag with a space blanket, half roll of tp, couple of lighters, chapstick (helps to start fires as well as aid lips), tiny bottles of fly spray and skeeter repellent, pocket knife, folded red and florescent bandanas, a couple of asperin, a couple of benadryl, and a half dozen bandaids, a folded up gallon ziplock bag. We always carry foul weather gear, a special stuffed top roll that is easy to toss on the back of the saddle. Sunny day or not, short ride or not, we have warm dry gear that you could sleep in if you had to..nice super quality rain poncho-style coats, fleece jackets, down vests, dry water proof gloves, dry socks, etc. Packed tightly and snugged down with straps, this is easy to take along. Food and water, and a water bowl for the dogs.....we hit dry country in Eastern Oregon!

        Coolest things I've done with my stash of safety gear: give some skeeter repellant to a poor little kid that was being eaten alive, and to put out a root-fire smoulder under a tree along a wilderness lake....used the ziplock bag from my lunch to carry water up to the fire, and my knife to dig down to the hot spots under the tree.

      6. How do I cope when things go wrong at home, ridecamp, or on the trail?

        a) Try to figure out why she's mad.
        b) See a.
        c) If wife is with me, see a, else try to figure out why the horse is mad.

        Something you left out is that if things are looking bad, and you could be out of power for a while, go fill a bathtub inside. Toilets don't help if you have no water to refill them.


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