Why Do They Do That?

Is it true that a horse will return to a burning barn?

Or, “Closing the Barn Door After the Horses are Out.”

Written by Horse Safety Specialist, Michelle Staples

Although it goes against all logic, a horse will return to his stall in a burning barn.  There is reason for this.  If he is regularly stabled, he perceives his stall as a safe place.  This is where food is available to him.  When he is scared witless, this is where he will return to find that feeling of security.

To put it in comparable human terms, when a three year old child is afraid he hides behind his mom.  Even if mom is being threatened, that is where the child will go because mom represents safety.

Bob Webb, the head of fire safety for Woodbine and Mohawk Racetracks in Ontario, Canada, recently spoke about the horrific fire at Woodbine in 2002. Bob was Chief of Fire Prevention for the city of Toronto for 34 years.  Toronto, in case you haven’t been there, is a megalopolis with about the same sprawl and population as Los Angeles, California.  Woodbine is a huge track with 2,000 horses, 39 barns and about 1,800 horsemen who live and work at the track.

Within 5 minutes of this fire being spotted, it had spread across the top of the shed-row and the interior portion of the roof at a temperature of about 2000 degrees.  The barns were not equipped with sprinklers or a fire alarm system, just smoke and heat detectors in the tack rooms and fire extinguishers in each barn.  The horses didn’t have a chance. This was an arson fire, and 34 horses died.

According to Webb, the majority of the 34 horses lost that night died INSIDE the barn AFTER they were set loose.  They came back into the barn, after they were run out by the few employees onsite, because the stall and barn doors were left open.

When he worked for the Toronto Fire Department, Webb responded to a fire at a Morgan horse ranch.  All 17 horses were safely evacuated, but they ended up saving only 2. The other 15 ran back into the barn.

Bob said, “Horses are like children.  The stall in the barn is like a child’s bedroom.  It is their safe zone and that is why in most home fires with fatalities the children are usually found in the bedroom after the fire is out”.

So if you evacuate a horse from a burning barn, close the stall door after the horse is out, and close the barn door after ALL critters are out.

Written by Horse Safety Specialist, Michelle Staples. Her book, Save Your Horse!  A Horse Owner’s Guide to Large Animal Rescue, is available at www.RedJeansInk.com or the Large Animal Rescue website, www.SaveYourHorse.com

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