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Horse Owners Biggest Fear ~ Stable Fires

ash blaze bonfire burn, stable fires

For many horse owners, one of our biggest fears is stable fires. We have all heard horror stories of horses getting trapped in burning stables and with so many yards not having anyone living on sight, it really is scary! By the time the fire is noticed and you are alerted, there might not be much you can do once you get there. But what can you do to prevent a fire and what should you do in the case of a stable fire?

Prevention Better Than Reaction

As with most things, the best thing you can do is to take steps to help prevent a fire in the first place. Most of us don’t own or run our own yards. So big decisions such as where the muck heap and hay/bedding is located will be out of your control. (They should be away from the stables.) But there are still things you can do to prevent a fire.

  • Don’t smoke around the stables.
    Common sense, but you shouldn’t smoke around the stables. If you do need to smoke do so away from the stables.
  • Sweep up loose hay and bedding before farrier visits
    Hot shoes and using the grinder can create sparks which can catch the loose bedding alight, starting a fire.
  • Take care when using electrics such as clippers
    Electric cables can get hot while being used and things can short out, creating a spark. Don’t leave cables in bedding/hay and don’t leave electric devices running unsupervised. If something does go wrong, you can put it out quickly.
  • Consider a checks rota during fireworks season
    Unfortunately there will be fireworks at certain times of year. If you know of fireworks happening near you, you can work out a rota with other people on your yard to check the yard during the displays. We usually have a display nearby and someone usually checks in to make sure the horses are happy anyway.

Have a fire plan

Unfortunately, you can never completely prevent stable fires from happening. There are always freak accidents you just can’t plan for or prevent. Most yards should have a fire plan. But I know many small yards don’t have a set plan in place. When there isn’t a set plan in place, you should know what you would do in case of a fire. You can always discuss it with fellow liveries too.

  • Call the fire service & make sure they can get onto the yard.
  • If safe to do so, start getting horses out of their stables. Remove those closest to the fire first.
  • Don’t turn horses lose in the yard, either keep hold of them or turn them out in a secure area, such as their field or the arena.
  • Once all humans and animals are out, if it is safe to do so, shut all the stable doors.

There are also things you can do around the yard to help make it easier to safely remove horses in the case of a fire.

  • Leave your horses headcollar and leadrope near their stable
  • Leave walkways tidy and uncluttered
  • Make sure everyone has your and your vets contact details

Common problems

Horses are flight animals and stable fires are scary. They can panic and might not let you help them. We all want to save our horses but we also need to keep ourselves safe. Understanding the possible problems before fire strikes can help you work through them in an emergency.

  • Horses not wanting to leave their stables
    Lot’s of horses will see their stable as their safe space and during a fire they might not want to leave. Covering their eyes with a jacket, rug or something else and usually motivate them to come with you.
  • Horses too stressed to let you put a headcollar on
    Most horses when they are stressed they put their heads up. This can make it difficult to put a headcollar on them and lead them out safely. Try and bribe them with treats, but if you cannot get their head down, tie a rope around their neck and try and lead them out to safety with the rope.
  • Not having a safe space to put the horses.
    You shouldn’t just turn the horses loose in the yard. Not only can they run around in panic, putting people and firefighters at risk. But they can get themselves into more trouble. Before you start removing horses from the stables you should know where they are going, either to a secure field or the arena.
  • Horses wanting to return to their stables
    Having a secure and safe place to put them away from the stables and shutting stable doors once they are out means they can’t go back in.

Dealing with injuries from stable fires

There are three main types of injury and health condition a horse might sustain in a stable fire. Each can vary from minor to long lasting. But it is important to get all horses checked over by a vet after a stable fire even if they seem fine.


Mild burns in horses usually heal quickly and are easy to treat. But more serious burns have a poor prognosis. Burns covering more than 50% of the body are sadly usually fatal. If your horse has been burnt during a stable fire you need to act quickly. Once the horses are all out the stables and in a safe place you should check them for burns. Take their rugs off and any burns should be cooled down with water. A bit like a tendon injury, try and cold hose for 10 mins or until the vet arrives. They can then access the burn and treat it accordingly.

Wounds & Injuries

Stable fires are stressful for a horse. They might sustain an injury from panicking either in the stable or once they are out in a safe environment. Either by kicking themselves or by knocking into something. Equally, if the fire is damaging the structure of the stables, there is a chance of injury from falling debris. These wounds can vary greatly.

Smoke Inhalation

Smoke rises and unfortunately, when horses get worried they tend raise their heads and take more breaths. This behaviour increases the amount of smoke they might inhale during a stable fire. Damage from smoke inhalation my not be noticeable straight away but common symptoms include; coughing, nasal discharge, lethargy and shallow breathing. The horse can also develop pneumonia and asthma following smoke inhalation.

Treatment for smoke inhalation varies. Horses should be rested for at least 2 weeks even if they haven’t needed any treatment. For horses in a higher level of work, you should expect them to be out of training or working at a lower level for at least 4-6 weeks to allow the airways to recover.

Mental Scars

As I have already mentioned, many horses view their stable as their safe place. But if they were injured in the fire, they might start to associate the stable with the injury. They might find being stabled, especially being back in their original stable, stressful afterwards. They might need time and extra help in order to return to their old routine.

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