Throughout winter storm Jonas, which dumped snow that would be measured by the foot, Christy Stermer had a plan to care for the 14 horses stabled at her TNC Equine Center in Dillsburg, PA. Christy’s instructor/trainer Mady Schubbe stayed with Christy for the weekend, and Christy’s son and a friend who plows snow would make sure there was access to the barn. Christy and Mady knew they were in for a lot of extra work, but no amount of planning could prepare them for what happened after the snow stopped falling.
“We got up Sunday morning, fed the horses and put some of the horses in the indoor to run around and stretch their legs because they were in all day Saturday,” said Christy. “We started cleaning stalls and plowing snow. I got the gate open to put more horses outside, and turned the mares outside and the boys in the indoor arena. I was standing outside the barn and I heard an enormous crack.”
Christy was aware of potential problems with pole barn roofs after heavy snowfall. “I thought about roof issues because I know that people have had problems during other storms,” she said. “The man I rent from had some issues with the roof in the blizzard of 1996, so he had someone come in and reinforce the trusses.”
The sound Christy heard foreshadowed what was to come, but it wasn’t the strength and integrity of the trusses that would prove to be a problem during this storm. “The snow blew off one side of the roof onto the other side,” said Christy, who had already contacted the barn owner about her concerns. “The roof was starting to bow. There was a beam over the doorway, and the trusses came loose because of the pressure on the beam over the doorway.”
Later in the afternoon, Christy heard another crack, and when she looked up, she could see that screws were coming out of the trusses that attached to the large beam over the door. Christy, her instructor and some of her boarders continued to plow snow and care for animals, then went inside for a break. Christy called the owner again to suggest that someone come out and look at the barn immediately because screws were coming out.
“We were only in the house for about 10 minutes,” said Christy. “When we looked outside, the roof was down. The neighbors could hear it. I really didn’t know what to do, but I knew I wanted all the feed, hay and peoples’ tack out of the barn.”
The horses were already outside and in the indoor arena, so moving them wasn’t a concern. Christy immediately sent a message to all of her boarders to let them know what was going on, and they started showing up – despite having to dig out their vehicles and travel on roads that hadn’t been fully cleared. She also turned off the electricity to avoid the risk of fire, which meant that the heat source for water troughs was off. Christy put a message on Facebook and asked for help to move the horses to another farm where they could be cared for until the roof was repaired.
“We got everything out in less than an hour,” said Christy. “We put the hay, grain and tack in the indoor arena. Then we fed the horses, which was a nightmare because we were feeding seven horses in a pasture and they all wanted to kick each other.”
Christy was satisfied that the horses would be fine in the pasture and in the indoor arena overnight, so the plan was that volunteers would start to move horses to another facility at about 10 the next morning. A contractor who had been contacted by the barn owner arrived first. He wasn’t aware that the roof had collapsed; only that there were some possible structural issues to address due to the heavy snow load. He suggested Christy leave the horses where they were, and promised that everything would be taken care of. “He said that all the snow would be off the roof by the end of the day on Monday,” said Christy, “and that his electrician would make sure we’d have electricity for whatever we needed.”
With a new plan in place, Christy contacted all of the people who had volunteered to come with trailers to move horses to let them know that the horses weren’t going to be moved. She reached all but one woman who was already on her way before she received the message.
Christy’s new concern was the length of time it would take to have the barn repaired. “We couldn’t wait for the insurance company to get there, so I was really glad he (the owner) said to just fix it,” said Christy. “Because he had called early, before it collapsed, the contractor said we were first on the list.”
Within four days, the snow was cleared, sections of the damaged roof were removed, reinforcements made and a new roof installed. Christy credits her boarders, Mady and other volunteers for moving the horses to safety and helping throughout the week while repairs were being made.
Although Christy’s quick actions averted a disaster, pre-storm preparations can help ensure safety for both humans and animals. If heavy snow and/or ice are predicted, make sure there is a safe, temporary place for horses on the property in case they can’t be moved to a different facility. Remove any dead tree limbs that could fall on a barn or fences, and check fences for integrity and make appropriate repairs.
If a storm is forecast, make sure there is an ample supply of hay and feed as well as essential first aid and medical supplies. Prepare for power failure by filling outdoor water troughs, and fill some clean trashcans in the barn with water. A generator is ideal, but if that isn’t an option, make sure there’s a good light source. Large, battery-powered camping lanterns work well for this purpose.
During a storm, watch for signs of stress on the building due to heavy snow or ice, and be prepared to move animals if necessary. Watch for signs of stress in horses that have been moved or have had their routines changed; especially for signs of colic in horses that may not be drinking enough water or moving about as they normally would.
Plan for temporary housing with herd dynamics in mind. If there is limited temporary housing, at least separate mares from geldings and make sure all animals have access to hay and water.