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Burning barn myth? Or is it?

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  • Burning barn myth? Or is it?

    There's an old saying that a horse may leave safety to run back into a burning barn that is a otherwise safe and familiar place, despite how counter-intuitive or counter-instinctual that seems. (For "burning barn", a number of other self-destructive possibilities could be substituted.)

    No doubt horses returning to their familiar burning barns have been recorded far more than a few times, or the story would not have grown up.

    Does anyone have any contemporary information or stories that such a thing -- however we may define a burning barn -- still occurs?

  • #2
    A good friend of mine had at one time worked at a barn where that happened. The barn caught fire, and the staff ran in and shooed all the horses out of the barn. In the chaos, someone forgot to lock the gate separating the barnyard area from the pastures, and the horses got back in. All but one or two of the horses died, IIRC. It was absolutely tragic, even hearing about it several years after the fact.

    So yes, I do believe it's more than just a myth.
    Trying a life outside of FEI tents and hotel rooms.


    • #3
      We had a fire in our barn, on the fake fireplace in the clubhouse, above the stalls.
      The owner of the riding school burned some papers, thinking it was a real fireplace.

      The fire went up into the roof and down into the horse's stalls, that were starting to fill with smoke.
      We got some horses out and two got away and ran back into the stalls, bothered by the fire truck's sirens, I think.
      We got them back out, but it was not easy.

      The fire was put out quickly, good, as the old building was a tinderbox and there were easily 100+ horses in there.

      Horses have been known to get burned when someone burns a wood pile and expect the horses to stay away.
      Horses don't understand fire and will come see what that interesting thing is and easily get burned, even by the ambers left on the ground.

      Having been in two barn fires, I will never, if I can help it, work or have horses in a wood barn.
      While any barn can burn, a wood barn is just that much more of an accident waiting to happen.


      • #4
        ABSOLUTELY TRUE!!! - always shut the stall doors as the horses are put out - this is a rule at our farm - have been in a fire where it happened. Fire fighters also need to be taught to close the stall doors.

        A pony died just a couple months ago from going back to the stall


        • #5
          Good point about closing the doors! If you own a large facility, especially in a rural area, contact your local fire department about doing a training drill at your farm, or at least coming out to look at the facility and go over emergency procedure. Many fire departments are happy to do so for the learning experience, and it gives the added advantage of them knowing your facility layout and how to handle horses in an emergency ahead of time.

          One thing our local FD impressed on us: It's safer to leave horses haltered in the barn, and to be extra diligent to keep stalls free of hazards than to leave them unhaltered. Our FD warned us that they would not fight a scared, unhaltered horse in an attempt to get it out, but would move on to the next horse they could evacuate easily. Our barn rule was that all horses wore leather halters or nylon with a leather breakaway inside at all times. Owners could ask to have halters removed inside, but had to sign an addendum to their boarding contract acknowledging that in case of fire, their horses might not be evacuated.


          • #6
            HenryisBlaisin' - we also showed the fire department how to slip a rope around their neck and face as an emergency halter. All our horses are taught to lead with a shank around their neck for many reasons - fires is one because we don't halter in the stalls.


            • Original Poster

              I didn't think it was merely an old saying. Some said it was. Clearly it is not.

              Thank you all for your comments. Hoping there are many more to come.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Bravestrom View Post
                HenryisBlaisin' - we also showed the fire department how to slip a rope around their neck and face as an emergency halter. All our horses are taught to lead with a shank around their neck for many reasons - fires is one because we don't halter in the stalls.
                Ours said that they would not go into a stall with an unhaltered horse in a burning barn, period, for two reasons. One, a terrified, loose horse could injure a person trying to halter or get a rope on it, and two, even if the horse was quiet, they could grab two haltered horses in the same amount of time. We had a 20-stall barn; they told us that realistically, we MIGHT get 10 horses out of a fully involved barn if we were lucky, so we did all we could to maximize the number who could be saved. Obviously different fire departments have different protocols, making it doubly important to work with yours on a fire plan!


                • #9
                  I think all barns should have dutch on the outside of the stalls.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by gonsouth View Post
                    I think all barns should have dutch on the outside of the stalls.
                    Me too, and outside runs.
                    In a fire, horses will still run from their outside pens in the stall when there is commotion outside.
                    Outside doors sometimes do make it easier to get to them.
                    You have to go in there, get them out and far away and secured somewhere else.


                    • #11
                      At my barn last year, 5 horses died because they absolutely would not leave their stalls as the barn was burning. And one mare was chased out of the burning barn 3 times before she quit trying to get back in.


                      • #12
                        Fire is one of my two biggest disaster fears with our barn. The other is a trailer accident.

                        However, I won't leave halter on for even the risk of fire. The more real risk of a horse getting a halter caught up on something is far greater to me than the risk of losing that horse in a fire. Breakable or not, I wouldn't leave a halter on a horse. But I take very clear and real steps very regularly to assure the risk of fire in my barn is very low. Cobwebs are cleaned regularly, electrical is up to code and inspected yearly by my electrician cousin, the list is endless. The prevention in my mind minimizes the actual event in which I may be running into a burning barn to save a horse.

                        But how about this question? Another old wives tail is that you should blind the horse with a towel to lead them out of the barn. Does this really work or does said horse become paralyzed with fear, unable to move due to loss of sight or worse yet, tramples you in a panic?
                        ...don't sh** where you eat...


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by gonsouth View Post
                          I think all barns should have dutch on the outside of the stalls.

                          I built mine with outside doors for this very reason.
                          Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
                          Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
                          -Rudyard Kipling


                          • #14
                            It is a sad but unfortunate fact.