2938 Vet. Med. Basic Sciences Bldg.
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
By Kimberly Meenen
University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine
During this time of the year, electrical storms frequently make their way across the country. These annual weather occurrences can result in death losses to livestock, including horses. Horses are very sensitive to electricity, especially lightning.
Depending on the management practices followed, a horse's susceptibility to being struck by lightning may be increased or decreased, says Dr. R.D. Scoggins, equine Extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana.
He explains that horses tend to bunch together for protection during an electrical storm. In a pasture, animals will often seek out shelter under a large tree. Unfortunately, trees are often located near water troughs or wire fences, making them extremely good conductors of electricity. "When combined with the wet ground and steel horseshoes on the horses' feet, these structures put horses in a precarious position," says Dr. Scoggins.
Electricity in the form of lightning will follow metal fencing for a considerable distance. It travels along power lines to come down poles or brace wires. It can also strike tall trees and spread to the animals sheltered beneath the branches. Once there, the lightning bolt may bounce between animals, injuring several in the group, or even killing them.
Although electrical storms are unpreventable, a few things can be done to protect a horse from being struck by lightning. Ideally, horses should be housed in safe, well-grounded buildings during electrical storms. A wooden barn is best, or a well-grounded metal barn topped with lightning rods. Make sure that conduit and water pipes are well grounded. It is wise to use the expertise of a qualified electrician to determine the safety of electrical fixtures and wiring.
Install wooden or vinyl fencing and posts rather than wire fencing. Although shade is good in a pasture, avoid having one lone tree where horses can group up in a storm. If possible, avoid placing horses in pastures containing power line towers.
In addition to lightning, 110-volt electrical lines can kill a horse. Contact with a shortened electrical appliance is all it takes. Therefore, it is best to keep mechanical walkers, clippers, blowers, heating tape for water lines, or any other electrical equipment in good working condition.
It helps to remember that if a horse does survive a shock from an electrical appliance, chances are the animal will not allow you to use that equipment on it again in the immediate future.
By all means, it is much better to prevent electrical accidents
before they occur than to try to undo their damage after the fact.