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Trapped!  Could you cope?
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Trapped! Could you cope?

A horse trapped in a ditch or overturned trailer is a horrendous sight. No-one expects the worst to happen to them but would you know what to do in the event that it did? You could be the first and only person on the scene and that animal's life could depend on your prompt and correct actions.

The first, and most important rule, is NEVER put yourself in danger. Every year many horse owners and well-meaning volunteers are injured, some seriously, during attempts to help trapped horses. A trapped horse will struggle and thrash around in an attempt to free himself and whilst this is undoubtedly very distressing for those watching, do not be tempted to rush in. You are no use to anyone if you become a casualty yourself.

Keep calm

Don't panic! Call the emergency services immediately. These days all fire and rescue service personnel, especially those whose territory encompasses rural areas, are highly trained in animal rescue techniques and they have the necessary lifting gear and other specialist equipment for the purpose. Calmly and coherently give them all the information they will need; your name and location, the circumstances of your emergency, whether anyone is injured and may require an ambulance, if the road is blocked etc.

If you are at or near home, call your own vet. If you are travelling outside of your area, the local fire service will have a list of British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) vets who will be able to assist in an emergency. Very often in situations like this the horse may require sedation, or even a general anesthetic, before a rescue can be made. The fire service will not attempt a rescue unless a vet is in attendance. You should always have your mobile phone with you when hacking out and when travelling away from home with your horse. Make sure you have your vet's number stored in your mobile. This will save you valuable time in an emergency.

The horse

Once the emergency services and vet have been contacted and are on their way, concentrate on the trapped horse.  Remember to put the safety of yourself and other would-be rescuers first. Always approach the horse from the spinal side away from kicking and thrashing limbs and the head and neck area, all of which could cause you injury. If the horse is trapped in a ditch, be aware of the underfoot conditions and do not risk slipping and falling in. You could finish up trapped yourself; underneath the horse.

If the horse is in an overturned trailer on a public road, make sure you have somewhere safe to lead him to if you are able to safely release him yourself. Many accidents are caused by loose horses panicking once freed and careering straight into oncoming traffic.

A trapped horse is actually rarely in imminent danger and many will stop struggling as soon as they realise they are unable to free themselves. If you can do so safely, position yourself near the horse's head so that you can speak to him calmly and try to reassure him. If you can, get a head collar and lead rope on him. Loud noises act as a stimulant to a trapped animal so try to keep others at the scene as quiet as possible.

Do not panic. Wait until trained experts arrive and allow them to work out the safest and best approach to the situation. This can take time but careful planning is essential for a successful and happy outcome. Once a course of action has been decided upon, do not interfere or get in the way unless you are specifically asked to help by the incident commander. Let the professionals do their job.

Free at last!

When the horse has been freed, the vet will carry out a thorough examination. Any wounds or other injuries may require treatment at the scene before the horse can be transported home. If the horse has sustained serious injuries it may be necessary for him to be admitted to a specialist veterinary hospital for emergency treatment.

It is important to understand that unfortunately some injuries are not treatable and it may be necessary for the horse to be humanely put to sleep. If a rider is trapped beneath the horse, priority is always given to them – even if that means that the horse must be humanely destroyed.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted! Love this advice! :)
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  2. autumnap
    autumnap
    Thank you kindly! x
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  3. PonyGirl
    PonyGirl
    Excellent advice! I had one of my old horses get cast in a water trough. It was really bad. The trough was next to a barb wire fence and he cut himself all up in his struggles to get out, before I found him. Luckily I was able to get him out after I had drained the water out of the tub. What was really frightening was that I had never even imagined that anything like this could happen, and I didn't have a game plan. I had to figure out what to do on the spot. It is definitely much easier to deal with things if you have time to sit down and calmly decide what is the best thing to do, instead of having to wing it when you're majorly upset. Thanks for the post.
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    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Thankfully this has never actually happened to me although I know of someone whose trailer overturned on the motorway. She panicked and released the horses who both galloped off down the road into the traffic. Miraculously no-one was injured and both the horses were ok although one did have a short stay at the vet hospital before being allowed home. x
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  4. jst4horses
    Good advice. Also. Train your horse. When a horse has been trained to stay in small spaces without panic, and to lie down and stay, and to hold legs still when confined, ropes on all four legs until the horse no longer pulls away are the softest barbed wire your horse will ever deal with. One trainer was sitting in a barn and saw a horse make a motion with its head. She said later she could swear the horse was telling her, "come here" so she did. His leg was trapped in a feed tub. Instead of acting panicked, he just waited for her to bend his leg and extract it. His natural inclination was to pull on the leg, which made it impossible to get out. Smart horse, smart trainer. Horses should all be trained to stay right next to their trailer, no matter what. It would have kept horses in a trailer accident from running on the roadway.
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    1. Timbermama
      Timbermama
      So true, best is train train and train again. Not always in a panic will they stay 100% but the time and training put into it will give them a better chance and will reduce their natural instinct to fight to be free.
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  5. jst4horses
    Good advice. Also. Train your horse. When a horse has been trained to stay in small spaces without panic, and to lie down and stay, and to hold legs still when confined, ropes on all four legs until the horse no longer pulls away are the softest barbed wire your horse will ever deal with. One trainer was sitting in a barn and saw a horse make a motion with its head. She said later she could swear the horse was telling her, "come here" so she did. His leg was trapped in a feed tub. Instead of acting panicked, he just waited for her to bend his leg and extract it. His natural inclination was to pull on the leg, which made it impossible to get out. Smart horse, smart trainer. Horses should all be trained to stay right next to their trailer, no matter what. It would have kept horses in a trailer accident from running on the roadway.
    Log in to reply.

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