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Righting the Cast Horse
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Righting the Cast Horse

Horses have a habit of getting themselves into sticky situations and few are more frightening for an owner than a cast horse. It is important to get a cast horse on his feet as soon as possible as muscle damage will be sustained if he is trapped lying down for any length of time. If you find your horse cast when you arrive to give him his morning feed he could have been stuck in an uncomfortable and awkward position for hours.

Don't be tempted to rush to his aid immediately. Assess the situation from outside the stable first. Try to remain calm so as not to panic your horse. He may suddenly begin to make frenzied efforts to get up when he sees you arrive and senses that you are there to help him.

First of all, consider why he may have gone down:

  • It could simply be that he has settled down for a nap, decided to roll and become wedged against the wall with his legs folded such that he is unable to right himself. This is the most likely scenario if the rest of his bed is undisturbed and there is a pile of normal-looking droppings behind him.
  • Awful though it sounds you must check to see if the horse is actually breathing. There is a possibility that he may have had a heart attack and died. If you are at all unsure, touch his eye. If there is no response, try to find a pulse then summon help.
  • Is there an obvious injury particularly to a limb which may be preventing him from standing? A fractured limb tucked beneath the horse will be difficult to spot.
  • Are there any signs of colic? Look to see if the bedding is churned up and disarranged and if the horse is sweating or trembling.
  • In the case of an in-foal mare, could she actually be foaling?
  • If the horse appears dull and unresponsive, there may be some kind of brain injury. He may have hit his head.
  • Is there some sort of physical obstruction preventing him from getting up? Hay bins and fixed mangers can be dangerous if fitted too low down and horses do have a knack of getting themselves wedged underneath such structures.
  • Has the horse been well and healthy prior to becoming cast? If he was off his feed or running a temperature, he may have an infection or some other physical problem.

If your horse is displaying any signs of illness or injury, call your vet immediately before you attempt to get the horse back on his feet.

If all appears to be in order, summon assistance. With a bit of luck, the horse will wriggle around and free himself before help arrives. While you are waiting, get your hard hat and a pair of gloves. Enter the stable with caution and leave the door wide open just in case you need to make a hasty exit. Even a horse you know really well can be unpredictable if he's frightened.

Sometimes, just moving the horse's head and front legs away from the wall will be all it takes to enable him to free himself. Put a coat or some other form of padding under his head to protect his eye and make sure you stand behind him to avoid flailing legs. You may be able to shift him a short distance by pulling on his mane and hoping that he slides on his bedding. This might just be enough to get the job done.

If this doesn't work, wait for the arrival of your assistants and implement Plan B. You will need two lunge lines. Talking calmly and reassuringly to your horse all the time, ask one of your helpers to place steady pressure on the horse's head to keep him still and calm. With your second assistant, carefully loop the two lunge lines around the legs nearest to the floor. Position them above the fetlocks so that joints are not damaged.

Begin to pull firmly and smoothly on the lunge lines, staying well out of the way as the horse rolls over. The person at the horse's head should gently bring his head over as he rolls. Once the horse is on his way up, drop the lunge lines and stand well back. Allow him to settle before removing the lunge lines.

Check carefully for any injuries and monitor him for a couple of hours afterwards, just in case he has colic. If your horse becomes cast on a regular basis, he may be starting with arthritis or some other underlying problem which makes it more difficult for him to rise. Your vet will be able to advise you about this.

A larger stable may help and you could try using an anti-cast roller on your horse. Making sure the bedding is built up into good-sized banks around the stable walls may also reduce the risk of him getting too close to the walls when he lies down and should reduce the chances of him getting cast.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If so, please vote and do feel free to comment!

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  1. PonyGirl
    Nice post on an important issue.
    1. autumnap
      Thank you. I've had a couple of horses cast and it's scary especially if you're on your own as I was on two occasions. Luckily I managed to turn the horses myself using lungelines - I was a bit fitter and stronger back then! x
  2. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted! Great post and awesome tips. Thankfully I have never seen or experienced having a horse that has become cast, though I know it's always possible. I've often thought to myself how would I help Cookie in this situation-with many scenarios. Chances are, she'll be far more calm than I will be. lol
    1. autumnap
      Thank you! Fingers crossed you never have to deal with a cast horse - it's too scary! x
  3. jst4horses
    This is another place natural horsemanship training helps you and your horse. If your horse is used to you putting ropes on his / her legs and used to being quiet when you ask, no matter lying down and if your horse is used to (from using the exercises in naturalhorsemanship) trusting you to take care, you will have a much better time. I used to be young and fit, and could move the whole horse front by just a rope around the chest, or looped around the upper forelegs. No longer. I run for assistants who are young and can help fast. We also have nightwatch and make sure the horses are not left for hours. When I did nightwatch for racing barns of young two year olds, I was often alone and had to get young horses up with my own ropes, and experience. This article points out the reality of the WHY to not use feeders, etc, on the walls where the horses can get cast in them. Feed tubs on hooks hanging from the walls are dangerous and a place I have seen many a young horse get injured enough to have to be put down. Someone needs to be there, and aware, as long as those tubs are in the stalls. In sixty to one hundred horse racing barns, the feed tubs are NEVER left in for more than a prescribed feeding time and are taken back out for safety. The strangest cast horse I ever saw was a foal, that I was driving up a street, and noticed something weird. I turned around and realized it was an upside down foal, feet firmly stuck in chain link (not a good choice for horses, especially foals) The mare was just standing there. I could not find anyone, so jumped the fence and hoped that mare would not attack me. She did not. I grappled the little feet out of the chain link, and pulled the foal over so it could stand up. At first it was very unsteady, but then the mare and foal started to trot and then canter and buck around their pasture. I left a message on the fence for the owners to have the foal checked by a vet.
    1. autumnap
      Thank you! My goodness, that was a scary episode with the foal! I learned a hard lesson one day when I arrived early (luckily) to get my horse ready for a show only to find that she'd caught her foot in her haynet and been stuck there all night. Fortunately, she was fine although obviously we didn't go to the show and ever after that I fed her hay from the floor which is actually much better anyway. x

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