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.
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