Helping Older Horses Get Up

Q: I have an older horse that sometimes lies down and has trouble getting up. My vet thinks it is advanced arthritis in his stifles. Do you have any rescue equipment that you have used to lift a horse up? Thank you for the compassionate work you do with horses.                 Sharon Loucks

A: There are several pieces of emergency rescue equipment that can be adapted to assist an older or arthritic horse in getting up. It depends a bit on where the horse gets down. I am assuming the horse is kept in a pasture situation so that he is able to move around as he wishes instead of getting stocked up in a stall.

Horses of all ages sometimes get down in a strange place in a pasture where they essentially get "turtled" and cannot roll over far enough to get up. This is called getting cast. It can be easily solved by looping a soft cotton rope over the downed side rear pastern and pulling the rope over the horse's back and towards the head (about a 45 degree angle to the body) until the whole horse rolls over. This is a very dangerous procedure to do in a stall; the legs will flail wildly as he rolls and gets up!

There are horse "stretchers" such as the Rescue Glide to transport horses out of the pasture to a safe place out of the weather in the barn, or even to veterinary facilities via an ambulance trailer. Ben McCracken of B&M Plastics in Greenville, S.C. (864/270-1344,, or email, makes a recycled plastic glide that is excellent, with all the accessories to strap the patient down for transport. Most horses will require sedation from your veterinarian when using this method; it is very terrifying for a horse to be down, and he can seriously hurt you if he's not sedated.

There are several versions of equine slings for the purpose of lifting a downed or injured horse. The best-quality sling is the Anderson Sling, which was expressly made for the purpose of medical support, and is so good that it is the industry standard for helicopter lifts as well. The Anderson Sling is an excellent sling to maintain horses suspended for prolonged (days or weeks) periods of time, but it is rather expensive ($7,000).

The University of California, Davis, has been extremely proactive in researching ways to handle horses that need long-term support and actually helped develop this sling. They have recently introduced a short-term lift (

The other system we use is the Becker simple vertical lift sling ( Kathleen Becker, DVM, makes an excellent product that you can purchase, or you can make your own if you have access to heavy-duty stitching equipment. It is possible to use the simple vertical web lift sling that we use for emergency rescue (getting animals out of septic tanks, mud, etc.) using two wide pieces of webbing and a chest piece. This sling is easy to use and convenient to lift a horse and support it for short periods of time. The webbing needs to be heavy-duty--you are lifting more than 1,000 pounds!

In either case, you must have a support system in your facility that will hold at least 2,000 pounds with 13-14 feet of clearance, and a hoisting mechanism. The biggest concern with any of these slings is that you must have some equipment to physically lift the animal up, either a tractor with a boom or a high-clearance ceiling with a beam that is rated to support the weight of a horse using a pulley system or chain hoist. With a tractor, it is easy to get to the animal and move it while slung unless it is in a stall or tight spot. Chain hoists and pulley systems are usually fixed and hard to move out in the field and find an appropriate overhead anchor.

There are several other slings available online that might work for you; most range from $700 to $1,600 plus shipping. These are not intended for long-term support of the animal, only to lift it for short periods, then allow it to walk away. Beware of manufacturers who will walk away with your money while you wrestle with a sling that is poorly constructed or not intended for horses by its design.
--Rebecca Gimenez, PhD; Tomas Gimenez, Dr.Med.Vet, Professor at Clemson University, S.C. Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue

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