New Sling Shows Promise in Clinical Setting

Practitioners need to quickly assess an acutely recumbent (unable to stand) horse's prognosis, and that can be difficult. Putting a horse in the Andersen Sling Support Device (ASSD), the gold standard for equine slings, requires at least six people and an anesthetized horse. University of California, Davis, veterinarians recently applied a new sling in a clinical setting and found that it was easily applied by fewer people and could be used with minimal to no sedation.

Charlie Andersen, John Madigan, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, professor of medicine and epidemiology and section chief of equine medicine at UC Davis, and Richard Morgan--the team that developed the ASSD--developed the UC Davis Large Animal Lift (LAL). They wanted a sling that was lighter than the ASSD, could be applied safely by two to three people, was well-tolerated by the horse, and was not too expensive for the average veterinary clinic or equine rescue team.

Nicola Pusterla, DVM, PhD, assistant professor in equine medicine at UC Davis, has recorded details on the use of the LAL in 16 cases. He's presenting the specifics at an upcoming Swiss veterinary meeting, but he gave The Horse a preview of what he's found.

"The problem we've had in the past is the recumbent horse that needs to come into the hospital has to be sedated, he's put on a trailer, must survive a trailer ride, be extracted (from the trailer), diagnosed, then you have to put the horse into a permanent sling to see if he's ready to stand," Pusterla said. "The Andersen sling is probably the most state-of-the-art sling--it supports the weight with the skeleton, does not put a lot of pressure on the abdomen, and is an ideal sling if the horse is able to stand. There are lots of applications for the ASSD," but putting the sling on the horse is cumbersome and physically demanding.

The ASSD sling is heavy and must be carried by two people, and the horse must be anesthetized so he can be turned over from one side to the other with assistants on both sides (and thus between his front and hind legs, which can be dangerous). Once lifted in the ASSD, the horse must recover from anesthesia so the veterinarian can assess his ability to stand. This process significantly prolongs the time from admission to diagnosis.

Conversely, the LAL can be carried and applied on the down horse by one person in less than five minutes. The horse is under minimal or no sedation, and has handlers at the head and tail.

Pusterla described the device. "The LAL consists of a counterbalance bar and two sling components made out of nylon straps," he said. "The device can be easily applied by as few as one person on the sedated or anesthetized recumbent horse with the use of a metal rod. The rod has a U-shaped end that allows the retrieval of the nylon straps from underneath the patient without having to roll it over.

"One additional person must keep control of the horse's head at all time," he continued. "To improve safety, all the steps of the application of the LAL are performed from the back side of the horse. Once the horse is adequately restrained, the front piece of the LAL is placed between the front legs of the horse and the lower straps are retrieved from underneath the horse by using the metal rod. Thereafter the back piece of the LAL is placed between the hind legs of the recumbent horse, and the lower strap is pulled from underneath the horse's flank with the use of the metal rod.

"Once the five double straps are in place, they are hooked to the corresponding carabineers on the bar and adjusted in length according to the available lifting clearance," he said. "Thereafter the horse is lifted by its skeletal system with the use of a manual or electric hoist in the hospital or a backhoe or forklift in the field."

If the horse is able to bear weight while in the LAL, it has a greater chance of recovery. Not being able to stand in the LAL indicates a poor prognosis.

The horse shouldn't be left in the LAL for more than 15-20 minutes, as it is not designed to support weight long-term. This is why the horse must be switched to the ASSD for long-term treatment.

To switch the standing horse from the LAL to the ASSD, the veterinarian and another person put the ASSD on top of the LAL, let the horse stand on his own momentarily, and hook the ASSD to the hoisting device. "You don't lose any time, and you put your horse in the best situation for recovery," Pusterla said.

The LAL should not be used in horses with suspected neck fractures or young, unmanageable horses. It has supported horses weighing between 400 pounds (a 5-month-old horse deemed suitable for the LAL) and 2,200 pounds.

Pusterla expects the LAL will have many rescue applications, such as assisting horses stuck in septic tanks, ditches, or swimming pools. The LAL, which is already in use by veterinarians across the country, is about half the price of the ASSD, which costs $3,500-$4,000.

Pusterla has been making suggestions for design improvement over the study period. "Our ideas would be looking at some fast-release systems to remove the sling from the horse," Pusterla said. "Let's say somehow it tangles, the horse freaks out, and there's no sedative--you'd want to take it off quickly. Also, we'd like to work from a single frame that would allow us to switch the standing position from the LAL to the ASSD without dropping (anesthetizing) the horse."

Ultimately, the sling's greatest benefit has been seen in the clinic. Madigan said, "This equipment shows a down horse is not a dead horse if it is handled promptly, and additionally, it allows one a chance to know when to quit. This cannot be determined when the horse is down."

For more information on the LAL, visit

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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