Rescue Training and Exhibitions Held in Central Kentucky

"We are not here to re-invent the wheel," said Tomas Gimenez, DrMedVet, a professor at Clemson University, addressing a group of first-responders and equine rescue personnel at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington earlier this month. The event was sponsored by Hagyard-Davidson-McGee (HDM) PLLC, Throughbred Charities, Fort Dodge Animal Health, The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care, and US Rider. "We're using equipment and procedures that have been in place for years. You are going to be using equipment that is already available in rescue squads," added Gimenez.

Sixty-three individuals attended the session taught by Gimenez and his wife, Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, on Aug. 9-11. The Gimenezes demonstrated rescue techniques to about 200 observers that were HDM clients, first responders, veterinarians, and the general public on Aug. 14. A total of 60 first responders, HDM veterinarians, and technicians have already been trained in Central Kentucky over the past 18 months. "Central Kentucky has a high density of horses and therefore the odds of having an equine related disaster are increased," said Nathan Slovis DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, Equine Rescue Director at HDM. "That is why we are proud to sponsor the annual technical large animal rescue symposium at the Kentucky Horse Park. Our goal is to train at least 100 first responders and veterinarians in Central Kentucky in the art of equine rescue. This course was invaluable when we responded to an 18-wheeler equine trailer accident six months ago and were able to extricate all 14 horses from the accident scene." The mornings of the rescue training were spent in the classroom teaching attendees everything from the behavior of horses under stress to physical and chemical methods of equine restraint. They discussed the roles of players on a rescue team as well as configurations and construction of horse trailers. Afternoons were spent learning, hands-on, how to use different types of rescue equipment, performing water and airlift rescues, uprighting trailers, and more.

"If you're going to be involved in rescue, use rescue-quality equipment," emphasized Tomas Gimenez. "Rescues are something that are very unpredictable, but you can plan for the type of equipment that you use. Even the strong-looking rope at the hardware store is not as strong as this," he said as he tugged on a piece of rescue-quality rope. "You use this because your life (not only the horse's) is going to depend on it." If a piece of equipment were to break, it could fly up and severely injure or kill a rescuer.

He reviewed the many types of rope, webbing, and cord with the attendees, as well as practical items to have in your rescue arsenal.

Some tips on equipment:

  • Nothing is wrong with getting rope dirty, but you should wash it in a mild detergent and dry it in shape;
  • Never store rope in sunlight as UV rays are harmful to the rope fibers;
  • Never step on rope because you will drive sand granules into its fibers that are very abrasive and will weaken the rope's fibers.
  • Rope is no good unless you know how to use it. Learn proper knots for rescues. Some knots are inherently loose, some are inherently tight, and some are appropriate for some things but not for others;
  • Label the ends of rope with the length measurement so you know which ropes are which. Color-coding also helps one find the right rope in a hurry;
  • Label all equipment so that it can be distinguished from other crews' equipment after a rescue. Often times, several crews cooperate on a rescue;
  • Helpful everyday items to have on-hand for a rescue include a cane, a boat pull, a golf ball retriever, and conduit tubing. All of these can serve as arm extensions to help work around a horse's legs, since you don't want to get too close to the legs when you are making a rescue (thrashing legs pose a serious danger).

One of the first maneuvers the attendees learned was how to prepare a horse for a lift. A forklift was used, and it is a good piece of equipment for vertical lift rescues (out of a ditch or ravine, for example) because the engine is back away from the horse, which makes it less likely to frighten the horse and also less likely to cause (by vibrations) collapse of the edge of a trench or bank during a rescue. Click here to view the forklift training video (you will need QuickTime to view this 10.5MB file).

Rebecca Gimenez pointed out that when putting equipment in place for rescues, it is important to pass things over and under the horse from the left to right side, since most horses are used to being handled from the left. 

"We do about 15 of these training sessions per year," said Rebecca Gimenez. "We've talked about the idea of who the players are on a rescue team and how these people should work together using the incident command system.

"We have veterinarians, firefighters, several horse people, animal control and humane society representatives, veterinary technicians, and ambulance personnel (at this particular training session)."

Rebecca Gimenez has five horses that are used for the rescue training and demonstrations. "All of them lay down (on command) except for one," she says. People attending the training can practice knots and rescue techniques on the horses when they are in dorsal recumbency (on their back), and practice maneuvering around a horse in this body position. Many horses are uncomfortable with even one person working around them when they are in this position, much less a crowd of people. If the first-responders learn how to work around a horse that is calm in this situation, they will better be able to handle a stressed horse in a rescue situation.
"I work very hard to make sure I'm minimizing the risk (of getting injured during a rescue)," said Rebecca Giminez. "If you learn on a live, breathing horse that is calm, you might have a better chance of working with a fire-breathing horse in a rescue situation. Some people here haven't touched a horse, ever."

For more information about next year's equine rescue symposium, contact Latonna Wilson at

Editorial intern Rachael Filkins contributed to this report


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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