Technical Equine Rescue

In today's world, a natural or man-made disaster can strike at any time. The only defense we have is preparation. Unfortunately, many animals are dragged, stranded, drowned, or dropped during attempted rescues by untrained personnel. Rescuers often get hurt, and the animals might be more injured by the rescue than they were during the accident. Rescuing these animals shouldn't be a rodeo. Many large animal rescues promoted on television networks show only a part of the story. Close review of these cases has revealed that many of these rescues caused further injury or death. Television networks glamorize these rescue events, but fail to show the follow-up, which can be deleterious effects on the health of the animal. Unfortunately, duplication of these rescue techniques are inevitable because someone might have seen a rescue event on TV that didn't use appropriate rescue standard methods.

As an equine veterinarian or a horse owner, there will be a time in one's career that you will encounter the unthinkable: A horse in a sinkhole, a trailer accident, a horse trapped in mud, or maybe a horse that has fallen down an embankment. Are you prepared to face these disasters? I wasn't the first time I had to respond to a trailer accident on an expressway in Phoenix, Ariz.

I was just out of veterinary school and thought I was prepared. I had the medical background, but how were we going to rescue these horses from the trailer, then turn the trailer over? It was on a busy expressway, and it was evening. All the windows were shattered, with glass everywhere. It was a two-horse trailer on its side with one horse on top of the other. The lights from the passing cars were blinding.

Fire/rescue departments, EMS, and law enforcement personnel are trained to respond effectively to any emergency involving people. Emergency responders have attempted to use their human rescue techniques to help rescue these large animals. Unfortunately, these animals are very strong and large, resulting in techniques in which human standards of care are disregarded. Luckily, with the help of the local fire department and the use of their fire hoses, we were able to pull the injured horses from the trailer. That was my first experience with Technical Equine Rescue (TER).

Even though we saved the horses' lives, that accident's rescue techniques were faulty at best. The rescue responders, despite all of their equipment, didn't have the training to rescue horses from an accident scene. The goal of equine emergency rescue is to prepare both emergency responders and veterinarians to safely rescue horses without endangering human or animal lives or compromising public safety. To achieve these goals, we need to set up short courses that attract rescue personnel and veterinarians.

The course should educate rescue personnel in the basics of equine behavior, restraint (using a halter and lead rope), and what parts of the horse's body can be used to help extricate the animal. Whenever possible, the rescue personnel are trained not to use the head or legs as "handles," but instead attempt to use the torso with wide webbing straps (old fire hoses) for forward assist, backward drag, or vertical lift. The veterinarians should be educated about the Incident Command System and basic rescue equipment.

The most important part of this program is training. Without proper training, the responder will not be ready for TER. By training and attending these educational courses, the rescue personnel and veterinarians will feel more comfortable working with each other and around the injured animal. These courses also set up a line of contact between the veterinarian or horse owner and the local fire/police departments. These rescue departments should have a contact person from this trained group to rely on should they receive an emergency call for an equine rescue.

Accidents involving large animals are increasingly common as more large animal owners choose to live in more urban environments and travel locally or cross-country with their animals. We need to support our rescue responders and help train them in the art of TER. The following instructors are available to help train veterinarians and rescue personnel: Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, and Tomas Gimenez, DrMedVet, at tgmnz@clemson.edu; Allan Schwartz of Days End Farm at defhr@erols.com; and Code 3 Associates at www.code3associates.org.

About the Author

Nathan M. Slovis, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, CHT

Nathan M. Slovis DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, CHT, received his DVM from Purdue University. He is board certified in large animal internal medicine and he is currently the Director of the McGee Medical Center at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky. His special interests are in neonatology, infectious diseases, and hyperbaric medicine (in which he is certfied as a hyperbaric technologist).

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