Australia Bushfires: Groups See to Horse Health, Care

As uncontrolled bushfires continue to sweep through the Australian state of Victoria, horse health and rescue aid associations are working round the clock to keep up with the expanding need for emergency equine care.

The fires have reportedly affected hundreds of horses, as the flames continue to consume hot, dry, mountainous areas. Horse owners can utilize free veterinary care by the Equine Center of the University of Melbourne, The Vet Practice in Whittlesea, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Project Hope Horse Welfare Victoria (PHHWV) is arranging housing and transport for horses and their owners and is coordinating the delivery of feed and equipment. They have also established a "Horse Lost and Found" register on their Web site (read more). Equestrian Victoria, the state's equestrian federation, is organizing the collection and distribution of various kinds of donations. All the aid associations and clinics are being partially or fully funded by financial gifts provided by private organizations and individuals.

"When the fires came, they moved so fast, there was no warning, so people hardly had time to save themselves, let alone save their horses."
--Geraldine Chapman
"When the fires came, they moved so fast, there was no warning, so people hardly had time to save themselves, let alone save their horses. It happened that quickly," said Geraldine Chapman, Victoria horse owner and editor of Horseyard, an informational Web site. "For those that still have their horses, many have lost everything else. But the generosity of people from all over Australia has been amazing."

The most common bushfire injuries being treated at the University of Melbourne are second- to third-degree burns, according to Kate Savage, BVSc, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, head of Equine Clinical Services at the Center. The burns mainly affect areas with a thin haircoat, such as around the face and reproductive areas, and most cover from 10 to 30% of the body, she said. Heat-related injuries including corneal ulcers of the eye and destruction of the lamina in the hoof are also common. Complications from smoke inhalation have occurred but are being seen less often than in barn fires, for example, because horses are usually able to move to avoid the smoke, she added.

Horses might also suffer lacerations from running into fences or other obstacles when fleeing the flames, according to the Department of Primary Industries of the State of Victoria.

"Everyone is working long hours to help out however they can," Savage said. "There's been a tremendous amount of altruism and good will for those who have been affected by these fires."

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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