Report: Equine Panic, Equipment Flaw Caused UF Horse Death

A University of Florida (UF) Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) review team has credited an undetected equipment flaw and an unexpected equine panic episode for the death of a horse during a Large Animal Technical Rescue Team water rescue training exercise earlier this year.

The UF Large Animal Technical Rescue Team was created three years ago to help save horses and other livestock in crisis situations and to train veterinarians and other emergency responders on best practices for lifting livestock, moving injured animals, and rescuing large animals in water, among other emergencies, said University Public Affairs Director Janine Sikes.

On April 29 the team was conducting a water rescue exercise at Lake Wauburg in Gainesville when the horse belonging to the team's leader died. An IACUC team at the university was appointed to investigate the incident.

During the exercise students in the training session equipped the horse with a flotation device and were supposed to walk the animal into the lake and back out as part of the exercise. In their report the IACUC investigators concluded that fatality resulted from the horse's panic in response to "an unexpected event." During the panic episode the animal kicked its legs over the top of the float and submerged its head in water, according to the report. A necropsy revealed that no water was present in the horse's lungs, but that the animal died from "dry drowning" caused by throat spasms that closed the animal's airway.

"It is not even clear that any different action on the part of participants (in the exercise) would have saved this animal," the report said.

To enhance equine safety during training exercises, investigators recommended that chest straps and quick-release fasteners be added to flotation devices. Investigators also recommended that an instructor be present in the water with trainees during training sessions.

Sikes said university large animal rescue teams will continue work on improving safety during training events.

"Our teams conduct training exercises because they know they'll face the unexpected when called for duty," Sikes said. "This incident was a terrible tragedy, but our team will take what they learned and be better prepared to handle a similar situation in the future."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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