Narrow Escape: Caring for Equine Barn Fire Survivors

Narrow Escape: Caring for Equine Barn Fire Survivors

Horses that survive barn fires could sustain serious injuries ranging from burns to smoke-related respiratory issues, many of which have long-term debilitating consequences.

Photo: iStock

Just because a horse survives a barn fire doesn't mean he's out of harm's way

In March 2016, Grateful Pride was in training at the South Florida Trotting Center, in Lake Worth, Florida, when fire swept through his barn. Amid the flames and the smoke and the chaos, the 2-year-old Standardbred broke out of his stall and galloped to another barn on the Trotting Center campus. 

“He was evidently looking for a safe place to go,” recalls Grateful Pride’s trainer, Jeff Stout. “He’s a smart horse. Really, he saved himself.”

All told, grooms, farm managers, and trainers were able to rescue 11 horses from the blazing barn before the building’s roof caved in. The 12 horses still inside died.

Scott Swerdlin, DVM, MRCVS, president of Palm Beach Equine Clinic, in Wellington, Florida, says Grateful Pride was lucky to survive not only the blaze but also the complicated recovery process. In his more than 30 years of practice, Swerdlin has treated several fire survivors, including two injured in a high-profile barn fire at the Gulfstream Polo Club in 2013 that claimed eight Thoroughbreds.

“Only about 40% of horses involved in barn fires survive,” he says. “And of those, only 15% make full recoveries—that is, that they can return to the work they did before the fire.” Recovery can take more than a year, he adds, and become very expensive. 

Even post-recovery, says Swerdlin, many still bear the scars of the experience; they’ve sustained serious injuries ranging from burns to smoke-related respiratory issues, many of which have long-term debilitating consequences. But burns top the list of most common barn fire injuries among survivors, says Swerdlin’s colleague, Bryan Dubynsky, DVM. 

Learn more about Grateful Pride’s recovery and other considerations on caring for barn fire survivors in the February 2017 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of this issue.

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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