By April Ray-Peterson
Nothing can increase your blood pressure quite like seeing missed calls, texts, and Facebook messages from the barn. A while back, I was at work when I looked at my phone, which is always on silent at the office, and saw several missed messages from the barn manager. Fire had gotten herself cast, which unfortunately is a regular occurrence, but this time they couldn’t get her up. They had called the vet who was on his way, and I started a mad dash to the barn. With my dogs in tow and a short explanation to my boss, I was out the door and to the farm within way less time than it should have taken. However, the drive was long enough for me to continue to panic even more. What if they couldn’t get her up? What if she hurt herself? What if she hurt someone who was trying to help her? And about a million other hypothetical possibilities.
Luckily none of those came true and as I pulled up to the barn, the barn manager was just walking Fire out of her stall. Dr. Martinez and his assistant were able to use ropes to flip her over and give her the space she needed to get herself up. The suggestion of moving her to another stall where she would be less prone to getting stuck was made, and I considered it but decided to keep her where she was.
Fast forward a few weeks, and my husband Donald and I were putting the horses to bed one night. I had put fresh shavings in Fire’s stall, which usually elicited a good roll on her part. I had a funny feeling and stopped Donald from going up the stairs, knowing that she was likely going to get herself stuck. Sure enough, I heard the telltale crashing and walked over to find this:
She tried to get up a few times but was very, very stuck. Luckily, once she realized that the likelihood of getting up from her current position was slim to none, she just lay there. She looked at me with such desperation in her eyes, and a sense of dread sat heavy in my stomach. I looked at my 1300-pound horse who was pressed so close up against the wall that I had no idea how to get her up. I immediately called my vet for help, not knowing what else to do.
For anyone not familiar with what it means for a horse to get cast, it’s when they lie down or roll and are in a position where they cannot get back up. Often they get cast in a stall, but can also become cast against or under a fence outside, and I’ve even seen a horse get cast on a small hill in their paddock. Getting stuck is usually a result of not having enough room for the horse to get their legs out and get up, or re-position themselves to do so. Sometimes, when cast they can manage to get themselves up on their own, but sometimes they will need assistance to do so. While the end goal is to get the horse up, the priority must be your own safety. A cast horse will sometimes thrash around in panic or in attempts to get up, and no one wants to be caught in the crossfire of flailing legs and hooves. Enter a stall only if it’s safe to do so and you have a clear exit. Stay at the horse’s back if possible to avoid getting struck by the legs. Often something as simple as repositioning the head or legs, or combination of both, might be enough to help the horse get up, or in some cases you may need to use ropes to flip them over. There have been times when all I had to do was move Fire’s legs to put them in a better position for her to get herself up, and that’s done the trick. This time though, when I sent the photo to my vet, she advised me what to do and how to move her. Unfortunately, that involved three people, and we were one person short.
After a few panicked phone calls and possibly a few tears, Fire’s previous vet who lives nearby was on the way to help. Imagine my embarrassment when Fire somehow managed to get up on her very own, and I made a sheepish phone call to send the troops away. Since this last episode, Fire has luckily managed to keep herself from being cast again, but knowing what to do in case she does is comforting. You just never know when you might need to rescue a horse and having a little know-how can help keep a clear head and ensure everyone’s safety.
Main blog photo: Stefanie Fournier Photography