According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are approximately 3.6 million horses in the US, with 140,000 on farms in Kentucky. Many of those horses are transported by trailers to and from farms, veterinarian visits and boarding facilities and can be prone to accidents out on the open road.
While some accidents are unavoidable, knowing how to react on scene to a large animal in distress can be just as important as preventing it. Some people in our region are training to respond the right way and be prepared the next time a large animal ends up in a bad spot.
Last Thursday evening, about 15 Murray State students and emergency responders ran point for a larger search group spread out on the grounds of Murray State’s Equine Center looking for an injured rider and a trapped horse.
“Right now we have a group of six, what we’ve done is we’ve each split off in a group of two and we’re going opposite directions that way we can cover as much ground as fast as we can," said MSU senior Hallie Perkins.
She and her team searched an area equal to 10 square miles, just as the last of the sunlight was dying down.
About a week ago, Hallie probably wouldn't have known where and how to look for a distressed horse, but after four days of training with Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, or TLAER, she knows exactly what to look for.
“So we’re constantly scanning the parameters looking for any type of movement, watching cattle and horses, they sometimes clump up when they see people because they think they’re going to get fed," she said.
“The students are getting the experience of what it takes to actually search for and find a lost animal and lost human victim, get out there rescue that animal," said Porr. "The horse has a lameness which means it can’t be walked out it has to be put on the rescue glide. When he’s laying down, we package him up like a little burrito and drag him out. But everybody was ready, everybody knew what to do."
While the evening's exercise is only a simulated search and rescue, the training gives aspiring horse workers the know-how of what to do and how to react in seriously dangerous situations.
The week-long TLAER course also included several other scenarios: a mud rescue, a barn fire, protecting animals from hypothermia and even removing a horse from a flipped over trailer.
That scenario hits close to home for MSU Rodeo Coach JD Vanhooser, because just two years ago there was an accident.
“We were traveling to a college rodeo in Missouri, and a couple of the young ladies on the rodeo team got in some traffic in a road construction area on I-24 in Paducah," said VanHooser. "The car in front of them stopped abruptly. The driver took measures to avoid hitting the car, so she applied her brakes. Because of the construction, the road had a lot of loose gravel and stuff, and so the truck and bumper-pull trailer jack-knifed, got up on two wheels and actually flipped over. It threw one of the horses through the roof of the trailer, and it had to be euthanized. While the other horse managed to make a full recovery.
"But that sort of wreck is exactly what they’ve been training for at this deal.”
To simulate that kind of a car and trailer wreck, students used an intricate system of ropes and pulleys to tip over a double-horse trailer with a horse trapped inside. But don’t worry, no real animals were harmed.
“We have a large mannequin, he’s about 600-pounds, his name is Stormy," said Eric Thompson, Operations Manager for the Emergency Equine Response Unit out of Kansas City which trains police and fire fighters for such situations. "We work with this mannequin just like he’s a live animal."
“So we’re teaching the students to least have knowledge of what the fire fighters would do so they can help communicate a safe extrication method for the animal in the event that they’re all on scene together," said Thompson.
Dr. Rebecca Jimenez of TLAER, Inc. leads the instruction.
She says these safety techniques need to be taught young, before students venture into the ag industry, because she says it’s difficult to train horse workers already set in their ways.
“Much of the training within the horse industry is horse industry professionals teaching other horse industry professionals as they move up through college," said Jimenez.
And that’s one reason she doesn’t find many of Kentucky’s horse racing professionals at her courses, and too often she sees accidents that could have been prevented.
“It is very challenging to reach out to the race horse industry, it’s a very insular industry and part of that I think is because they think they know everything," said Jimenez. "Any of us that have watched horse racing on YouTube or TV, what you'll see is sometimes horses get caught up in the gates, get caught up by their hind end. I did get a chance to work with the barrier attendants in Australia, and they're taking it more seriously that perhaps there's better ways to prevent animals from jumping over the gate or over their stall. Just thinking about how we can make that a little safer for the animals and how can we prevent that in the first place."
Jimenez says animal accidents can be more emotional because of the personal bond between the animal and the owner and that emotion can cloud judgment.
Porr says that when it comes to horse extrication; people can sometimes forget that the safety of the owner is just as important as the trapped animal.
“When you get into these kind of circumstances and if we don’t have people who are trained on how to rescue animals, what will happen is your bystander or animal owner will be the one to try and do the rescue, which can be fairly dangerous because the horse doesn’t always understand what you’re trying to do when you help them," said Porr. "Their legs can strike out, their head can swing and hit you.”
Jimenez says the main lesson she wants the students to take away is how important they are in the education of others.
“When they go home and they work with 4-H students, or they work with Pony Club students or they work with their own children, I hope that they bring these ideas of stop, do a risk assessment, breathe, call a friend, call a vet, call an emergency responder to help you, and perhaps that will make us a little bit safer around our horses. It’s not all about saving the horse, it’s about saving people.”
TLAER conducts around 20 trainings across the U.S. and Canada each year.
This is the second year MSU instructors have held the course and say they would be interested in making the TLAER course required for all ag students working with large animals in the future.