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Horse Tragedy leads to Training
By Maddy B. Gray
Sometimes tragedy can provide vital training.
This was the lesson behind my animated (some might say crass) call home from the Equine Affaire.
“Guess what?” I asked over the phone. “We moved a dead horse.”
Sure, my intention was to shock my unflappable teenagers. I neglected to communicate the deep sympathy I felt for the poor owner and her horse. That would come later in the conversation.
But I get ahead of myself...
My friend, Michelle Melaragno, and I had the o
pportunity to put our training to use as we assisted in the evacuation of a euthanized horse. It wasn't fun, but we appreciated the chance to practice what we've been taught as certified large animal rescuers.
We just don't get chances to move 1,000-pound recumbent animals. This is not like swaddling a dead cat in a towel. It's extremely challenging to move them quickly, safely, and humanely and we were honored to have this serendipitous practice.
We didn’t get the whole story from the owner but surmised this much from several bystanders’ observations at this major horse event in Springfield, Massachusetts:
The owner pulled into the Barn E grounds, hauling her 12-year old mare in a double trailer with ramp. When she went to back the horse out, the horse stumbled at the ramp's top corner, somehow flipped over backwards, and "folded like a pretzel" said one witness.
The owner and those coming to help decided the injury was severe enough that the horse should stay down. They covered her with a blanket and called the Equine Affaire’s on-call vet.
He arrived quickly and evaluated her. She’d fractured one of her hind legs above the hock. He recommended euthanasia.
This is when my friend, Michelle and I arrived at Barn E. We had raced from a booth at the Breed Pavilion upon hearing news of a horse down. We were eager to help in any way and we hoping, of course, that the horse would be saved.
After learning of the mare’s sad fate, we raced back to the Breed Pavilion where we had seen a large animal rescue display, sponsored by the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
We needed their Rescue Glide (a large, thick sheet of plastic with open slats for securing ropes) and their help. They generously and immediately provided both.
Back at Barn E, I spoke with the owner, the on-call vet, Brenda Martin, a helpful bystander and experienced horsewoman, and Dr. Chris D’Orazio, the medical director of the equine ambulance stationed nearby at Barn C.
I made sure it was alright to help and to take pictures. I identified myself and Michelle as not affiliated with any orga
nization but nonetheless certified in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue.(
Michelle directed efforts to move the horse off the mud and onto the glide and then into the owner’s trailer. We wrapped the mare’s head in a towel and two women supported it by holding the corners of the towel. (A horse head and neck can weight about 150 pounds, so this was no small feat.)
It took a well-coordinated, six-person effort to move the horse into trailer.
Once in the trailer, Michelle wisely hobbled the l
egs while they were still flexible.
would set in during the owner’s ride back to New Hampshire. Straight, rigid legs would make it very tough to get the dead horse out of the trailer.
All in all, it was a quick, respectful process completed in front of dozens of bystanders. We moved the horse in a dignified manner and it took less than 10 minutes. I would like to think we did the horse and owner a service. How horrible it would have been if the process was clumsy and drawn out.
I should add that most everyone involved had some large animal rescue training and we worked very well as a team. If the incident had been more involved, it would have been helpful to appoint an "incident commander," someone to direct our actions. But given the situation, we managed well with many Indians and no Chief.
Top photo shows us borrowing the Rescue Glide from the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
Next photo shows several volunteers pulling the Glide (with horse on it) up the horse trailer ramp. Note the two women supporting the head with a towel.
Opposite photo shows volunteers at the front escape door, pulling horse fully into trailer.
Bottom photo shows Michelle hobbling legs so that unloading the horse will be easier.
Special thanks to the
Animal Rescue League of Boston
. (left to right Mike Brammer, Ashley Arseneau, Jill Hennessey)
View Reader Comments:
Horrible accident. How VERY fortunate that so many caring people including you were there and helped both horse and owner.
"Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses" - Elizabeth Taylor
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