horse rescue

A team of emergency and large animal rescue professionals saved a hypothermic mare stuck in a creek

When you consider scenarios that require large animal rescue, you might think of traumatic trailer accidents and horses trapped in icy ponds or deep ravines. The most common incidents, however, can happen to anyone, anywhere.

“The thing most people deal with is horses down in stalls, muddy paddocks, slippery eroded spots in the back of a pasture,” says Rebecca Husted, PhD, president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Inc., in Georgia. “They are all the same: The horse slips down and just can’t get up. Sometimes it’s old age or arthritis, but honestly even perfectly healthy horses have it happen if they simply can’t get their feet under them.”

She relays a case she consulted on in October 2019 involving just that. A mare had somehow slipped into and gotten stuck in a creek running through the Kalispell, Montana, property where she lived. The scene looked benign enough—a horse standing calmly in a shallow ditch, as if at any moment she could hop right out and canter off. But a nearby footbridge had prevented the mare from navigating downstream and finding a way out.

“Apparently she was not actually stuck, but once she went down in the slick soil and mud, she was sort of panicky,” Husted says. “Then she lies over on her side, and she’s just exhausted and there’s water in there, so she gets cold. If I hit the water in October, I would be cold as heck and shocked too.”

rescuing a down horse

Quick and Safe Actions

The Smith Valley Fire Department was the first on the scene. They don’t know how long the mare had been trapped but, by the time they arrived, she was unable to exert much physical effort. So they called Sarah Grace Broussard, who runs a large animal rescue team from her Rebecca Farm. Her first reaction? Move the bridge.

Typically, you might be able to lead a horse down a ditch or creek to a place where it can get traction and extricate itself, says Husted. Or, you might motivate a horse to jump up on its own by rolling it on its side. In this scenario, however, the point of moving the bridge was to provide more room for handlers to get the mare onto a rescue glide. She was cold and depressed and unlikely to get up and walk to the waiting trailer without assistance.

“Our rescue glide is the piece of plastic that we’re putting next to the horse’s body,” Husted explains. It not only makes the vertical lifting and dragging of the horse from the creek easier but also protects her skin and body from injury during the process. Two pieces of ­webbing—one wrapped around the horse’s chest directly behind the front legs and the other directly in front of the back legs—help secure the horse to the glide and also serve as handgrips for pulling.

“We make sure the horse is strapped down like a little psychiatric patient so it can’t struggle, jump, pull, or jerk,” says Husted. “It’s 4-inch webbing, so it’s nice and wide and doesn’t pinch the horse. Don’t do it with ropes!”

This rescue team also came prepared with a Nicopoulos needle to help guide the straps around the horse’s body. “It’s just a metal needle that’s big enough to go around the horse’s chest and attach to your webbing to pull it under,” she says. In a pinch, Husted says you can also use a tool such as a longe whip, which has both a stiff end for sliding under the horse and the flexible part for guiding the

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