Horses are really good at getting hurt. Liz Arbittier, VMD, CVA, once treated a horse with a metal pitchfork-tine—skewered hoof. Barn staff left the fork in the wheelbarrow, which was blocking the stall, while momentarily stepping away. Upon returning, the worker found the horse standing on the fork, which had pierced the bottom of the foot and come out the back of the heel/pastern.
“Amazingly, after surgery and a long recovery, he was absolutely fine,” said Arbittier, who’s an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center School of Veterinary Medicine, in Kennett Square.
Sharp metal prongs aren’t the only things that can injure a horse. Samantha Parkinson, DVM, CVMMP, the equine field service resident at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, has seen several horses impale themselves on wooden handles of pitchforks.
“Horses are uncannily efficient at finding things with which to hurt themselves,” she said.
Often, it’s the most common barn fixtures that cause injury. Here are five that veterinarians encourage clients think twice about before using.
1. Double-ended snaps/screw eyes. Bucket handles and hooks can, and often do, cause eyelid and nostril lacerations. That’s common enough (Bonus tip: Use safety buckets with rubber coverings on sharp handle finishes, as well as safety bucket hangers or closed eye hooks). But double-ended snaps and screw-eye hooks can cause the same injuries.
“It helps to always have the snaps pointing toward the wall and making sure the screw-eye doesn’t have any gaps/metal edges,” Arbittier said. “Investing in safety snaps or hangers is a good idea.”
2. Hay mangers. These are popular in some stables to reduce waste and slow consumption. Scott Ahlschwede, DVM, the director of ambulatory services for Rood & Riddle Saratoga, in Saratoga Springs, New York, encourages horse owners to think twice before using them. He once saw a horse at a large barn suffer a catastrophic injury after getting a leg caught in a V-shaped manger. The next day stable staff removed 200 mangers.
“It’s okay to feed hay on the ground—that’s the natural way horses eat,” he said.
3. Metal flashing. Cribbers destroy barns. So do bored horses who like to chew wood. Often, barn owners place metal flashing (thin pieces of impervious material meant to be installed to prevent water passage) over the wood to deter cribbing. However, horses can still chew the surface, leading to sharp edges developing over time.
“That poses a hazard for the horse’s mouth, lips, and gums,” said Lindsay Goodale, DVM, an equine practitioner and a lecturer at Cornell University. “The best option is to avoid sharp metal, but if it’s in your barn check it regularly for damage.”
4. Metal tack racks. Metal is unforgiving. If a horse bumps into a bridle hook, saddle rack, or blanket bar, there is a risk of injury. If a horses can reach blanket racks over their stall doors, they can get teeth caught and break their jaws. Horses in cross-ties kicking at saddle racks can get their legs stuck. Choosing stiff rubber hooks rather than metal is one option. For saddle racks, consider solid ones that can’t trap legs (a piece of 4-by-4-inch lumber is an option). Another option is hanging tack racks in areas away from horse traffic.
“If they’re designed to fold down after use, return them to that position,” Ahlschwede says.
5. Stall door latches. You need hardware to secure stall doors (unsecured doors lead to their own problems: loose horses). However, when latches aren’t flush, they can bruise horses, tear the skin, or cause a condition known as a “knocked down hip” (fracture of the tuber coxae or shaft of the ilium, usually caused when a horse rushes through a door and/or forcibly hits his hip on the doorjamb. Replacing existing hardware can be expensive, and stall design might not allow for a change in some cases.
“It’s not possible for everyone to change their latches, but they can make sure that horse owners, staff, and others bringing horses in and out always push the latches all the way in to avoid injuries,” Goodale said.
Reduce Injury Risks
Even the most mundane objects can pose risks to horses. Parkinson recommends keeping aisleways clear to significantly reduce the chances of an injury and regularly inspecting for sharp objects.
“Go through the area where your horse lives and feel for sharp corners or edges with your hand. If it hurts you as you run your hand over it, it can hurt your horse,” she said. “Keep all extra equipment such as pitchforks, ropes, hooks, halters, extra fencing, wheelbarrows, etc., in a separate room that horses cannot access.”