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More than six million car accidents occur in the United States every year. While there are no reliable statistics regarding how many of those accidents involve horse trailers, any accident involving horses and vehicles has the potential to get ugly quickly.
“Emergencies take all shapes and forms,” said Mark Cole, managing member of USRider. “It could be life or death, or it could start as something simple and morph, but a lot of horse-related emergencies result from not being prepared and proactive.”
Two Essential Documents
While many people don’t like to think about emergency situations, being prepared for one can be the difference between a good outcome and a horrific one. Not only should you prepare for equine emergencies, but you should also plan for what will happen to your horses if you have a personal emergency while on the road.
Representatives from USRider, a company that provides emergency roadside assistance for equestrians (think AAA for horse trailers) recommend carrying “Limited Power of Attorney” and “To Emergency Responder” forms whenever you are traveling with your horses.
“This is something you need to think about well in advance,” said Cole. “The person you designate [in the Limited Power of Attorney document] should be a trusted friend who knows you and your relationship with your animals. This document allows whomever you designate to make decisions about your animals in the event that you are incapacitated.”
While an attorney drafted the document USRider provides, Cole recommends speaking with your own attorney and making adjustments to suit your personal needs, which could include how much money you are willing to spend on your individual horses, as well as at what point you would consider euthanasia.
The “To Emergency Responder” form is a corresponding document to the Limited Power of Attorney that provides pertinent information for an emergency contact who has the legal authority to make decisions regarding the treatment of your animals, as well as information about your home veterinarian and insurance company.
“You’ve provided for their care if the worst happens,” said Cole of the importance of carrying these documents while traveling. “This is taking preparation to the next level and being a good steward of your animals.”
Have An Emergency Plan
Because emergencies can happen anywhere, USRider has developed a database of large-animal veterinarians that their members can access in an emergency. In addition, the company maintains a database of emergency stabling facilities.
“The majority of facilities we use are not necessarily public boarding facilities,” said Cole. “They are horse owners and other members who have heard about what we do, and sign up as an emergency facility. If someone needs stabling in an emergency, we can contact them and see if they can help, or ask if they know who can.”
Because the equine industry is so close-knit, utilizing the network of horse owners often proves to be an important method of assistance. However, Cole stressed the importance of dialing 911, especially if you are in a dangerous location.
“If you are not in a safe place, and you have an equine or human emergency, it’s best to dial 911,” said Cole. “The 911 system reaches a different level of assistance.”
In your cell phone, consider establishing an ICE contact. ICE stands for “In Case of Emergency” and is a simple aid for emergency responders. Horse owners should have two entries in their contact lists, one for themselves, and one for their horses. These emergency numbers could include your veterinarian at home, or reliable and knowledgeable friends or family who can assist if you cannot.
Know The Signs
When it comes to your horse’s health on the road, keeping track of your horse’s resting TPR (temperature, pulse, respiration) can be an invaluable indicator of your horse’s health and a potential emergency.
“Any decent horseman should be able to obtain a daily resting TPR on their horses,” said Midge Leitch, VMD, a staff veterinarian in radiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s School Of Veterinary Medicine New Bolton Center. “It should be performed every day at the same time, when your horse is rested and relaxed, on every horse you are taking care of. Those pieces of information should go in a record everyday. They are as valuable of an indicator of their standard of health as you can get.”
Just like in people, an average TPR is different for every horse, but in general, average temperature varies from 99-100.5°F, average pulse is 36-44 beats per minute, and average respiration is 8-12 breaths per minute. Leitch noted that, when traveling, most horses will have a slightly elevated heart and respiratory rate, simply due to the stress of the activity.
“Most horses’ temperatures range just below 100,” Dr. Leitch observed. “A temperature over 100.5° in a horse which is on the road is cause for more careful observation. If something abnormal is beginning, you are alert to it.”
If you arrive at your destination, and your horse’s temperature is above 100.5, you need to start monitoring it every hour. If it’s a hot day, your horse may have an elevated temperature when he gets off the trailer, but it should drop after 30-60 minutes. If your horse’s temperature doesn’t drop or continues to rise, you should call a veterinarian. While shipping horses is exhausting, making sure they are comfortable and feeling good afterwards is just as important as preparing them for the journey.
Leitch added that you should never ship a tired horse, because they are the ones more likely to become sick on the road, and you should never ship a sick horse unless you are on your way to get treatment.
More Tests To Know
Three other important vital signs to monitor are a horse’s capillary refill time, his gut motility and his fluid levels. A CRT test is as simple as lifting the horse’s upper lip and pressing your thumb down on his gums. The amount of time it takes for the gum tissue to regain its color is called capillary refill time. On average, this should take 1-3 seconds.
Measuring gut motility requires a good ear or a stethoscope. You carefully press your ear to the horse’s left flank, just behind the rib cage and just in front of the hindquarter about midway up the body, and listen for popping or gurgling sounds. On average, you should hear 1-2 sounds per minute.
Finally, an easy way to measure if your horse is hydrated is to perform a skin pinch test. To do this, pinch a bit of skin off the neck and gently pull upward. When released, the skin should return to a normal position in 1-2 seconds. The longer the skin stays upright, the more dehydrated he may be.
While these tests are helpful in monitoring your horse’s health, they are not completely reliable, and if you have concerns, consulting a veterinarian is clearly the best option. If you are worried about your horse’s status, relying on your own assessment for any length of time is not the best option, especially if you have a combination of signs that are abnormal for you horse.
The Big Three Emergencies
There are three major emergencies that owners should be concerned about while on the road: dehydration, colic and pneumonia. The best plan of attack in such emergencies is to stay calm, know the signs and be as prepared as possible to handle whatever trouble the horses may find.
“You need to be proactive about treating these problems,” said Dr. Leitch. “Find assistance as soon as possible rather than allow the situation to worsen while you continue on to your destination if it is a considerable distance away.”
While traveling, you should never take your horse off the trailer unless the area in which you've stopped is a safe distance away from the highway and doesn’t pose a danger to your horse if he were to get away from you.
- Travel at night during hot weather if possible.
- In hot weather, don’t stop for long periods of time. Keeping air blowing on them in the rig will help keep them cool.
- Offer free choice water if your trailer allows.
- Stop regularly, every four to six hours, and offer water. Monitor their water intake carefully! If they are not drinking after eight hours on the road, be concerned.
- If you have a horse that won’t drink on the trailer, consider speaking to your veterinarian about pre-loading fluids, and scheduling stops along the way to re-hydrate if necessary.
- Severe cases of dehydration require veterinary care, including intravenous fluids. You should not give dehydrated horses tranquilizers such as Acepromazine which lower blood pressure and decrease gut motility and can be devastating in a dehydrated horse.
If your horse has developed a fever (temperature above 101°F) which does not return or start to return to normal (below 100.5°F) within 30 minutes and you believe that it is related solely to the ambient temperature (i.e. a very hot day), cool sponge baths can be effective in helping to lower its temperature. Evaporation is the primary means by which these baths are effective so scraping off the hot water and replacing it with more cool water is an essential component of the sponge bath. Adding some alcohol to the water will also promote evaporation but is irritating to eyes and any open skin injuries. Of course it is important to stay in the shade and to allow the horse to stand still so that sun and muscular effort do not thwart your efforts.
Offering free choice clear drinking water will assist the horse in rehydrating itself, replacing the fluids lost in sweat. Electrolytes should be offered only after the horse demonstrates that it is drinking well, as increasing the body’s concentration of electrolytes in the face of dehydration can be extremely dangerous.
- Keep horses as hydrated as possible.
- Avoid feeding grain.
- Consider speaking to your veterinarian about oiling your horse before a long journey if you know your horse is a difficult traveler.
For the most part, horses who are starting to colic will not display the typical signs (biting and/or kicking at sides, pawing, curling lip, etc.) until you have stopped, whether at a gas station or for the night. You should contact a veterinarian immediately at the first sign of colic and follow her advice regarding the rest of your trip: administration of any medications (Banamine® or Butazolidin® or tranquilizers), where to go (local veterinary clinic or your destination) or the wisdom of offloading your horse from the trailer.
When traveling, remember to be sure that you and your horse are in a safe location before taking him off the trailer, as the trailer is the safest place your horse can be in most circumstances. Offloading him without adequate assistance may only worsen the situation. Remember that your own safety should be your primary concern!
Preventing Pneumonia And Respiratory Problems
- Proper ventilation will keep dust and debris out of a horse’s lungs.
- Remove manure and urine as often as possible.
- Water down hay and bedding to fight dust.
- Make sure the horse has room to stretch his head down and out.
- Keep hay accessible, but not in the horse's face.
If your horse’s temperature rises above 100.5 and continues to rise, call a veterinarian. Try to make your horse as comfortable as possible by finding a quiet, safe area to pull off the road.
Lacerations and Minor Injuries
If your horse is bleeding, the most important thing to remember is to get the bleeding to stop and to get help.
In most situations, a well-applied pressure bandage will be successful in controlling blood loss until a veterinarian arrives. In an ideal situation with a well-stocked first aid kit, press squares of gauze onto the wound, wrap with a roll of gauze and then cover with a standing wrap. This should stop most wounds from bleeding. However, direct pressure is also effective, and any clean absorbent material may be used to stop bleeding.
First Aid Kit For Horses
- Emergency phone numbers
- List of normal vital signs and medical information of horses being transported
- Roll cotton
- Roll gauze
- Gauze squares
- Clean standing bandages
- Adhesive tape
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Antibacterial ointment
- Antibacterial spray
- Ophthalmic ointment
- Saline eyewash
- Butazolidin paste
- Banamine granules or paste
- Electrolyte paste
- Duct tape
- 15-20 gallons of water
This article is the second in an ongoing series loaded with tips for safe towing and travel. Next up is picking the right trailer for your needs. Do you have any questions about trailering or anything you’d like to see in this series? Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. She would love to hear your thoughts and looks forward to your contributions!