Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Horse Down -- Getting Cast

Since my wife and I were concerned about snow a few days ago, I brought our horses in and put them up in our barn. While the others have been fine, one of our horses has not been a happy camper. Because he has a tendency to kick his stall, before heading off to bed, I decided to check on our horses.

Our stall kicker is a tall gelding. I got him, Gunner, and an older Arab mare, Tango, as a pair looking for a new home. Gunner and Tango are tied at the hip. Yes, as herd bound as can be. Separate one and the other is in distress, and vice versa. 

Now before you start typing to tell me how bad it is to have herd bound horses, I'd normally agree with you if I were riding either. If either were being ridden, then riding a herd bound horse is a pain since they don't want to be too far from the other. But frankly, these two rescues are not ridden. 

Also, I see horses being herd bound as a plus of sorts. In nature, in the wild, horses are herd bound. Because horses are prey animals, being herd bound is a matter of survival. Yes, their survival depends on being a herd because they see safety in numbers. A herd works together to use their senses of smell, hearing and sight to be on guard to possible danger. When the alarm sounds, a herd can go from grazing to a dead run in an instant. Because of this, their instinct for survival leads them to join up with others. My tall gelding joined up with my old Arab mare a long time before I got them. When she is in trouble, he throws a fit to alert me. Yes, he sees me as part of his herd as well. And yes, that's the plus of horses looking to be part of the herd. Horses can and will bond with people just as strongly as they do with other horses. 

If you're around horses for a while, you can't help but see that horses are thinking caring animals. They're not the dumb animals that some seem to think. For example, introduce a new horse to the mix and watch how they will instantly form opinions of that horse. From establishing a pecking order, to instant hostility, to establishing respect for a leader, they are more keenly aware of each other than we are of each other. And don't fool yourself, horses establish relationships within the herd. They partner up. I have a few horses and they've all paired up to a certain extent. 

While walking to our barn last night, I noticed that Gunner who was in the stall next to Tango was in a lather. Not kicking, just agitated as if something were wrong. 

My barn is built to where each 12 foot by 12 foot enclosed stall leads out to a 12 by 12 pen. Those outside pens were considered "outside" the barn until fairly recently when I built a lean-two over them. So now, in effect each stall is actually a 12 by 24 foot stall. 

Well, Gunner was agitated because Tango was down and stuck. She couldn't get up. She had cast against and under the outer fence rails of the outside portion of her stall. Yes, a horse can get stuck. It's called "cast" or "casting" in a stall. A horse is said to be "cast" when they lay down or rolled and managed to position themselves with their legs are so close to a wall or fence that they can't get up or re-position themselves to roll over.

In this case, that was the situation with Tango under the fence rails of her pen. Her legs were positioned in a way that she was caught and couldn't get up or roll over. 

Frankly, the last time that I saw such a thing take place was about 35 years ago. At the time, a neighbor's horse was stuck against a stall wall and I was called to help get his horse out. After a great deal of trial and error, with my neighbor almost being kicked a few times, it took him, me, and two other men to drag his horse out and away from that stall. 

I remember how we tried rolling him over and he nearly kicked the hell out of us. We tried one thing or another before we ended up tying a loop around it's neck and a loop around its hind quarters and dragged it out of that stall. He was a 1,200 pound horse and it took everything we had to pull it out of that stall. Once out, once the horse was on its front feet it worked to get it on its feet completely.

I haven't seen it happen since but I know full well that horses have a talent for getting themselves in trouble. Having a horse cast is said to take place in the wild, and while it can happen to horses in pastures in regards to rolling too near a fence or in a pen near a panel, it's a lot more common for horses to get cast in a stall.

What Is Cast?

"A horse is said to be cast when it gets stuck on its back or side and a bit like a turtle, can't get its feet under it to stand up again. The horse's legs may get jammed against a wall or fence, caught in a rope, its own halter, or blanket straps, stuck under a feeder, rail or another object, or the horse might lie down in a hole or hollow in the ground and not be able to scramble out of it." ​

How Does A Horse Get Cast?

"Horses that lie down in their stalls may lie down too close to a wall, and be unable to stretch out their legs to get up again. A horse may roll in its stall and get stuck with its legs up against a wall, or tangled in a hay feeder, or under stall boards. A horse will roll to scratch itself and get comfortable, or a horse might roll if it has colic. If a stable blanket gets shifted while the horse lies down, it can get tangled in the leg straps and be unable to stand up. In the pasture, horses can get cast when they lie down too close to fences or other objects. Even lying down in a hollow, or against a hill can prevent a horse from regaining its feet. Sometimes soft footing makes it hard for a horse to stand up after lying down. In the winter time, horses that lie or fall in deep snow can become cast. Horses can fall in trailers, and be unable to get up. Many horses, especially youngsters scratch their ears with a hind toe and can get tangled in their halter. Once tangled, the horse may fall and be unable to get up."

What Happens When a Horse Gets Cast?

"When a horse becomes cast, two things may happen: Feeling entrapped and unable to regain its feet can cause a horse to panic. As it flails and struggles, it can injure itself. The struggling horse can also hurt anyone who comes near. Although it seems trivial compared to what the panicking horse can do to itself and to the people trying to help it, it can also damage the stables, fences or anything else it strikes."

What Are "Reperfusion" Injuries?  

Besides a struggling horse possibly injuring itself, there is the problem of "reperfusion." If a horse is cast too long, there is the possibility that "reperfusion" injuries can take place. 

"The weight of their own bodies restricts blood flow to various areas of the body. When the horse stands on its feet again the blood flowing back into the affected areas causes pain and inflammation. Besides reperfusion injury, blood can pool in the muscles on the underside of the horse and nerves can become damaged by the pressure of the horse's own body weight. If the injuries from struggling and/or damage due to pooling blood are severe enough the horse may have to be euthanized. Blood can also pool in the lungs. If that happens, after a while, the horse can suffocate."

This is why time is so important and the horse has to get back on its feet. If the horse is not found for many hours when it becomes cast, it may die.

What to Do When a Horse Becomes Cast?

For me, I knew I had to stay calm and act quickly. After checking out the situation, I checked Tango's breathing and I looked for injuries. While I couldn't see anything in her dimly lit outside pen, I figured that I'd recheck her for injuries once I got her back on her feet. I knew the clock was ticking and I had no idea if she were down for minutes or hours. 

I put a loop around her neck and tried to roll her over while making sure that I wouldn't get hit with a flailing hoof. I noticed that at first she tried to get up even though she was stuck, then she calmed down almost as if knowing that I was there to help. Even though that's what I thought it seemed like at the moment, I've been around horses long enough to know that a horse that appears calm can start up again without notice. I was hoping to just roll her over, but that was not going to happen. 

When I couldn't roll her over, I knew I needed a longer rope, more light, help, and more muscle. As I made my way back up to my house, I formulated a plan to get Tango out of there and back on her feet. The first thing was to get my wife Deanna to help. Since she was still up, I told her we have a horse down and we have to get her on her feet. She joined me in the rain to help without even asking me what I planned to do. Yes, that's trust.

I took my pickup and pointed it toward Tango, and left it running with the high-beams on for light. I retrieved a few ropes, and then had my wife drive our Chevy Tahoe around the side of our barn. She then faced the front of the vehicle toward Tango's pen/stall. 

I moved a board Tango had knocked loose and I removed as many of the fence pen's enclosure that I could. About then, the rain started to come down harder. I took a rope and slipped a loop around her neck and tried to set a loop around her hind quarters as well as I could. I tied the end of the rope to the tow hook on the front of our Chevy Tahoe. 

I asked my wife to reverse very slowly when I gave the signal. Besides not wanting to hurt Tango, the rain made for traction problems that I wanted to avoid. 

Deanna watched my hand signals and reversed our Tahoe. Tango was tugged very slowly out from that predicament. When I though she was free, I signaled Deanna to stop. When I saw that she wasn't free yet, I signaled Deanna to pull more. And stop! 

Tango was away from the fencing and free. Almost immediately she worked her front feet and then her back to stand up. I gave her room as she stood. The poor thing was shaken and looked exhausted. I checked her again for cuts and injuries. Then after a few minutes, when I thought she was able to walk, I walked her around and into another pen. 

It's said that we shouldn't just pull on a horse's head and neck because that can possibly cause spinal injuries. But if that's all that we can do to save our horse, than that may be the only alternative that we have to solve the problem and save our horse. 

I knew time was huge factor and that I had to get her on her feet quickly or run into all sorts of problems which meant that I might lose her. I knew better than to put myself between her and the fencing that she was under. I knew that I tried to get her to roll over and couldn't, and with that I knew that I needed ropes, help, and more muscle to drag her out of her predicament. My wife jumped in and helped as we used a lunge line and our Chevy Tahoe to get her out of trouble. 

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here's my advice:

Above all else stay calm and be careful of not getting hurt when approaching a horse that's thrashing. Wait for the horse to calm down. Don't pull on a halter to try to move a downed horse, instead loop the neck. Also, don't pull on the horse's legs. They will resist that and permanent injuries can result in pulling the legs. 

If in a stall, make sure you have enough room to roll a horse that's cast. Stay as far back from the horse as you can after re-positioning her. As soon as the horse feels that she may be able to get up, there's a chance that she may start thrashing around trying to do just that.

Once a cast horse is on her feet, she'll calm down. Give her a few minutes before moving her. Take that time to check her for cuts or injuries like swellings. It's said that most horses escape casting unscathed. But others, especially a horse that was down for a long time until someone discovered her, can be pretty banged up. 

I rechecked Tango a few times today. It may have been my imagination, but I somehow think she appreciated seeing me even more than usual.

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth L. Johnson said, I'm up here in Redding; yep, a lot of rain and slippery. So glad your horse is fine and that she has such a fine pal who would warn you. Great advice for horse owners. Have a great year!


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