Protecting horses from farm hazards

The scene at Crunchie's.
Fields in which horses are kept should be kept clear of hazards. © World Horse Welfare

“There is no such thing as an accident; they are only incidents,” suggests animal rescue expert Dr Rebecca Gimenez.

“No matter how unfortunate the situation, looking back, something somewhere probably could have prevented it from happening in the first place,” she says.

Gimenez is primary instructor and president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER), based in Georgia. She provides training in technical animal rescue techniques, procedures, and methodologies across the US and internationally. In addition to publishing numerous critiques, articles, and journal submissions on horse safety, technical large animal rescue and horse handling issues, she published her first book, Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, in 2008.

She recommends that horse and facility owners become educated in both prevention and safety in order to identify any possible hazards and take the appropriate action beforehand to help offset an emergency visit from a veterinarian or even worse, having to resort to calling emergency services.

“The issue is usually having enough knowledge to understand where these hazardous problems lie and to act on them,” she says.

Often, horse owners feel their beloved equines are simply a magnet for injuries, most times brought on by their instinctive fight-or-flight response, their need to establish herd hierarchy, and in some cases, their sense of natural curiosity.

However, by spending time to minimize the various hazards found on your property through identification and removal, owners can get one step closer to making their barn and property safer for their horse and eliminate any potential accidents that may occur.

Farm properties can commonly become a catch-all for clutter and various safety hazards. Make it a habit to walk the property and be on the lookout for anything that could pose a problem should a horse connect with it. Keep an eye out for any sharp edges or protruding items such as nails, screws, torn metal, etc.

Fences and wire can cause major injuries to horses.
Fences and wire can cause major injuries to horses.

Farm and maintenance equipment such as mowers, bailers, and harrows, should all be stored away in its proper place. Take the necessary steps to dispose of any clutter or debris that has been collecting along fence lines, laneways, or around the barn.

Owners should walk their pastures and fill in any holes to prevent torn ligaments or a broken leg, as well as collect any discarded round-bale netting or binder twine – it is surprising how some horses like to munch on this.

Also, owners should keep a lookout for any potentially poisonous or toxic plants, such as tansy ragwort, nightshade, cocklebur, etc.

While they may have not bothered with them in the past, a hungry horse without adequate pasture or hay will eat anything. Inspect not only grazing fields, but your hay as well. For a list of dangerous plants in each individual’s area, check with the local ministry of agriculture.

Owners unable to tackle any of the potential hazards immediately should make note of their findings so that they are not forgotten.

Hidden hazards

Dusts, fumes, and vapours are hidden hazards that can have long-term effects on respiratory health for both horses and the humans who work around them.

Poor ventilation can contribute to allergies and respiratory ailments including recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), better known as heaves.

“We’ve all been in barns during the winter, where all the doors and windows are closed up tight because of the cold,” notes Gimenez. “And this comes down to human comfort. We’re cold, so we think the horses are cold and close everything up. Without proper ventilation, the horses breathe in all that dust and ammonia. This is an unseen hazard that a lot of people don’t think about.”

A properly ventilated barn encourages correct airflow movement that expels stale air and pushes chemical odors such as ammonia out of the barn and allows fresh air to enter.

“I’ve seen people spend $100,000 on a new barn and put in cheap $10 box fans, which are also a huge fire hazard,” continues Gimenez. “Why didn’t they spend a bit extra and install overhead fans? Or bring in a ventilation expert to look at their place and evaluate a proper ventilation system that can release the fumes and help improve the air quality in that barn?”

Trailering and barn fires are the two most common emergencies affecting horse owners.
Trailering and barn fires are the two most common emergencies affecting horse owners.

High risk factors

Statistics show that the two most common emergencies affecting horse owners are trailer wrecks and barn fires, notes Gimenez. This is followed by entrapment-type emergency situations where the horse is stuck in mud or icy water, tangled in fences, or other around-the-farm situations where they become trapped and cannot remove themselves.

While a necessity, fencing is also a major contributor to hazards on the farm and inspection should be done as part of an owner’s daily routine. Owners should check both sides of fencing and look for any protruding nails or wire, rotting posts, loose boards, dropped gates, etc.

“Make a habit of checking your fences regularly,” says Gimenez. “Not only can your horses injure themselves on broken boards or wires, but it only takes a stiff wind or the snow being so deep that the horses can just step over them, and then they’re loose. And a panicky, loose horse on the run can then open up a whole new set of emergency situations.”

Another danger that Gimenez warns of is housing horses in fields with ponds during the winter. If you are not able to relocate them to another area of the property, ensure that ponds are fenced off with some form of temporary fencing before they freeze over.

There have been numerous incidents where a horse will walk out across a snow-covered pond and fall through the ice into freezing water. Sometimes it doesn’t end well.

“Last December, the Emergency Equine Response Unit in the Kansas City area had the horrifically tragic and difficult job of retrieving the bodies of three young horses out of a pond after they fell through the ice and drowned,” she says. “I can’t stress it enough, people have to fence off their ponds and keep them out of mud, ice and water.”

Don’t fall victim to “It won’t happen to me” syndrome

Horses get themselves into all sorts of sticky - and dangerous - situations.
Horses get themselves into all sorts of sticky – and dangerous – situations. This horse was stuck in a pond for more than three hours.

Accidents involving horses can happen anywhere, anytime, and it’s an unfortunate fact that many could have been prevented. By taking the time to identify and correct any hazards that may be found on a property, owners will be in a better position to prevent any possible injuries that can arise. This saves aggravation on not only to your horses, but also your pocketbook.

“I can’t stress it enough, take the time to educate yourself on accident prevention and maintain your facilities so as to minimize injury to your horses,” Gimenez says. “They will thank you for it.”

Interested in learning more? Equine Guelph will be hosting an Emergency Preparedness Workshop for Horse Owners in Guelph on Sept 18, 2014 followed by a Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Awareness and Operations Level Course on Sept 19, 20, 21.

For a complete list of identifying hazards on the farm, check here.

Latest research and information from the horse world.

One thought on “Protecting horses from farm hazards

  • July 18, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    I agree with the article. I can’t believe how many people keep their horses behind substandard fences. We use a special horse netting fence with a small ‘hole’ that horses can’t get their feet through. It is called X-fence and you can get it at any of the farm stores eg CRT, Farmlands etc. It is 1.6m high for safety. Some people say its too expensive, but one vet bill saved can often pay for the extra cost of the X-fence safety fence.


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