Lightweight, portable lift kit for stricken horses developed

The loops in place for a horizontal drag. Photo: Madigan et al.

A lightweight portable kit designed for lifting or moving recumbent horses in rescue situations has been designed by researchers in California.

John Madigan and his colleagues, writing in the journal Animals, noted that veterinary hospitals used specialized slings for compromised equines. However, these cost between $US2000 and $US5000, and are not widely available in many field settings.

“Therefore, we designed a simplified, less-expensive, easy-to-apply rescue system for use only in the short-term movement or brief lifting of the equine rescue patient to allow the horse to be moved to a safer location or allowed to try to stand.”

The system is estimated to cost under $US350. It fits in a small duffel bag and is simple to apply, with written step-by-step directions. It does not require knots or hooks, and can be placed rapidly from a safe area behind the back of the horse, away from the limbs.

The so-called Loops System is basically composed of four 183cm round slings rated to greater than 1905kg, placed in such a way that they use the skeletal system for support. It also employs screw-lock carabiners and a bolt-type D-ring anchor shackle.

All items are readily available via internet order or will soon be able to be obtained in complete kit form.

The researchers, all with the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, said trapped, stranded and recumbent equids often required emergency rescue.

The components of the lift kit fit easily into a duffel bag, and cost less than $US350. Photo: Madigan et al.

“The success of the rescue is often affected by secondary injuries from struggling of the horse to rise and from injury secondary to the attempted rescue by pulling on the head or limbs of the equid.

“Therefore, having ready access to simplified rescue equipment which can be easily applied would be desirable.”

In their article, the developers describe and illustrate the use of their Loops System.

Six maneuvers commonly used in equine technical rescues are illustrated, with step-by-step instructions for a forward assist, a rear assist, a full-body roll, a rear drag, a horizontal drag and a vertical lift.

The authors said horses with extreme weakness following an injury or fall, or with a history of neurologic or musculoskeletal diseases, can be unable to stand, making transport and even survival difficult.

In such a case, veterinarians may need to lift a recumbent equine to perform an evaluation and make a diagnosis and prognosis.

Tactical large animal rescue is a field that has evolved to aid animals in these situations.

“Because of the hazards of the size of the animals and the behavior of equids, it is critical that those attempting to work with recumbent or stranded equines have proper training and immediate access to equipment to aid in the rescue process.

“Furthermore, due to the nature of equids as prey animals, the recumbent or stranded equid often struggles incessantly, making it difficult for responders to provide aid.

“Prolonged recumbency of horses is associated with secondary injuries, including cranial trauma, eye injuries, myopathies, musculoskeletal injury, and nerve paralysis.

“We suggest that the Loops System kit may allow enhanced ability for responders to provide care to a recumbent horse.”

The ultimate goal of describing the use of the Loop System is to improve equine welfare, they said.

The researchers said a life-size fiberglass mannequin was used to evaluate the placement of the kit, and the system had already been used successfully with live animals. It was used for a forward assist to move a recumbent 300kg donkey into a horse trailer, a rear assist to drag a 500kg mare with labor difficulties from a horse trailer, and to lift a 150kg recumbent sow with extensive burns.

“The use of the Loops System for vertical lift is more complex and has been tested in live horses,” they said. “Specific training before use is required to prevent serious injury or death to those working with a stranded or compromised equine.”

It was found that rescuers could put the loops in place on the mannequin (for maneuvers other than the lift) in about three minutes, with an assistant reading the step-by-step instructions.

A horse on its feet after deployment of the system for a vertical lift. Photo: Madigan et al.

Live horses naturally presented more difficulties, and hence, the placement time would be expected to be longer in real emergency settings.

The authors stressed that the use of protective equipment such as helmets and gloves in rescues is essential. Prior training in safe approaches is necessary to prevent serious injury to people in horse rescue situations.

The authors said all the steps described in their paper have been used previously in equine technical rescues but had involved more cumbersome, more complex, less affordable and often less readily available equipment.

At this stage, there is no quick release of the current Loops System, which was one potential refinement.

Full details about the system can be found here.

Description of Placement Procedures for Common Methods Used in Equine Emergency Rescue Using a Simplified Loops System
John Madigan, Lais Costa, Samantha Nieves, Molly Horgan, Kirsten Weberg and Monica Aleman
Animals 2019, 9(8), 529;

The paper, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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