Friday, April 20, 2007

Does Your Horse Know How To Be Trapped?

The other night while visiting the MareStare chat one of the newbies asked if a particular horse on cam was cast. As usual in the chat room the conversation was going about sixteen different directions at the same time. I don't know if anyone really noticed her question except for me. I pulled up the cam she was talking about and saw a pinto horse standing in the center of the stall.

I let her know the horse was standing and she replied the gray horse. Then it dawned on me that this farm had rotating cams. They have more than one cam but only one hosting package and the cams switch from stall to stall. As an observer, I find them difficult to watch. But I went back and checked for the gray horse, and sure enough the horse was cast. It had rolled so tight into the wall that its legs were folded up and there was not way this horse could stand on its own. I called the owner of the horse and within a few minutes the horse was up and fine but without assistance things could have ended quite differently.

Having a horse down pushed up against the wall unable to get up can be very serious. Trapped horses tend to freak out and fight to get free. Being stuck up against the wall with no room for leverage makes it a battle the horse cannot win. Many times cast horses can get extensive rubs, break legs, damage tendons and even colic. The colic can be from the stress or worse the horse can twist a gut from thrashing around. Twisted guts from trashing against a wall are usually life ending because of the severe damage.

Since a horse's instinct tells them to flee or fight, if they can't flee they will fight unless they have learned a different response. If they fight in those trapped situations, it can be dangerous for both the horse and the handler.

There are lots of situations that horses can find themselves in that can make them feel trapped. Horses caught in fences can end up crippled for life or dead. Horses trapped in a mangled horse trailer from an accident can make it impossible for rescuers to help them if they are fighting. Just putting a horse up next to a stall wall to administer treatments can make a horse feel trapped and fight. Trying to catch a horse in a corner cam make it feel threatened enough to kick or run over the handler. I have a friend who had a yearling who got stuck between two trees. The horse freaked and struggled so badly she had to be euthanized.

Because horses can't reason their way out of a situation where they feel trapped, I always teach my horses how to be handle being "trapped." I set them up in situations where they will feel trapped and control how they deal with it. This way I know that my horses will not be dangerous when they feel threatened or trapped.

It's easy here because I can start with them as babies, I catch them when they don't want to be caught. That causes them to struggle to get free. I don't let them go until they get quiet and relaxed. I repeat this many times. What this does is teach the horse to relax and be quiet when they are trapped. Then if one ever gets cast, caught in a fence, trapped in a trailer accident etc, I have a horse that waits quietly and allows people to help the horse out of the situation.

The older horses are a little more difficult. I will explain how I teach them in my next post.

Part Two


  1. Dealing with rescue horses here, we get alot of horses that can't handle being 'trapped' in any way. I consider it part of the 'ground work' that I do, in the end they will stand and wait patiently until someone finds them to set them free.

    One pony fill once stood for at least 3 hours completely stuck in a black berry thicket (that she'd taken a flying leap into) while we cut our way in to her to free her. She came out without a scratch on her.

    It's a very important part of training a horse that alot of people overlook. Great post!

  2. Your post raises a very important point, thank you.

    A while back, one of my horses got cast upside down in a long manger. It was a great help that she stayed still and calm whilst we dismantled the manger to get her out uninjured, and without injuring any of her rescuers.

    I'm looking forward to your next post about training older horses.

  3. Horses are so lucky to know you.

  4. I have had many instances like this. Our older stud, Sonny Dee Bee, was cast in his stall and only found the next day (this was before I came over here). He had struggled so badly and got himself so worked up that he could barely stand for 2 days and the result was EPM.

    My bottle baby Wiggle was always getting stuck under the bars of her stall and the one next to her (I had stalls partitioned with those gate type panels - which I hate but had no choice) with her head in one stable and her butt in the other. She always lay quietly no matter how long she had been there until I had dismantled the panel and moved it so she could get up. Being a bottle baby she was used to being handled and trusted that I would solve the situation when I came and found her.

    Our younger stud got his legs over the top of the roundpen panel and his one front leg slipped down between the two panels (I would never have believed it would have been enough space to get into but he did and thank heavens he just lay there hanging by his leg with his back barely touching the ground in 8 inches of snow. If he had struggled he would have broken the leg or cut it worse than it already was and we would have probably had to put him down. As it is it appeared that it hadnt reached the joint and there was no evidence of joint fluid leaking which is what the vet thought. I became a pro when it comes to proud flesh and how to deal with a leg wound to either get rid of the proud flesh that is there or to avoid it forming. I photographed the whole event every week over a period of 4 months which is how long it took to heal. I think I need to sell an article to The Horse or some other magazine LOL. Believe me there is a very set way that it needs to be handled if you dont want problems.

    Thanks MiKael, a very interesting post.


  5. You always haave such great advice. We once had a horse caught in wire and were relieved that he stayed calm while we cut the wire and freed him. Looking forward to yur next post.

  6. That's what killed my mare, Beauty. She got cast in her corral after midnight, panicked, and hit her head on the metal corral pipe and was killed instantly. The ranch owner had even gone out to check on another horse around midnight and she was fine. Sometime after that, she got cast. I'd never considered that to be part of their training, so THANK YOU so much for this post. I will work on all of the ones I have now! Yes, great post!