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AVet’s Role in an Emergency Rescue

As a vet, we may be called to a rescue by

the horse owner, members of the public, or

by the emergency services already in

attendance, at any time of day or night! If

initial assessment of the situation suggests

anything other than the most basic manual

rescue technique, a call to the Fire and

Rescue Service will be necessary. Specialist

Rescue teams are fully trained and equipped

to assist in large animal rescues in a variety

of situations.

Whilst waiting for assistance to arrive, an

initial assessment should be made of both the

situation and horse to determine that rescue is

in the animal’s best interest. This decision will

be based on clinical examination, which may

be limited by location, history and

input from the horse’s owner with regard to

ongoing medication or health conditions

and quality of life, as well as advice from

the emergency crews on the possibility of

effecting a rescue that is safe and

achievable, without putting human life at

risk. Initial sedation and/or emergency

analgesia may be required at this stage, but

only if it can be administered safely.

The vet’s responsibility is to ensure the welfare

of the horse and to facilitate a safe rescue

through use of sedation and anaesthesia. If

the joint consensus is that safe rescue is not

possible, without endangering the life of

either the animal or humans, euthanasia

may be required. In this situation, a joint

discussion between the owner, vet and Fire

and Rescue officer may be required. Animals

in a situation making it unsafe for them to be

rescued present a particular challenge to

euthanase, and support from the rescue

teams, by way of ropes and harnesses, to

ensure a safe exit route for the vet performing

euthanasia, may be required.

With a rescue plan in place, effective

physical and chemical restraint of the horse is

required. A strong, well fitting head collar is

essential, ideally attached to a lunge line.

Ear plugs are often used to reduce auditory

stimulation of the horse. It is vital that

everyone stays clear of kick zones at all

times as even sedated horses can make

sudden, violent movements, especially when

panicked. Personal protective equipment (PPE)

is vital at all stages of a rescue; all crews will

carry spare hard hats and hi viz tabards for

use by others involved in the rescue

(figure one)


Horses are monitored throughout the rescue

to ensure sedation is adequate for safe

rescue. Sometimes continuous sedation is

administered via a drip or field anaesthesia

is used if necessary to facilitate rescue.

Following a successful rescue, the attending

vet will provide ongoing assessment and

treatment of the horse, considering

hospitalisation or referral if appropriate.

Veterinary Surgeon

Clare Smith

XLVets Equine practice

St Boniface

Veterinary Clinic

Emergency rescues can be difficult and stressful situations, with

emotional owners, potentially injured horses and often high risk

conditions. The involvement of multiple agencies can add to the

confusion, and to achieve a safe, effective rescue cooperation and

understanding are vital.

Figure one. PPE is mandatory during rescue scenarios and the vet should be clearly




Clare Smith BVSc MRCVS,

St Boniface Veterinary Clinic