Once, while driving down a country road I spotted a pony that appeared to be rubbing his neck on a fence post. As I got closer, I realized he was actually trying to free himself because his halter was caught on the post. I pulled over, released him from the halter, then went to the house and explained to the pony’s owner what I’d seen. Carefully, I suggested they remove the halter during turnout or use a breakaway halter instead. (Personally, I feel if you need a halter left on a horse to catch them then there is a gap in your leadership and bonding relationship, but I was not there to lecture, just to try to prevent a tragedy). I explained that the pony had been in danger of breaking his neck. The owners were polite, but something in their expression told me that either they didn’t believe me or they didn’t care.
It was just one week later when I was driving down this same road that I saw the pony once again caught in the fence …only this time he was dead. Sadly, he had entangled the halter and in his struggle, apparently broke his neck. This did not need to happen!
But even the best, most caring people may unknowingly create avoidable dangers to their horses. One man I knew had decided to remove a fence made of T-posts. The line was down, and he was in the process of removing the posts. The day ran short and so he was forced to leave a few posts in the ground overnight. The next day he came home from work to find one of his horses had somehow impaled himself on a post and was hanging from it – it had entered through the belly, and exited through the chest. If he’d only known the risk, he could have put caps on the T-posts and saved his horse’s life. A horse can still land on a capped T-post if he rears up while playing near a fence, but the cap will prevent penetration.
These are, unfortunately, not unique events. Any of us who’s been around horses long enough has heard stories like these, or narrowly avoided disasters ourselves. Sometimes we pay attention and make the necessary changes, and sometimes not. Unfortunately for our horses, sometimes we learn lessons the hard way. I knew another man who did know better, but still left a halter on his horse because it was convenient and saved him a little time. His horse put his head through a metal gate and got caught. In his struggle, the horse actually tore the gate off the hinge and was found standing with his feet through the gate and the gate still on his halter. The horse lived, but had pretty severe nerve damage.
Traveling to farms I see a wide range of stable management practices – some good, some not! Horses are large, strong animals, and sometimes we forget just how fragile they are. But we must remember that the environments we are keeping them in are not entirely natural: halters, t-posts, blanket straps, equipment left in fields, cross-ties, gates, barbed wire, nails, poisons, etc. They do not have instincts that tell them to be wary of such dangers. They are inquisitive, sometimes mischievous, and left to investigate, they do – often to their own harm.
Even the most conscientious owner cannot prevent all accidents. A horse could step in a hole that had gone unnoticed in the pasture. A branch could fall down on a horse standing underneath a tree. (That actually happened to a student of mine – the horse was impaled, but is doing just fine after major surgery!) But there are many dangers that CAN be avoided, just by taking a little extra care, or being a little extra aware of what might go wrong. Here are a few things you can do to make your farm horse-safe:
Horses don’t get the chance to choose where they live or who takes care of them. So we have a huge responsibility to not only keep them healthy and happy, but also safe. What would you add to this list?