I received a call on emergency recently that highlighted a few points that deserve attention.
The situation was a page from a non-client with a colicky horse, who lived over 130 miles away. The horse had been down and rolling for an hour and a half. I could hear the horse thrashing in the background, and knew immediately this was a severe colic – one that would require surgery to fix. The caller was asking for advice.
I asked if they had Banamine in their first-aid box.
“No, I don’t have any horse medications at all.”
I asked if they had any friends with horses that might have some Banamine.
I asked if they had a trailer or access to one so they could bring the horse to our clinic.
This left me in the position of asking if they had a gun. They did.
I stressed to the caller that colicking to death was a horrible way to die, and that shooting the mare would be a mercy.
So what does this distressing story highlight?
First, be prepared. Have medications on hand in case of emergencies. Banamine for colic, bandaging supplies for lacerations. Ask your vet for recommendations based on the needs of your horses.
Second, develop friendships and connections with other horse owners in your area. Not only can you get help, but you can be there for your friends.
Third, have a horse trailer and a way to tow it. This can either be your trailer and truck, or one or more friends who you can call on. If your friends don’t have a trailer either, this would be a good item to share the cost on – pool your resources and have a trailer that you can count on. Create a plan for transporting your horse at all times. Horses don’t pick convenient times to have an emergency, and some issues are very time-sensitive, including colic.
The need for a trailer goes beyond medical emergencies – every fire season we see increasing numbers of people who must evacuate their homes and barns. This is not something you can count on emergency responders to help you with – the numbers of people being evacuated and the size of fires means those resources are stretched thin.
The other reason to have a horse trailer is something else you can’t control: the distance you have to travel to get to an equine veterinarian. The fact that the caller in the story above was in dire straits was that their local vet wasn’t available, or didn’t do after-hours emergencies.
There is a severe shortage of equine veterinarians in the United States. Less than 6% of all newly graduated veterinarians go into equine medicine, and half of those leave equine medicine within five years. And 30% of equine practitioners are age 59 or older – so the numbers of equine vets isn’t going to get better anytime soon.
Bottom line: don’t wait till you have a crisis on your hands – make plans today to have these three essential preparations covered, and keep supporting your local veterinarian. This is what it means to be a responsible horse owner.