By Trisha Dingle

It's September, and that means for us southerners its hurricane season! Now's the time of year that you'll start seeing articles, blogs, and Facebook posts all concerning how to prepare for a weather emergency. And this got me to thinking: how many people truly are prepared for an equine emergency on an everyday basis? Having been a barn manager of up to fifty horses at a time for over the past 20 years I've seen my fair share of mishaps, and I've learned valuable lessons along the way. Emotions run high when accidents happen, so it's always best to be prepared ahead of time to ensure the best possible outcome for your horse. There are many things that this involves, from having a well-stocked first aid kit (located where everyone can access it) to having a readily available list of veterinary phone numbers. However what I wish to share with you in this blog are some easy to implement practices that are often overlooked, as well as some secrets I've picked up along the way. 

My first recommendation for every horse owner is to think about each horse on your farm and decide just how far you are willing to proceed if a medical emergency occurs. As an example, my personal “cut off” age for colic surgery is age 18 on up – at that point I feel for my own horses that I am not willing to put them through the anesthesia and difficult recovery. I also have a young stallion who is a chronic colicker that I will not put through surgery. As for injuries again the older retirees I will treat for anything that they can comfortably be rehabbed from, but anything that is going to require expensive surgery or an extremely long stall rest rehabilitation I will not put them through. On the other hand I’ll go above and beyond for my two younger geldings, even if it means they will just become “pasture pets”. These are extremely hard decisions to make and are definitely not set in stone, but they are decisions that should be thought of before an injury or illness occurs, when you are able to think more clearly. If you are a barn owner, manager, or trainer, you should discuss this question with each of your clients and keep notes, so that if the unexpected happens you know what measures your client is willing to take – financially, physically, and emotionally. Once you have this plan in place, think about the following:

1. Transportation

It is my opinion that every farm owner should have their own truck and horse trailer suitable for transporting horses in an emergency. This is especially true if you are running a boarding operation, as not all horse owners will have their own transportation. This rig doesn't necessarily have to be new and state of the art - I personally drive a twenty-five year old F-250 diesel - but it should always be kept in working order (tire pressure kept up and tires checked regularly, fluids checked, battery checked and replaced accordingly, trailer cleaned after every use, floors checked, wasp nests removed, etc). This is especially important if you don't use your trailer often or drive your truck regularly - there's nothing worse then scrambling to get a severely ill horse to a vet and realize you have a dry rotted tire or your truck battery is dead.

Of course, I realize that rigs are expensive and not every stable is financially in a position to keep a truck and trailer, especially if you or your clients don't often travel off property. In this case it is important to have a list of friends and local trainers/farms who are willing to lend you their rig or be available in an emergency to haul horses for you. Keep in mind that very few people are comfortable lending out their vehicles, but are often more than happy to assist in hauling the horse for you. Don't just assume that your neighbor will do this though - speak with your contacts ahead of time so if the time comes you can comfortably call on them, and know what to expect in the way of charges. Keep a current list of possible rigs to use with your other emergency numbers. As an aside: this is a good idea even if you have your own truck and trailer. It would figure that the day my stallion needed to be rushed to VA Tech for an emergency colic my truck was in the shop with failed brakes and I was left calling everyone I knew at 7pm to find a truck.

2. Keep a binder of emergency information in your truck.

Unfortunately emergencies don't just happen at home - accidents can happen on the road when hauling horses or when you are away at shows, clinics, or trail rides. I keep a binder in the side picket of my door with all necessary emergency information, including:

- a current copy of each horse's Coggins test (this includes every equine on the farm, including the retirees - you just never know when you may find yourself hauling one in an emergency)

- a current copy of my health insurance card (keep copies of anyone on your farm who may be hauling or traveling with horses on a regular basis)

- a list of emergency contact numbers for me and the farm (in case I'm incapacitated in an accident). This list includes my In Case of Emergency (ICE) person - my mom, as well as the executive director of our farm (our ICE person for the horses) along with one or two others. You don't necessarily need to list every boarder on your farm, just a general person other than you (the barn manager, another trainer, etc) who can contact the correct horse owner if need be. This list is actually taped to the front of my Coggins binder

- directions to the nearest/all vet hospitals. Even if you have GPS, having a typed copy of directions handy will alleviate any stress from a dead cell phone battery or a GPS unit that decides not to work.

By keeping all this info in a binder it is easy to move from one truck to another if using someone else's rig, and if you have multiple trucks you use to haul I suggest making a binder for each truck. This binder can also be stored in a general location, like an office or tack room, where it can be grabbed before hitting the road (just remember to grab it!).

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3. Keep a "go bag" in the truck.

This one's for you: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, if you wear corrective lenses like me pack extra contacts, saline solution, an extra pair of glasses. Something to sleep in and a change of clothes. I even have a small travel pack with shampoo, soap, etc.

This one I leaned when I had to make an emergency trip to the vet hospital in the middle of the night with a client's pregnant mare. Returning home that night was not an option, and I was left with nothing but the rather dirty clothes on my back and no spare contacts. While this isn't a necessity, it does help to have something clean to change into when dealing with the stress of an emergency. I keep a "go bag" in my truck at all times - it helps too if you get stuck in bad weather and need something dry to change into.

4. Keep an "Emergency Authorization Form" on hand for all horses.

This was a vital piece of my boarding contract when I ran a public barn. In addition to the horses vital statistics (name, age, registration info) and owners contact info, I asked for the following:

- anyone authorized to make decisions for the horse if the owner is unavailable, and all contact info

- insurance info (if insured) including company, policy number, contact info, limits

- credit card number, expiration date, billing address (vet hospitals WILL NOT work on a horse without a credit card deposit, and I am often not in the position to front funds for clients - I kept these forms in a secure location, and clients knew if they didn't want to leave cc info then their horse was not traveling anywhere until I could reach someone who could provide payment)

- preferred veterinarian and contact info

- preferred vet hospital and contact info

- answers to some very tough questions: if the horse was insured, up to how much? Colic insurance or major medical only? How much over the costs covered by insurance the owner was willing to go...for uninsured horses, how much money the owner was willing to spend on surgery/treatment, as well as how far they were willing to go with surgery/treatment based on the prognosis of survival, whether the horse would be rideable afterwards, what the vet thought was fair to the horse. In addition I asked preferred form of termination (in this country it's usually euthanasia), whether a necropsy should be performed, preferred method of disposal (cremation, burial).

- signed and dated by the owner

These are all incredibly tough questions, and are not ones you want to be answering in an emotional state. I still have an EAF on file for each of my personal horses, in case I am out of reach during an emergency. I know it's hard to believe in this day and age of not being able to contact an owner but believe me it happens! In the case of the pregnant mare mentioned above, her owner lived across the country and when we were rushing her to surgery he was on a yacht in the middle of the Pacific with no internet or cell service! By having this form on hand I know ahead of time what measures an owner is prepared to take, and I can make informed decisions for the horse until the owner can arrive on site or if he/she is unreachable. As I said these forms I keep in my locked office, although staff members know where to find them if I am away, and they are added to the Coggins binder if we have to transport the horse to a hospital.

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5. Consider joining an auto group such as US Rider

This is more for people who travel quite a bit with their horses, although if you own a farm and use a service like AAA anyway US Rider will cover all of your vehicles whether you are hauling horses or not, while AAA usually won’t cover tow vehicles. This service of course will help you with emergencies while traveling - from blown tires to dead batteries to auto accidents. If you do not use a service specifically for farm and horse owners, double check with your current service as to whether it will help you if you are hauling a trailer - many will not touch your truck until you unhitch the trailer. What I like about US Rider is that in the case of an accident they will help secure accommodations and transportation for you AND your horses, as well as veterinary care.

6. Keep a binder for each horse on your farm.

There are a lot of different ways to keep medical information, including online, but I've found this to be my favorite by far. All our horses have a binder that includes a copy of registration papers and pedigree, microchip ID number, and a chart containing annual health records (vaccinations, farrier, de-worming, dental, etc). This is also where I keep my EAFs for each horse. Besides being a great way to keep organized, the binder is easy to grab in case of an emergency. It is awfully helpful for attending vets to be able to look back on the horse's medical history, and helps you answer questions such as date of last tetanus shot, etc.

In 35 years of being around horses I have been through way more medical emergencies than I ever cared to see, and I have learned a lot. I hope that you find the above tips helpful, and if you are interested in the format I use for my Emergency Authorization Forms please feel free to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or private message me on Facebook!

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