It is a common technical equine rescue for many communities--to find a horse trapped in a pool in someone's backyard, and have to figure out a way to rescue it.

See just a couple of examples pulled from the headlines:

All kinds of animals end up in pools. Dogs, frogs, horses, even a loose bison in north Georgia. (Can you imagine coming home from work to hearing a bison splashing around under the pool cover in your back yard? Can you imagine the 911 dispatcher's disbelief when that call came in?)

The first problem with pools are that they are essentially a trap with steep sides that prevent the animal from being able to walk up a ramp or jump out. Animals may be thirsty, they may be curious or playful, or they may be running and not recognize it as an obstacle--we aren't sure why animals seem to be so attracted to pools. Many people have fences around pools to keep children out, or insurance requires that you fence off the pool. But gates can be left open. Animals can jump low fences or just come over to graze on your lawn. Prevention is the key to keep them out of the pool; but when it happens we need to have a plan for what to do from there.

horse in pool

A horse trapped in a pool in Limerick, Pa.

Next, there is no alarm system to tell you that there is an animal in the pool; until someone happens to walk by and notice. Few animals will make any noise other than the splashing efforts of swimming, which may not be noticed if the blinds are closed or the stereo is on. Too often, the situation is not realized until the animal is very cold and tired from its efforts to escape.

I am often asked, "Why don't horses just use the steps and get themselves out?" Occasionally they do--the best example of this is a YouTube video of a horse in the Southwest that figures it out on his own -

Watching that video I will point out a couple of interesting things - first - how much work it is for a horse to swim! They have a long leg with a tiny hoof (not a paddle) at the end. That means that they are not very efficient. Also notice that the body of the horse actually has quite a bit of buoyancy but the head and neck have to be held out of the water to be able to breathe--that is what takes effort and exhausts the animal quickly. Listen to the animal's labored breathing.

Also, the horse has plenty of motivation from buddies off camera. It is simply trying to return to them. Notice that by giving the animal some space and not chasing it - it is possible (although uncommon) for the animal to figure out the solution to the problem as this horse did. The videographer is not clucking, chasing, or driving the animal. You should notice that first the animal explores the way out with a front foot, then you can see the exhaustive strain it takes for it to lift its body at that angle and pull itself out of the pool. A very young, very old, fatter, or less fit horse would not have been able to put forth the huge effort to achieve this successfully.

How should we handle these types of scenario? What are your suggestions, and I would especially like to hear from those of you that have reacted to these situations and hear how you handled them. Please share details about the type of pool and the rescue effort (i.e., shallow and deep end? Pool cover? How many horses in the pool? Specifically how did you deal with the situation?). Did the horse recover? Was he treated by a veterinarian for hypothermia and inhalation of water into his lungs? Did it survive?

Next week we will go into more depth (pun intended) on how you can assist a horse in this situation to safely be rescued, usually by involving the local fire department.