1. Assuming that they should be the animal handler
Many horse owners or horse-loving people who respond to a scene are far too emotional to be right up close and personal with the horse in these scenarios. That's why your veterinarian often has their trained technician handle the horse for exams and vaccinations, too.
The animal can read your panic, fears and frustrations, and this excites the animal even more. Then you become an obstacle to the professional emergency responders' efforts to save the animal.
When it's your horse, you may be much better off standing to the side with your veterinarian and friends for support while the professionals assist your animal.
As an analogy, in the human medical world, just because you are the mom or dad does not mean you would be invited or allowed to help firefighters and paramedics working on your child.
A person that can remain calm, make rational decisions, and assist the emergency response professionals with making suggestions relevant to the scenario is to be cultivated. Focus on the problem at hand, prioritize, and coordinate with professionals such as your veterinarian to keep drama out of the scene.
2. Getting too close to the animal
Horse owners tend to overestimate how much their animal "loves them," and this anthropomorphism leads to dangerous body positioning and extrication approaches. Animals don't think in these situations; they react. Although the horse may not intend to injure you, it easily can in a struggle to save itself.
Complacence around our high-energy, powerful, and flighty prey animals gets far too many people injured or killed in everyday farm situations, especially when adding the stress of an injured, terrified animal in an abnormal scenario (e.g. overturned in a trailer, trapped in mud, or caught in a tree or barbedwire fence) makes it even more dangerous.
In TLAER training events, we stress the importance of safe body position and approach at all times, even using long-handled tools to emplace appliances on animals that may otherwise kick, bite, gore, or crush us.
3. Believe that if the animal is just “lying there” that it will not move
Horses in stressful situations respond to nature’s imperative–they get up and move. If the horse is lying there, it's because the horse is trapped and cannot move.
As soon as it is possible to move, the horse will.
Animals will initially struggle to the point of exhaustion, appearing
to relax in an attempt to catch their second (or third, or 15th) wind.
The slightest stimulation (via sound, movement, or touch) may initiate another period of thrashing, and represents the time when many animals can more seriously injure themselves.
For example, in numerous trailer wrecks, horses have survived the initial impact with minimal injuries but received serious injuries or died in their ceaseless efforts to stand and escape the trailer.
You can calm a downed animal to some extent by applying a blindfold to protect its eyes. This may also protect the head and eyes from injury if the horse uses head-bashing effort to get up.
4. Assuming a rescued animal is “OK” after the rescue
Once the animal is removed from the incident and it walks off and eats some grass or hay, many people assume the animal is “OK,” when in fact that is when the medical condition of the animal will begin to spiral downward.
Too many animals die the next day or several days later from hypothermia, colic, dehydration, pneumonia, and other severe medical conditions.
A veterinarian should exam any horse that is trapped in a TLAER-type incident during and immediately after the rescue in an effort to identify stress-induced medical conditions that could kill the animal.
For example, lung damage from smoke in a barn- or wildfire can kill a horse days after the horse is led from the burning structure.
An amazing example of how appropriate and immediate treatment can maintain a horse in this situation is Neville Bardos’ story
. The horse was injured in a barn fire last May and recovered to be named the United State Equestrian Federation's International Horse of the Year and is a possible future Olympic contender.
5. Exhibiting the Ostrich Syndrome, or “it won’t happen to me”
Statistics show that the two most common emergencies that occur for horse owners are trailer wrecks and barn fires.
Next is a horse getting trapped in or on mud, fences, ditches, or other around-the-farm situations from which they cannot extricate themselves. These events happen very commonly to horses on farms large and small, wealthy and poor, well run and not so well managed.
They can happen to you!
Prevention of accidents and maintenance of your horses’ facilities, trailers, equipment, and tack is well worth the time and money it takes to mitigate a horrific tragedy happening to you.
Educate yourself in ways to minimize injury to your animals. In the end this increases your riding and play time with your horse.