Have you considered impact your behavior and habits have on your horses?

Are they cranky, flighty and upset all the time? Or calm, happy and relaxed, even around strangers? The reason this is important is that there is quite a bit of research into ethology (the scientific study of animal behavior) that shows that horses can pick up subtle cues from your body language and voice. They pay attention to details that you aren't even aware of--the angle of your body, the position of your eyebrows, the pitch of your voice, the measured tread of your feet. In other words, they know when you are scared, when you are happy, when you are worried or angry. And this can result in their varied reactions to you on a Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) scene.

Why do we care about ethology in large animal technical rescue? Because we have realized over our many years of research, development and live rescue scene responses that the human factors can have a big impact on the success (or not) of a technical extrication. And we spend time in our courses sharing that information with firefighters and other emergency responders, so that they can improve their chances of catching that loose horse on the highway, or soothing one trapped in a septic tank until help arrives.

Best personal story: Many years ago--and against better judgment because I was tired--I turned Elektra and Aerial, two of my demonstration TLAER horses, out into a friend's brand new board fenced 20 acre pasture in Kentucky (along with Dexter, our training llama.) The next morning I called them up to eat - and nothing. No thundering hoofbeats as normally would happen. Worried, I walked thru the L-shaped pasture and around the corner sheltered by trees, I found them standing there together, calmly, with Elecktra having two legs in four wire fencing to her shoulders.

A big wad of the old fence had been pushed into a pile and left in the pasture! I called calmly to my partner to bring some wire cutters, walked slowly and calmly up to Elecktra, used a belt to make an emergency halter, petted and talked to her until he arrived, and we were able to easily sort out the wire from around her legs with the wire cutters. Not a single scratch! (But boy when she was finally loose she ran with the others and bucked and thundered to the barn!)

If your horse should catch his hoof in a hay feeder or get wrapped up in vines on a trail ride, how would you react? You have a bigger brain and the ability to control your thoughts and emotions better than the horse. The horse is a prey animal--he doesn't think first - he usually just reacts. If his human also reacts in a frantic or panicky manner, the horse will predictably respond with even greater fear.

Fear is an amazing emotion in both humans and animals--it makes us physically stronger than normal as adrenaline/epinephrine hormones flood into the bloodstream and bind to muscle receptors - allowing them to become more powerful for a fleeting time. Additionally, it makes us less able to perceive pain, meaning that when we hurt ourselves, we can't feel it as well. That happens in the horse as well. And unfortunately when it does finally feel pain, pain makes it more fearful and panicky. All good reasons to try to prevent this vicious cycle from beginning in the first place!

These situations are where all your prior prevention strategies involved with desensitization of your horse will pay off. Owners that make the effort to get their horses used to having ropes, sticks, whips and even umbrellas around their bodies and legs, and taught their horses to be calm and accepting of having their feet and legs handled can expect a better result in these types of scenarios. Teaching your horse to lower his head, relax and turn off the flight reaction is the basis of good horsemanship, here is a example.

How can you learn to react more calmly to a scenario where the animal has a good chance of being severely injured? First, breath. Do not scream, do not panic, do not start running around doing "something." Stop long enough to survey the situation and assess the horse's body position and attitude. Sometimes they will be standing there just trying to figure out what the heck happened? You might be able to pet him, use a calm voice, and extricate his foot for him. Do you have a knife to cut vines that might get caught around him on a trail ride? (Every horseman and horsewoman should have a knife - in my humble opinion.) Can you stand in a safe position to use it without scaring him or cutting yourself?

Temporary and dangerous entrapments of hooves, legs and heads happen quite often with horses - out of curiosity or just plain not knowing something in there. They stick them into the most ridiculous places after grass, grain, or playing with a buddy. Having a level head and doing some prior preparation with your horses can pay off many years later.

What kinds of dangerous scenarios have your horses gotten into and how did it play out? Was the horse calm or dangerously panicky? Please share your experiences with us here on this blog. We all learn from each others' successes and failures.