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There are seemingly endless ways that a horse can hook, hitch or impale himself, given half a chance. It’s all the more galling when you know that a particular calamity could have been prevented.

Most avoidable injuries involve protruding fittings such as door bolts and gate latches, or equipment that becomes tangled. Stitching, stapling and sorting out the damage is all part of the veterinary caseload, but what do the experts feel are the most common culprits when it comes to yard dangers?

According to Kieran O’Brien of Penbode Equine Vets, many owners mean to do the right thing by attaching a loop of baling twine to a metal ring before they tie their horse up. But if the twine is too thick — particularly likely if it’s taken from a large bale — it won’t snap if it needs to.

“In one case, ponies were tied up alongside one another at a riding school,” explains Kieran. “When an aggressive, dominant pony started to attack his neighbour, the victim couldn’t break free and suffered multiple serious kick wounds.

“Another horse was tied to string attached to the upper half of a stable door,” he adds. “He pulled back suddenly and the string failed to break. The door came off its hinges and was dragged by the terrified horse across the yard — injuring him and damaging several cars.

“Always divide the extra-strong baling twine along its length to halve its thickness. If a horse learns to free himself by deliberately breaking it, attach a piece of elastic shock cord or bicycle inner tube to the ring first. This stops the sudden ‘check’ when he pulls back.”
Kelly Raymont’s gelding Bean suffered a mishap last summer while tied to string on a gate.

“The knot caught in a diagonal and he was able to lift the gate off its hinges, dragging it 200m before his leadrope snapped,” explains Kelly. “He was eventually caught in someone’s garden, two miles away.

“A wound to Bean’s fetlock penetrated the joint, so he underwent a joint flush under general anaesthetic.

“Initially, his prognosis was uncertain, but, fortunately, he was eventually able to return to work in the autumn.”

In the loop

Potential hazards don’t stop there. Gina Matthews’ mare Sox pulled back while being shod and stood up, banging her poll on a stable overhang.

“It was a superficial injury, but she bashed her head quite hard and even moved the roof,” says Gina. “I’m always wary of tying her up under an overhang now and prefer to hold her for the farrier, just in case.”

Loops of twine left on tie rings can also cause injury, according to Gil Riley of Pool House Equine.

“The curious horse can get twine caught between either the upper or lower incisors before pulling back and fracturing his jaw,” he explains. “This is usually readily corrected, but involves securing the fracture with wire support and feeding the horse nothing but sloppy grass nuts for six weeks.”

The jaw is typically the breakpoint in a tug-of-war situation. Lynn Reid’s mare Bella is currently on a liquid diet, having recently spent a week in hospital after sustaining a fracture.

“We think she caught her jaw in her turnout rug,” says Lynn. “She broke her mandible [jaw bone] right up to the skull, which is apparently quite rare. It was touch and go whether she would survive, but, thankfully, she’s now on the mend.”

Jo Upton recalls a nasty injury suffered by her ex-racehorse Jam as he stood in his stable.

“He fiddled with the door lock and got his teeth caught, breaking his jaw — it was horrible,” she says. “A vet was on site, fortunately, although Jam was really upset by the incident.”

A similar fate befell pony stallion Dunguaire Fionn McCool. Louise Paterson explains: “He’s a chilled and happy working stallion, but he seemed to get distressed mid-breeding season. We can only presume he grabbed the top of his stable door, getting a tooth stuck between the metalwork and wood.

“His bottom jaw was in half, but the vets did a cracking job of wiring it up.”

Tussles with leadropes or water bucket clips can lead to ripped nostrils, while jaw damage can result if a bit ring becomes hooked on a gate latch or stirrup iron. Things can escalate further, however, as Katrina Fennings’ inquisitive mare Dolly discovered.

“I’d just dismounted and was rummaging through a heavy wooden storage box outside her stable for something,” explains Katrina. “Dolly knew that the treats also live in there and stuck her nose in. When her full-cheek snaffle got caught under the lip of the box she panicked, at which point her bridle came off. The lid then shut, trapping the bridle inside while the reins were still around her neck.

“Dolly bolted, dragging the box behind her and wiping out everything on the yard before smashing the box into a wall,” recalls Katrina. “It swung round into her hind leg, causing her back end to fall underneath her before the box fell apart and she was freed.”

The resulting cannon wound was stapled and X-rays revealed micro-fractures to the bone. Dolly also had treatment from a chiropractor.

“I was always wary of horses getting full-cheek snaffles stuck in things like haynets, but this was enough to convince me never to use one again,” says Katrina.

Worst-case scenario

The paddock can be a minefield for the accident-prone horse — and that’s aside from obvious dangers such as barbed wire fencing.

“We recently treated a severe hock wound when a horse got wrapped up in electric fencing because the battery had run flat,” says Lesley Barwise-Munro of Alnorthumbria Vets.

“Penetration of the hock joint caused subsequent infection, which required flushing. Wound healing is still going on, three months later.”

When Karen Nicholls’ sprightly 22-year-old Irish draught gelding Jack jumped out of his field in May, he caught his genitals on the fencing.

His damaged penis became paralysed and was later amputated under general anaesthetic.

“It could have been avoided if we’d turned the electric on,” says Karen, who faces a vet bill already running into thousands. “On this occasion Jack was very unlucky indeed.”

Other owners lament taking stableyard shortcuts, which ended with a tendon spiked by a pitchfork, or a hoof through a wheelbarrow.

“People are often left wishing they could rewind a series of events, but accidents do occur, no matter how careful you are,” says H&H vet Karen Coumbe. “Horses will harm themselves with unbelievable ease, so a general risk assessment of their environment is a good idea. Knowing how to react and having a veterinary approved first-aid kit at the ready, along with your vet’s emergency number, will help prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

Ref Horse & Hound; 7 September 2017