You are more likely to hear a horse getting “cast” than to see him. An overenthusiastic roll and suddenly he goes all the way over, ending up stuck against the stable wall without enough room to get his legs underneath him.
Fortunately, most horses are quick to sort themselves out. A short burst of panicky leg thrashing is enough to push a horse away from the wall and allow him to scramble to his feet. His owner hears an almighty clatter from the stable but, by the time they arrive, the horse is already up.
Once up, the horse is usually fine. Eyes and limbs appear to be vulnerable in the struggle to stand, but injuries are surprisingly rare.
Just occasionally, however, a horse becomes thoroughly wedged and needs help to be freed — or is down and unable to rise because of illness or injury. Colic is probably the most common example of this. Horses rolling with abdominal pain frequently get cast, but it can be hard to tell if there’s a problem until they have been helped up. Unlike a horse who has simply been stuck, a horse with colic is very likely to get straight down to roll again.
Other reasons a horse may be down and unable to get up include neurological problems, a serious limb or pelvic injury, or generalised stiffness and loss of strength. The possibility of injury or illness means it is important to check a cast horse for any obvious signs of injury before trying to free him, taking care not to put yourself in danger.
Old horses with stiff joints can find the effort required to get up painful, so they may remain lying down for longer than is natural. Horses are too heavy to remain down for extended periods, especially on a firmer surface, as doing so can lead to a lack of blood supply to the muscles they need to use to get back up again.
The solution is to roll the horse immediately onto his other side, which does not have “pins and needles”. In the longer term, a maintenance dose of an anti-inflammatory, such as phenylbutazone (bute), can be helpful to keep such horses mobile. It is a sad fact, however, that increasing difficulty in getting up is one of the common reasons for older horses being put to sleep.
Room to roll
If a healthy horse repeatedly gets cast, it is often because of poor stable design — either a stable that is too small or has corners narrower than a right angle.
A stable for a 16hh horse should be a minimum of 12x12ft, and bigger if the horse is larger. It is the length of the sides that counts, not the floor area — a long, narrow stable is just as bad as one that is too small overall.
Large stables also have their hazards and should be assessed for any areas where a horse could get trapped when he rolls.
Crew yards (communal stabling arrangements) are often fronted with a barred gate, but these are difficult to hang flush with the floor and can leave a gap a horse could get a leg under. Diagonal crossbars on a gate can also be a danger, with a leg becoming trapped in the corner angle.
One solution is to keep bedding away from the front of the crew yard to discourage rolling. Haynets should be tied up high to prevent entanglement and attached to a piece of frayed baler twine or other breakable device, not directly to a bolt or bars.
Pile it high
Some horses, usually the frequent and enthusiastic rollers, seem to specialise in getting cast, even in well-sized stables. If the horse can be bedded on straw, banking this up thickly around the walls is an effective measure and prevents the horse getting his body too close to the wall if he does roll right over.
Straw is not always suitable, however, usually because of its high dust content, yet shavings and other bedding types don’t lend themselves well to banking. An anti-cast roller, worn over a stable rug, is one solution. The metal arch at the top prevents the horse rolling right over, but the surcingle may not be particularly comfortable or may slip.
It can help to fit anti-casting strips — rubber strips about four inches wide, fixed around the stable walls in a horizontal band, about a metre from the floor. The idea is that instead of scrabbling ineffectually against a smooth wall, the horse can gain purchase with his feet under the strips and push himself away.
Freeing a cast horse
The most important part of freeing a trapped horse is staying safe yourself. A horse lying quietly one moment can suddenly thrash his legs violently, or half-rise and then fall over again. Ending up underneath him is certainly not going to help matters.
Never bolt the stable door — leave it ajar — and take care not to position yourself so that the horse is between you and the exit.
Always work from behind the horse’s body, not in front of his legs, making sure that you don’t get stuck in a corner or between the horse and the back wall. Avoid the dangerous kicking zone.
The aim is to pull the front end of the horse around to create enough room for him to get his forelegs down. Two people, each gripping a double handful of mane (pictured, above centre) and pulling in unison, can usually pivot the head end around just enough for the horse to be able to free his forelegs and scramble up.
This technique only works if the horse has some space in front of his head or is angled across a corner. Don’t try to move his hindquarters — they are too heavy, and pulling on the tail at an angle can damage it.
An alternative is to roll the horse back over using ropes (ideally, two lunge lines) on his legs. This method needs care, as it entails pulling the legs over towards you — and the horse will invariably lurch up in an uncontrolled way as soon as he is rolled.
Lean over the horse’s body to position the lines, rather than going in front of or behind his legs. Loop the middle of each line once around the pastern (pictured, above right) — this loop stops the line slipping up the leg, but allows it to come free as soon as the horse is up, avoiding the danger of a panicked horse with a line tied to his leg.
Loop one line around a front leg and the second around a hindleg. Use the lower legs front and back, if you can, as this means the legs are then pulled towards the horse’s body and not away from it, leaving him less likely to kick out when rolled. It takes more strength to pull the horse over using the lower legs, so you may have to settle for ropes on the upper limbs.
At least two sensible adults are needed to pull over a full-sized horse. An additional safety measure would be to fit a headcollar to the horse, with a long line attached, so that a third helper can stand near his head and steady him as he gets back on his feet.
Ref Horse & Hound; 15 November 2018