The call of distress comes in the middle of the night. A horse is colicking, and our hero is needed now. Later, as she knows, may be too late. She slips out of her warm bed and into her boots. At this moment, she's the most important person in your horse's world and will likely save his life.
Who knew superheroes came in coveralls? But, for the large-animal vet, these kinds of heroics are simply part of the job-a job you can make easier.
Whether in Metropolis or Maryland, few superheroes are successful without a trustworthy sidekick, and when it comes to your horse's health, you serve as your veterinarian's-and your horse's-best bet. Here are 22 ways you can help.
1 Instill good ground manners in your horse. This is the number one key to keeping everyone who works with your horse safe. A horse that invades the handler's space or pushes over people on a regular basis is sure to be even worse when under the stress of illness or examination.
To be a good patient, your horse should stand quietly for examination, pick up his feet, respond to halter pressure, and walk and trot on the lead line. You and your vet should never feel as if you have to get out of your horse's way.
Having a horse with good ground manners not only makes her job easier, says Dr. Mary Masterson, it will increase your day-to-day enjoyment of horse ownership. For help working through ground-manner problems, see our yearlong "Ground Manners" series in the 2006 issues of Perfect Horse.
2 Learn how to take vital signs. All horse owners should be able to take their horse's pulse, temperature, respiration rate and check for the signs of dehydration and shock, says Dr. Wayne Schmotzer. Taking and recording these before calling your vet can indicate how critical your horse's situation is. If you don't know how to take these basic readings, ask your vet to show you, or consult our article, "Monitoring Your Horse's Vital Signs," on page 14 of our January 2007 issue. Then practice your technique, so you'll be ready for an emergency. Keep a cheat sheet around, or buy a good equine first-aid book to have on hand.
3 Provide a safe, clean place for your vet to work. When making a farm call, your vet needs a clean, safe place to work on your horse. Dr. Wendy Krebs prefers aisle-ways or grooming areas that are free of obstructions and bedding. Wood chips, especially, can be messy to work in, getting tools and bandaging materials dirty. Make sure rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows are out of the way, just in case your horse starts moving around during the exam or treatment. Access to running water is nice, too.
4 Have an emergency transportation plan for your horse. Dr. Schmotzer is surprised by how many horse owners have no transportation lined up for their horses. Not only is that unsafe in case of a natural disaster evacuation, it also makes emergency treatment or surgery in a clinic setting difficult. Often, an owner without a trailer has to scramble to find a ride, taking valuable time when a horse needs life-saving care that can't be performed on the farm.
5 Stay by the phone. Often, in an emergency situation such as an after-hours injury or colic, a horse owner will call the vet office's answering service. The answering service then pages the on-call veterinarian, who then contacts the horse owner.
"But lots of times, I'm trying to get back in touch with the owner, and the person is on the phone calling six other vets or has left the phone to check on the horse," Dr. Schmotzer says. This is not only frustrating to the vet, it also wastes time.
"Keep the phone-line free," advises Dr. Schmotzer. If you have a mobile phone, keep it with you. If you don't, recruit someone to stay by the phone to answer it if you've left a message for the on-call vet.
6 Work with needle-shy horses. A needle-shy horse can make what should be an easy, routine procedure into a dangerous encounter for your veterinarian. For horses like this, Dr. Krebs would like a little heads-up before she moves in to give the injection. Armed with this information, she can adjust her technique to fit the horse's specific issue.
In the meantime, she recommends working with your horse to conquer the needle-shy issue. "You can take a toothpick and gently poke the horse in the neck to get him used to the feeling," she recommends. Combine the "needle" desensitization with lots of praise, petting and reassurance for your horse.
7 Warn your vet about any vices ahead of time. Dr. Krebs understands it's not always possible to overcome every potential problem you may be working on before a vet visit. To help her out, though, she asks that you let her know if your horse has any dangerous vices, such as kicking, biting, rearing or striking.