To the rescue…Oct 28, 2021 01:45PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Horse owners know that accidents can happen at any moment, and when they do, a fast and experienced response is needed. Whether it is a down horse unable to stand, a horse involved in a traffic or riding accident, or an emergency medical situation that needs transport, the volunteers at Fair Hill Equine Rescue Ambulance are available to help.
The force behind the organization is JoAnn Bashore, a retired Fair Hill Park ranger. During her time as a ranger, she was frequently called to respond to equine emergencies. She also held twice-a-year training sessions in technical rescue techniques for horse owners. Even after her retirement, she was getting calls to assist in equine rescues.
One such incident took place in Grove Point, where Bashore had to wait four hours for rescue equipment and permission from Fair Hill State Park to rescue a horse that had fallen off a cliff and broken its leg.
“At that point, I was still doing one-day training sessions for Technical Emergency Animal Rescue for horse owners and barn owners to educate people on what to do in an emergency situation, and Equine Rescue Ambulance in Harford County had sent some of their members to our training,” Bashore said. “We got started in November 2019 as a separate division of the Equine Rescue Ambulance in Harford County. That saved me a lot of steps in setting up a non-profit organization.”
She added, “We started November 1 and November 2 we got our first call. At that time, we had no equipment other than a 30- foot tow strap and a reach pole. We managed to get a very large draft horse up and on its feet within a half hour.”
Since then, the Fair Hill Equine Rescue Ambulance has responded to 23 requests for assistance, an average of one each month.
Volunteers respond to all kinds of emergencies, including horse show accidents, or a horse that needs immediate transport to New Bolton Center. The most common emergency is a horse that is down. In all cases, having assistance available nearby to respond promptly is important.
“The magic window when you’re dealing with down horses is two hours. Anything more and the internal organs are compromised by the weight of the animal,” Bashore said. “Usually large draft horses that have lameness issues get down and then they have difficulty getting up. When a horse lays down on one side too long the muscles start to atrophy and go numb, similar to having your foot fall asleep when you are sitting in a chair too long. We have methods where we can roll them over and then stimulate the down side that is now the up side and try to assist them in standing.”
Typically, a veterinarian is on the scene to provide sedation and medical assistance. “We are not trained in the veterinary field so it is very essential that we have a qualified veterinarian on site,” Bashore explained.
Some cases are success stories while others end poorly. In February 2021, the unit responded to the scene of an accident on Appleton Road where a horse had been hit by two cars. The vet on scene thought the horse would have a chance of survival if transported to New Bolton Center. With prompt attention from Fair Hill Equine Rescue Ambulance the horse was home and healthy six weeks later.
“The most complex rescue we have had was in July of last year. A horse slipped off a bridge at Fair Hill. We were on standby at an event at Fair Hill, and the park manager requested our assistance getting this horse out of the ravine. The unit had five people on the scene within 15 minutes. It took us approximately four hours to get it out. It had to be sedated and strapped to a rescue glide to haul it up the 10-foot deep ravine. It was a complicated procedure,” Bashore said. “Once we got it up, it was moving fine. We have several success stories. The broken legs are usually not success stories.”
Although the unit provides emergency transport it is limited to real emergencies, not routine transportation. They may often be seen on site at major equestrian events such as the 5-Star at Fair Hill and the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup as stand-by responders.
In addition to emergency responses, the unit also focuses on educating horse owners as well as emergency responders. There will be a three-day training session at Fair Hill Natural Resources Area November 12 through 14. Attending will be veterinarians, vet techs, emergency responders, horsemen and members of the unit’s own rescue team.
“It’s essential for veterinarians and vet assistants to be aware of techniques that we use and how to do everything safely,” Bashore said.
For this event, a three-horse trailer has been donated to be loaded with three 900-pound horse dummies then overturned to simulate a traffic accident. Firemen will work on the scene to learn proper techniques to extricate the equine dummies.
Volunteers are needed in all capacities, not just as emergency responders. There is work to be done behind the scene and on social media. At this time, the unit has approximately 18 volunteers in a variety of ages, most with equine backgrounds.
Representatives from the unit are also available to make presentations to groups or stables where learning emergency response techniques can save horse’s lives.
“We’re available to help if we can educate horse owners on various techniques they may not need us,” Bashore said. “If there is a horse cast in a stall or down in a trailer you can get them out using technical rescue techniques.”
Fair Hill Equine Rescue Ambulance is an all-volunteer unit that depends on community support. The group holds a wide range of fundraising activities throughout the year including a popular Thanksgiving Paper Chase at Fair Hill that has been expanded to two days this year, November 26 and 27. Donations can also be made through the website at equineambulance.org.