A stabled horse who lies down just so or rolls in his stall runs the risk of becoming “cast” in a position where he can’t get his legs underneath himself to stand up again. Once caught on his back with his legs in the air or jammed against a wall, he’s very likely to begin a desperate, thrashing effort to right himself. If he can’t get himself out of his fix, he may exhaust or injure himself, though some cooler customers wait calmly to be rescued after realizing they’re getting nowhere with their flailing.
Freeing a cast horse is a matter of putting him in the position and giving him the space to go through the naturally awkward movements of regaining his feet. In most cases of entrapment you’ll need to roll the horse over to bring his feet away from the wall. With a calm horse, this is not difficult, but you still need to be careful to stay out of harm’s way. Here’s how to make use of leverage to roll the horse over his own withers, which is the usual sticking point:
1. Loop two longe lines or other long, soft ropes around the fore and rear fetlocks on the side opposite the direction of the roll.
2. Standing in the stall doorway or other avenue of escape, pull evenly on both the longe lines to bring the legs simultaneously over his trunk.
3. As the horse begins to roll past his withers, drop the lines and leave the stall, as he’s liable to leap to his feet, and you don’t want to be in his way.
A thrashing, panicky horse is a real danger to you as well as to himself, and you’ll have to apply some skilled restraint to gain control of the situation. Just letting the cast horse wear himself out could take him to the brink of exhaustion or shock. Recumbent horses use their heads as a fulcrum to begin their rising movements, so you can still a downed horse by having a helper kneel on the horse’s neck and hold his muzzle up off the ground to give you a chance to attach the rescue lines or administer a sedative if you have the supplies and skills to do so. You may need to call in your veterinarian if the horse is a threat to himself or his handlers or if he seems ill or injured after being cast.
Most stabled horses live out their lives without ever getting cast in their stalls, but every now and again, a chronic case comes along who can’t seem to cope with enclosing walls. One cure is to never stable him; another is to keep him in a stall small enough to discourage rolling and to “bank” the walls with a generous wedge of bedding, but the banks have to be quite large and well maintained to keep him away from the walls. For an inveterate horse, you could even construct a stall with easily removed partitions and install an intercom system to keep an ear out for the sounds of his frequent struggles.
This article first appeared in the April 2000 issue of EQUUS magazine, issue 270.