This week’s honoree: Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, dedicated to the education of rescue personnel and horse owners.
Each Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization that is doing good work in the horse world. This week we salute Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue.
TLAER’s mission statement:
TLAER, Inc. works to provide education and outreach nationwide and internationally for emergency responders (whether local, state or organizational) in safer and more efficient ways to prevent prepare and respond to large animal incidents on our highways, communities and facilities, based on cutting-edge research and development.
Can you define TLAER as an organization?
What kind of courses are you teaching, and who are your students?
TLAER uses trained live animals for scenarios and practice rescues. How are these horses trained for this highly-critical role?
The horses may be asked to do any one of the following: training demonstrations under helicopters, tied down on a Glide, suffering a fake injury, jumping into water, lying down for webbing and rope manipulations, or acting scared while running loose for containment training. These demonstrations can be dangerous if the animal panics, so we always discuss safety zones and proper reaction to the situation with students before using the live horses.
Through natural horsemanship methods, the demonstration animals are trained to confidently accept all the people (whether experienced or inexperienced,) nighttime practical exercises, loud noises, equipment and the environment in which they are placed. They can lie down on command and allow us to touch them with ropes and webbing. Training animals for TLAER starts at birth.
All of the training comes down to trust: you can never let the animal get injured or scared when learning to perform the task. I break it down into small tasks — for example, if i want a horse to learn to stand up on a three-foot high platform, I start with asking him to put one foot, then two feet, on a shorter platform, and reward him for the try. Once he understands what I am asking, he will eventually put all four feet on the platform. These exercises translate to putting their feet in the trailer, going into a mud hole or ditch, and waiting patiently while we explain techniques, tactics and procedures.
Without the cooperation of these animals, most of the images and hands-on contributions to TLAER would not have been possible. The instructors consider these animals to be their close family members and value the relationship they have created over time.
What’s the most important advice you have for horse owners or rescue personnel, either when working in an emergency situation or regarding prevention?
These are the most common five mistakes horse owners make when responding to emergencies:
1. Assuming they should be the animal handler: many horse owners or horse-lovers who respond to a scene are far too emotional to be right up close and personal with the horses in these situations. As an analogy, just because you are a parent doesn’t mean you would be invited to help paramedics and firefighters working on your child.
2. Getting too close to the animal: horse owners tend to overestimate how much their animal “loves them,” and then anthropomorphism leads to dangerous body positioning and extrication approaches. Animals don’t think in these situations; they react. Although the horse may not intend to injure you, it can easily do just that in a struggle to save itself.
3. Believe that if the animal is just “lying there” that it will not move: animals will initially struggle to the point of exhaustion, appearing to relax in an attempt to catch their second (or third, or fifteenth) wind. The slightest stimulation may initiate another period of thrashing, and triggers the time in which many animals more seriously injure themselves.
4. Assuming a rescued animal is OK after rescue: once the animal is removed from the incident and it walks off and eats some grass, many people assume the animal is OK when in fact its condition is about to spiral downward. Stress-induced conditions can kill the animal. Appropriate and immediate treatment can help a horse — an amazing example is Neville Bardos’ story, who was injured in a barn fire and recovered to be named the USEF International Horse of the Year.
5. Exhibiting the Ostrich Syndrome, or “it won’t happen to me”: statistics show that the two most common emergencies that occur for horse owners are trailer wrecks and barn fires. Next is a horse getting trapped in or on mud, fences, ditches or other around-the-farm situations from which they cannot extricate themselves. These events happen very commonly to horses on farms large and small, wealthy and poor, well-run and not so well-managed. They can happen to you! Educate yourself in ways to minimize injury to your animals, and increase your riding time with your horses.