The more time your horse spends in his stable, the more the danger of him becoming cast – in other words, stuck and unable to regain his feet.
Graceful as they are, horses are a bit ungainly when they try to stand up after lying down. They need room to stretch out those long legs and roll themselves into position in order to rise and shine.
There are situations, however, when your horse may be unable to get up once he’s down and becomes cast – and this happens for various reasons not necessarily related to illness or injury.
Casting in the stable is particularly more likely nowadays with the size of stalls becoming smaller. The British Horse Society recommends a minimum stable size of 12ft x 12ft for horses; for ponies the recommended minimum dimensions should be 10ft x 10ft and 10ft x12ft for larger ponies.
In a small space your horse may land up with his legs jammed against the wall if he’s
in the stall. He could also become cast in the paddock if he becomes caught up in his halter or blanket straps, perhaps be wedged under a feeder or rail or he might fall in the trailer. There are dozens of ways horses can become cast, but whatever the reason it is not a pretty sight to see, and the first inclination you and your horse will have is to panic!
KEEP A COOL HEAD
When you find a cast horse he will probably be flailing around and struggling – in danger of injuring himself and anyone who gets close trying to help him. Your first instinct may be to rush to his assistance, but this is a situation where you need to think coolly before you act.
One thing to remember is that if the horse has been cast for some time the pressure on blood vessels may have cut off the blood supply to parts of the body, possibly causing nerve and/or muscle damage. There is also the risk that when the animal is back on his feet and blood returns to the affected areas that he will suffer pain and inflammation.
So, if you think he may have been down for awhile, has injured himself, or if you suspect that he has become cast because of some condition or complaint it is best to call in the vet at the outset before you try to get him up.
To allow the cast horse to stand up he’s going to need space to flex his legs, encouragement to calm down and help to roll over and find his feet.
Call in an assistant (its unlikely you’ll manage to right a horse on your own) and carefully assess his situation while you calmly talk to the horse and determine a strategy. If you’re lucky the horse will sense you are there to help and may calm a little, but don’t count on it lasting. He could very well lose his cool and start lashing out again, so keep out of harm’s way.
When you set out to help a cast horse remember he will need to have space to get up on his front legs first. The main thing to guard against is injury – to yourself and the animal.
Some may recommend hooking his legs with rope to pull him over. This is a sure way to hurt yourself as you would have to reach over him and tie ropes to his flailing feet, then flip those feet towards you. Use this only as a last resort.
The first thing to do is assess whether there is anything that can safely be removed to give his front legs more room – bedding, pole or any other obstruction.
Make sure you have a first aid kit to hand in case he has suffered any cuts or scratches in his efforts to get up.
Get him as calm as possible, then grab his mane, neck and/or forelock and shift his front end backwards. Even a few inches might give him the space he needs to get his front legs in operation.
Once he looks as though he’s free enough to get up beat a quick retreat … he’s likely to leap to his feet with alacrity!
Most horses are fine once they get back on their feet, but if you suspect any ill effects – or perhaps suspect colic as the reason he was cast in the first place – have a vet check him over.
If you think he may have been cast for some time there may be hidden consequences that require a vet’s expertise.
The majority of horses manage to go through life never becoming cast, but there are others who seem to make a habit of it.
Whatever the case with your horse, it is wise to be mindful of the risk of casting, and take precautions against it happening.
As mentioned previously, you should make sure the stall is big enough to allow him to lay down with plenty of room to move. The bottom few feet of the stall should be solid, with no slats, obstacles or gaps where his legs or hooves could get caught. A lining of some non-slip rubber material is also a good idea. This will help him get a foothold if he does get cast.
A traditional method of preventing casting is to bank bedding thickly and widely around the circumference of the stall, encouraging the horse to lay down in the middle rather than against the sides. There is some debateabout this, however, because it is alleged that banking may make the likelihood of casting worse and the banks themselves may harbour dust and bacteria that could affect the respiratory system of your horse.
It’s also recommended that any wall fixtures in the stable, such as feeders and water troughs, be attached high enough to be out of the way of the horse when it is laying down, to prevent legs and hooves from becoming stuck underneath them.
Finally, ensure that your horse’s rug and halter are not loose or have loops where he might catch his hooves.
Indoors or out, a horse needs room to roll over and regain his feet. And a firm surface to push against if he lands up against a wall or fence.
We hope your horse never becomes cast, but if he does … get a grip!