Emergency! Horse in the Swimming Pool!By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · May 8, 2012
It may sound like a joke, but there’s nothing funny about the situation when a horse jumps or falls into a swimming pool and can’t get out. Immediate considerations are getting the horse out without anyone getting hurt and limiting damage to the pool. If the rescue becomes prolonged, additional concerns include preventing hypothermia in the horse and its rescuers, helping the exhausted horse keep its head above the water, and assembling enough power—human or otherwise—to extricate the horse in a setting with limited access, slick footing, and the unpredictable actions of a large, frightened animal.
As with any emergency, the easiest way to solve the problem is to avoid having it happen in the first place. If you have horses and a swimming pool on your property, give some thought to both the pasture fence and the pool enclosure so that horses will never be in a position to fall into the pool. Likewise, if you keep your horse in an area that’s near a swimming pool, or own a swimming pool in an area near where horses are boarded, give serious thought to securing whatever fencing you are responsible for, even if you have no influence over fence type or condition beyond your property. Horses sometimes enter ponds or streams in their fields, but rescue from these natural water sources is easier than getting a horse out of a deep, slippery, straight-sided swimming pool.
In spite of the best precautions, horses do occasionally end up in swimming pools. If you are involved in this situation, the first rule is to secure the scene. This means taking any necessary steps to keep conditions from getting worse. If there are dogs, small children, or hysterical adults around, have them taken away from the scene. If there are other horses or large animals close, have them removed and taken to a secure fenced area. You may need to have electricity to the pool area turned off, aerators or automatic pool sweepers disabled, and one person designated to be in charge until professionals arrive. This person’s main duty may be to keep other people from trying to help and getting injured in the process. First priority should be human safety; second priority should be animal safety; and third priority should be preventing property damage.
Next, call an emergency dispatcher. This person will know what sort of rescue team can respond. Also call a veterinarian, as the horse may need to be sedated for the rescue or treated for shock, injuries, or hypothermia. No one should be allowed to enter the pool until trained personnel arrive. Anxious owners can comfort the horse from the pool deck; if they enter the pool, they complicate the rescue by risking injury or hypothermia.
Draining the pool may make the rescue easier and keep the horse from getting too cold. A fire department pump can accomplish this more safely than opening a drain, a step that could allow the horse’s tail or a hoof to get trapped. If a pool cover is in place, try to remove it so that the horse doesn’t get tangled up in it. Offering hay at the side of the pool can help to move the horse in the direction you want it to go, and eating hay will probably calm the horse and help it stay warm.
It would seem that a horse could climb out by using a ramped pool bottom or wide steps, but smooth concrete or tile makes this difficult. The area around the pool may also be too slippery to allow a tired horse to stand up after it is removed from the pool. Tarps, matting, or other materials can be gathered by those who want to help.
Exact rescue techniques will depend on ease of access to the site, available materials, and number of people who are able to assist. Remember that even a small horse weighs close to 1,000 pounds; a people-powered lift or drag will need a lot of hands. A frightened horse can move quickly and unpredictably, so be sure everyone is aware of the risk and has room to get out of the way.
Large-animal rescue training is available from several organizations. If the rescue unit in your area has not taken this training, your riding group or club could offer to sponsor the cost of this instruction for one or more first responders. You can also ask the local rescue team to talk to your group about preventing and responding to equine emergencies.