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The Stall Door

There are two things that I like to see hanging on the door of every horse’s stall.  One is an information paper, under plastic, that gives information about that particular horse.  The other thing is the horse’s halter, with lead attached.

An incident that happened several years ago in a stable (now closed) illustrates just how critical the paper can be.  A client called about a mare that belonged to one of her boarders.  The mare got into a scrap with a pasture mate and suffered a laceration on her right hind leg.   When I arrived, I saw that the wound needed suturing and asked if the owner had been notified.   The barn owner said that she had tried but couldn’t reach her.  I knew that the wound repair couldn’t be put off, so we decided to go ahead.   The mare had a bit of an attitude, so we took her outside on the grass and gave her a dose of IV tranquilizer. My thought was that if she was still kicky under the tranquilizer, I could then  give her a short acting anesthetic, ease her down to the ground, and safely suture the leg.  I checked her heart, lungs, and temperature.   She was young and quite healthy.

I gave her the IV tranquilizer, and went back to the truck to gather instruments for repairing the leg.   As I returned with my arms full of stuff,  I glanced at the mare and noticed that she was acting funny.   She had started to breath erratically.  Then she began to buckle on the front end.   She staggered a bit and sank slowly down.  Remember, I had only given a common tranquilizer which has a large safety margin.  Her respirations became more and more labored, and despite some heroic efforts to bring her around she died about 20 minutes later.  It was devastating!

The owner was finally reached and was understandably terribly upset.  She drove out to the barn, and after she calmed down told me that before she moved to this stable the mare had been tranquilized at another barn, had suffered a huge reaction, and almost died.   When she moved the mare, the owner had never passed on this vital information.  I suppose she thought that she could always be contacted if there were a problem.  Had she had an information sheet on the door that said, “This mare has had a severe reaction to such and such a tranquilizer,” I, of course, would never have given her that same drug.  The owner had left no such notice with the stable.  The result was a terribly needless loss.

So, what should be on that sheet?  I like to see the horse’s name, age, and general description.   For example, it might read: “Suzie. 4 year old chestnut Quarter horse mare with blaze face and hind stockings.”   I have seen a few stall information sheets which included front on photographs of the animals head and side views of the whole horse.  The owner’s name should also be there along with all phone numbers where they and at least one other responsible person can be reached.  The information sheet should also include the name of the horse’s veterinarian with their contact information.   Finally, I would put on any special instructions such as: “Sensitive to some medications.  Check with owner or barn manager before giving any drugs.”

The second thing I like to see hanging on every stall door is the horse’s halter, with lead shank attached.  This is important because in an emergency no one has to search for it.   I have heard the argument that if you keep your horse’s halter on 24/7, it might save a few seconds if there was a fire.  I don’t buy it.  Every horse should immediately accept his or her halter from any person, no exceptions.  If your horse won’t stand willingly while you or anyone else puts the halter on, it is time for some basic training.   It really shouldn’t take any more time to slip a halter on than to attach a lead to the halter.   My opinion is that when you leave the stall you should leave with halter in hand.  I have attended a number of horses who suffered severe injuries when their halters got caught on something in the stall.  When that happens, the natural reaction is for the horse to jerk back, hard.   With no give the horse feels trapped, may panic, and can get hurt in their frantic efforts to pull away.  It is always wise to keep in mind that the horse is a prey animal, hard wired to cut and run.

Both the horse information and the halter can be vital in barn catastrophes.  We all worry about barn fires, but in the past few years a number of barns in Maine have gone down under snow loads.   What if no one from the barn was there, but someone driving by happened to see smoke coming out of the barn or a roof collapsing?   What if one or more of the horses were trapped or injured?   In all the confusion and probable horse panic, the halter on the door would be right at hand.   In trying to sort things out, the facts on the stall door about each animal and who to contact would be crucial.

I was working on this article when I began to feel like a hypocrite.   So, I went out to my barn, took the halters from the tack room, and hung them where they should be.  I own two small donkeys, both of whom live in one stall.   I made up an information sheet, enlarged the type to bold, enlarged it so it could be read 6 feet away, and slipped it into a clear plastic holder.  The paper identifies both animals and gives a few peculiarities for each.

To summarize, if there is a horse in a stall both an information sheet and a halter with lead should be hanging on his or her door.  These two precautions will give you a sense of security and could save your horse’s life.


David A. Jefferson, DVM

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