Written by: Shawn Hamilton

Go along with Shawn Hamilton on a trailer ride you won’t soon forget.

Thumbnail for Trailer Trauma

Clix photo

“We have a situation in the trailer and it does not look good!” Those are words I will never forget.

After a lovely four days of camping with our horses at Pure Country Campgrounds in Berlin, New York, my friends and I were reminiscing about the trip while enjoying the scenery on the winding road home that apparently was a short cut. Feeling some movement from the slant load trailer, we wanted to stop and check on our three horses, but the roller coaster of a road did not offer a safe place to do so. Finally reaching a highway with a shoulder, we pulled over. Laurel, one of my two camping companions, hopped out to check on everyone. And those were her words when she returned to the truck.

She described the scene: Blaze, a tall chestnut Morgan gelding owned by my other companion, Cinette, had gone down and appeared to have his hind leg stuck under the stallion guard partition (an extension that is bolted to the bottom of a regular halfway partition, allowing it to reach nearly to the ground). Bailey, my horse, had broken his halter and was loose. Lefty, Laurel’s horse seemed okay.

Since Blaze was in the front stall of the slant load, we were going to have to unload the other two horses to get to him. The side of a busy six-lane highway did not seem to be the opportune place. Five minutes up the road a toll booth area provided just enough space to pull off the highway. Jumping out of the truck, Cinette grabbed a halter and Laurel grabbed lead ropes, which I always leave in the truck; something Laurel had taught me years ago…just in case. We unloaded Lefty from the rear stall, Cinette wrestled a halter on Bailey Boy and he was unloaded.

With the two back stalls emptied we had a clear view of Blaze, who was down but still attached to the trailer tie. Our eyes immediately went to his left hind leg, which had slid under the partition practically up to his hock. The leg was on such an awkward angle we could only assume it was broken. I grabbed my cell phone and called 911 in hopes of locating a nearby vet and possibly some roadside assistance.

Cinette held the horses at the side of the trailer while Laurel went in to assess the situation. Once she unhooked Blaze from the trailer tie his head released. He was sweating and obviously in shock, but, lucky for us, was staying relatively quiet. For three women all in panic mode we were managing to keep our cool. Even though Laurel had been a paramedic in the past and Cinette is a first aid teacher, both trained to be calm in emergency situations, keeping a grasp of things was no small feat.

I joined Laurel and we tried with all our strength to lift the partition off of Blaze’s leg, but it would not budge. How he managed to get his entire hoof and lower leg through the three-inch gap between the guard and the floor is still a mystery. Switching to Plan B, I began to release the pins securing the partition to the trailer wall. The top and bottom pins came out with little resistance, but since Blaze had bent it slightly, the middle pin would not move. We took off the shipping bandage as it was stopping the leg from gliding back through and I went around to the side escape door by Blaze’s head to hopefully access the middle pin from a different angle. The Plexiglas window had been shattered to pieces and the metal bars had been broken. I dropped the window down, allowing the shattered pieces to fall to the ground. In the instant I opened the door, Blaze saw an opportunity, and with the shipping bandage removed from his leg, he managed to get his leg unstuck, get himself up and leap out. He was amazingly sound on all fours.

During this entire time, the cars whizzed by us on the six-lane highway leading up to the toll booth. No one stopped. Cinette managed to flag someone down to help hold the other two horses so she could assist us with Blaze. “I just saw this look of fear in her eyes and had to stop,” he told us later.

We grabbed the hay nets from inside the trailer, hung them on the side and tied Lefty and Bailey Boy, while Laurel started to treat Blaze. Laurel gave him a shot of Banamine® for the swelling and some bute for any pain that he may have had (see sidebar below for information on this drug combination). She cleaned up his wounds and applied disinfectant. We gave them all water and started to wrap Blaze’s legs.

After managing to track down a vet, I explained the situation and they assured me they would be there within 45 minutes. I asked the secretary if she knew of a trailer company that could come and get us, as my trailer was not fit for shipping at this point. There happened to be a young gentleman, by the name of Todd, who had dropped by the clinic for supplies, he had a four-horse trailer and was willing to come and get us.

What a relief when we saw the vet drive up. Dr. Alfredo Romero, of Syracuse Equine Veterinary Specialists, and his assistants assessed the horses thoroughly and gave us the thumbs up for going on the trailer. The rig arrived and, to our surprise, Blaze and Bailey Boy hopped right on. Lefty, who was experiencing his first long trailer ride had to be sedated.

When we arrived at the clinic, we could not believe our eyes. In what seemed to us to be in the middle of nowhere appeared a gorgeous, spotless, state of the art clinic. Each horse settled in to their own massive box stall and Dr. Romero and his partner Dr. Jean-Yin Tan continued their treatment. Bailey Boy had minor cuts and was incredibly stressed. Lefty had an unexplainable enlarged sheath. Blaze’s legs were battered, but he was miraculously in good shape. Although, the greatest worry was a possible puncture of the synovial sack in his right knee joint.

At that point, I left the horses with Laurel, Cinette and the vets to try to find someone to fix my trailer. Todd mentioned a garage just minutes down the road and, thankfully, they answered their phone at 5:30 at night and were willing to look at it. I had started to feel like I had a guardian angel walking us through this.

The horses stayed overnight in the clinic, and after dropping off my trailer at the local garage, we found a room at the lovely Brae Loch Inn in the quaint historical town of Casenovia, about 20 minutes from the clinic, just in time to catch the kitchen for dinner before it closed.

We arrived at the clinic in the morning to good news. The synovial sack was examined by running saline into it through a syringe to check for leaking and the x-rays came up clear. Blaze was going to be okay. Additionally, my trailer was fixed by noon and, within an hour, we were loaded up and heading home with extra bandages, a disinfectant cream, antibiotics and GastroGard® to aid against ulcers.

We arrived home safe and sound 24 hours late and a few dollars poorer, but all the wiser for future trips. From this day forward, there are a few things I will do different when leaving on long trailer excursions.

Bailey Boy and Lefty are fully recovered. We are still not sure why Lefty’s sheath was enlarged. Blaze is still being cold hosed and is stall bound, but should recover soon.

MY NEW RULES FOR TRAILERING

  • Have contact numbers at hand for vet clinics in the areas of travel.
  • Prepare back-up plan for trailering. Have the number for a commercial trailer company that could come and get you in case of an emergency.
  • Put shavings on the floor of the trailer. Although we will never know for sure what caused Blaze to slip, we believe the twisty winding hills on the road, combined with the urine on the rubber floor mats were factors. Shavings would have absorbed the urine, possibly avoiding such a slippery surface.
  • Never take a short cut unless you know the state of the road. From now on, I will stick to the highways or routes that I know are reasonable for trailering.
  • Never give them Banamine® and bute. If your red flag went up after reading that we had given Blaze bute and Banamine® together then kudos to you. Dr. Romero explained to us that each Banamine® and bute can cause ulcers on their own, but when given together increase the possibility of ulcers four-fold. GastroGard® was prescribed to safeguard against ulcers.
  • Always have extra halters and lead ropes on hand – in the vehicle as opposed to in the trailer.
  • No matter how far you are going, have accessible water on board.
  • Always keep a basic first aid kit in the vehicle, readily accessible for any situation.
  •  I will NEVER use the stallion guard portion of the partition again. It was unbolted for the trip home and will remain unbolted from here on in.