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Equine Guelph Trains Firefighters to Rescue Large Animals

Guelph, ON June 30, 2024 – Over the Canada Day long weekend, firefighters from across the province descended on the University of Guelph to participate in an intensive Large Animal Rescue (LAER) training course led by Equine Guelph.

The two-and-a-half day event saw firefighters from Hamilton, Milton, Lucknow, Chatsworth, Caledon, Halton Hills, West Elgin, Ramara, Oakville and Essa Township take part, learning basic skills to rescue large animals in emergencies.

“Firefighters are often the first responders to a scene, whether it’s an overturned trailer on the highway, a horse stuck in the mud, or rescuing animals from a barn fire,” says Riley McGilloway, co-instructor for the course with the Halton Hills Fire Department. “The value of the course for firefighters is that it allows them to understand their roles and limitations in large animal emergencies. The primary goal of this course is to provide firefighters with a game plan for how to conduct a safe and successful rescue using the tools we already have on our fire trucks.”

“We are in our 10th year of offering this important, specialized training,” says course coordinator Dr. Susan Raymond. “Equine Guelph remains committed to expanding large animal rescue capabilities through education and hands-on training. Our large animal emergency rescue program prioritizes the welfare and well-being of animals involved in incidents while emphasizing the safety of those involved in rescue operations.”

Not all rescuers have experience handling large animals, so the workshops always start with training in horse behavior and handler safety. The firefighters gained hands-on experience at the University of Guelph’s BBRM, learning how to quickly perform an emergency halter and lead a horse to safety, as well as how to corral loose horses. For an exercise that required simulating downed horses in difficult situations, a 600-pound mannequin named “Rusti” allowed the teams to develop a plan and use specialized equipment to free him.

“The correct use of specialist equipment and the correct positioning of webbing around the animal’s body is critical to the success of lifting or dragging a large animal to safety,” says EBSP Rescue Chief Instructor Victor MacPherson.

Workshop participants practice the scenario of a horse falling in a trailer

The teams worked with wide towing straps, performing forward, backward and side-to-side pulls and assists based on the mock situations they encountered. Throughout, they were reminded of kick zones and anatomy lessons that emphasized that the horse’s head and tail should never be used as handles. The crew was warned that even a calm-looking horse can react unexpectedly when freed from a compromising situation. Participants learned how to use specialist reaching tools, stop guides and slides to secure and transport large animals to safety.

Dr. Chris Riley, Chair of Clinical Studies at the Ontario Veterinary College, was on hand to discuss the role of veterinarians in animal incidents and the importance of all responders working collaboratively to utilize the incident command system and familiarize themselves with their roles in advance.

Firefighters discussed potential tactics for handling incidents involving commercial transport vehicles during a cattle truck inspection that was kindly provided by Cleon Gingrich of Gemrich Transport in Fergus.

Teamwork, communication and safety were practiced in each simulated scenario, including: a horse that fell in a trailer accident, a horse that got stuck in a fence, a fallen horse and rider, and an evacuation from a barn fire.

“The course was a huge help, teaching me how to efficiently approach and evacuate large animals, operate all types of gates and stall doors, and how to use an emergency halter in the event of a barn fire,” says course participant Paulette Brassard, who is currently training. “The opportunity to train with live horses was invaluable. I would definitely recommend this course to others.”

Fireman and horse during workshop

Participant and assistant trainer Andrew Brassage of the Milton Fire Department says, “After 24 years in the fire service, I have attended and taught classes in Canada and the US. I will say that this was a top-notch class and one of the best training experiences of my life. The facilities and props are world class, as are the staff and instructors. I highly recommend it to all members of the fire department, from the largest to the smallest departments, who may be dealing with situations that may involve rescuing horses and other farm animals.”

Equine Guelph thanks the supporters, organizers and participants of these important large animal rescue workshops. Special thanks to: Chantal Mitchell Racing, Ellis Racing, Felix Marion Farrier Services, First Line Training Center, Flexineb, Gemrich Transport, Glenview Livestock Racing, Grand River Agricultural Society, Jonathan Drury Racing, Let it Ride Stable, Ontario Farm & Food Care Ontario, Ontario Livestock & Poultry Council, Pit Bull Stable, System Equine and Tony Beaton Racing.

A big thank you also goes to head coaches Victor MacPherson and Riley McGilloway, and assistant coach Katherine Hoffman.

Many thanks to CTV for the television coverage of this event.

Participants must be at least 18 years of age. First responders, pre-service, law enforcement, animal welfare officers, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal emergency response teams, horse owners, livestock producers and associations are encouraged to learn large animal rescue skills. The LAER program, operated by Equine Guelph (University of Guelph), has grown steadily over the past decade and expanded its offerings to a diverse group. If you are interested in helping build this program or would like to discuss offering this program in your area or to your members, please contact Susan Raymond at Equine Guelph. Courses can be offered on a cost-recovery basis or through sponsorship to communities/individuals who would like to expand the reach of this training program.

WITH Guelph Horses