The Great Escape: Van and Freedom on the Loose


Yesterday I got one of the calls that all horse people dread: my horse and his pasture mate were loose and spotted about a mile from the barn running on the road. Someone had opened the gate and the two horses had simply left.

I drove the five minutes to the barn in record speed. The horses were, thankfully, back in their pasture. A quick inspection revealed that both horses had no cuts, scrapes or puncture wounds. Hooves that were supposed to be shod still had shoes. Neither horse had fallen or been hit by a car. I could tell though, that at least my gelding was uncomfortable and stiff just from how he was standing.

I am lucky enough to live in a town where one of the police officers also has a horse. Even luckier, he was on duty yesterday and was able to herd them back home and catch them. Thank goodness they waited until after rush hour, ran away from the commuting route, and stayed on back roads where people generally don’t drive too fast. I heard that they mostly stayed on the right side of the road too!

So, what should you worry about once your horse returns from an unscheduled outing on pavement? Laminitis and tying up.

Road founder is laminitis that is brought on by excessive concussion of a horse’s feet from running on the road. It’s actually a misnomer since laminitis refers to an inflammation of the laminae of the hoof. Founder refers to laminitis that is so severe that the bond between the coffin bone and the hoof capsule breaks causing the coffin bone to rotate and/or sink. While all horses that founder have laminitis, not all horses with laminitis founder. Quick action can prevent founder in many cases.

Tying up (exertional rhabdomyolysis) occurs when there is a lack of blood flow to the muscles of an exercising horse. One of the causes can be sudden and intense exercise, such what can happen when a horse gets loose. When a horse ties up, the symptoms are muscle stiffness and cramping. The horse may look stiff, show reluctance to move, and have hard, tight muscles, especially in its hindquarters. What you can’t see is that ER can cause muscle damage.

A call to my vet advised giving them a dose of Banamine and icing their feet in case the concussion of running on the roads brought on founder. The first 24 hours are the most critical when facing the potential of laminitis and icing can make a huge difference.

Check the digital pulse at the back of the fetlock join.
Check the digital pulse at the back of the fetlock join.

I checked their digital pulses and both horses seemed normal. I was very glad that there was still enough snow in one part of the pasture where I could stand them and have them iced up and over their coronary bands. Freedom was stiff and his muscles felt tight. I used some massage techniques and got some big releases.

Hoof testers are used to check for sensitivity.
Hoof testers are used to check for sensitivity.

Later that afternoon my vet stopped by to check on the two escapees. I wanted to make sure there was no hoof sensitivity, triple check the digital pulse and draw blood. He found no sensitivity and a normal digital pulses when he checked both horses.

By that time Freedom’s muscles had relaxed. The combination of Banamine, the several mile run, and a massage left him sleepy. Van, on the other hand, was showing signs of tying up. His muscles were tight and he was walking stiffly. To help him recover, the vet tubed him with Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), which is both an anti-inflammatory and a radical scavenger, and also gave him electrolytes.

Having the vet come by and check them probably allowed me to sleep last night. I was so relieved that they were doing so well. At 11:30 last night they were both still doing fine and this morning they were a little stiff and highly annoyed that they are not to have grain until Wednesday or Thursday!

Read more about laminitis and tying up:

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13 thoughts on “The Great Escape: Van and Freedom on the Loose

  1. How absolutely terrifying! I really appreciate the info on what to look for, should something similar happen to any of us, and what we can do to mitigate the potential problems. They are so lucky to have a committed and quick-thinking horse mom. I’m so sorry you all had to go through this.

  2. that is so scary! especially after those five horses were just killed and the driver that hit them when they got out of their pasture and onto the road. I hope they continue to do well!

  3. Glad your horse and his pal made it home safe! Has this happened to you before? Sounds like you’ve handled the situation before. If not, kudos to you for knowing exactly what symptoms to watch for. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thankfully this is the first time that we’ve had an escape of this magnitude. In the eight years I’ve been in a co-op, we’ve had a few get loose but mostly they stay on property and graze. No, I just have my vet’s cell phone on speed dial :).

  4. Glad to hear they are okay…and I also appreciate the great information, and clear description of what you did, what you looked for and where to find more information.

  5. I’ve not been around horses for very long, and even less so 4 years ago when 4 of the girls got out . . . because DOOF-BOY (I’m pretty sure that was the term my significant other used) had opened a gate to move a truck and TOTALLY spaced horses in the pasture . . . a mental slip of IMMENSE proportions. All ended well, thankfully because no sooner had I got them cornered in a neighbors yard when my lovely wife, coming home from work, drove by . . . it was a look that to this day prompts me to check gates, once, twice, thrice, and one more time, just for good measure.

  6. Soooooo…were they ok?

    Fran
    (who thinks “doof-boy” was probably the kindest thing Jon’s girlfriend could manage to call him at the time)

  7. Wow great job acting quickly to ensure their health. It would be nice if every horse owner cared as much as you do. Thanks as well for the detailed information on what you went through and how to prevent danger if that were to happen to me or someone I know. I’m glad that everything turned out well for you!

  8. Above and beyond the laminitis, what concerns me is that ‘someone’ opened the gate and the horses got loose. What the hell? Mistake? malfeasance? vandalism? someone thinking it’s funny?
    Although…one of the newer horses in the barn, a LOVELY warmblood named Drummer..is an escape artist. He thinks it so much fun to slip past you as you’re releasing his pasture buddy.
    There is someone here in my area who has hit the same barn/farm/horse two times in the last five years. Both times someone has trespassed onto the property in order to CUT OFF THE HORSE”S tail. Not bone, of course, but the tail hairs right up to the bone. Maybe it’s a special color, maybe it’s someone with evil intent, but you know how long it takes to grow out a tail, and this has happened TWICE. That’s someone I’d sic the dogs on in a newyorkminute.
    So we keep an eye on strangers. There’s been horse and tack thieves every now and then. We know who drives what. Who has grandkids and who doesn’t have any. We look out for those of us on rural, full of horses (and kids) dead end road neighborhood. Everyone knows everyone. Oh, and we’re about three miles as the crow flies from a minimum security prison. So I’m Mrs. Kravitz (which to those who know who SHE was now knows how old I am…;-)..who are you and what are you doing here.

    1. I have a pretty good idea of who it was. There was a man who used to let his dog chase the horses in their paddocks and we had spoken to him about it. When the horses got loose, he “just happened” to be on hand to help catch the horses. No proof. Just a hunch.

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