Horses run into trouble with bad weather

February 13, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

Horsemen at the track who can't race their animals aren't the only ones suffering from the icy winter weather.

On farms throughout the state there have been some devastating injuries to horses who can't cope with the ice and have fallen in their fields.

There have been reports of equine deaths from horses that have broken their legs; mares that have slipped on the ice and aborted their foals; and rescue efforts by veterinarians and even firemen who have been called in to save horses that have fallen on the ice and can't get up.

Russ Jacobson, a veterinarian in Harford County, said that for two days last week he did nothing but pull horses off the ice.

The most dramatic case occurred near Aberdeen when a thoroughbred mare stepped out of her shed, slipped and slid down a hill. She lay on the ice for 24 hours and couldn't get up. When Thursday's ice and snow storm rolled in, her frantic owner called the fire department for assistance.

In addition to 12 firemen, Bel Air farm owner Josh Pons and Jacobson assisted in the mare's rescue.

"We tied the horse's legs up like they do the calves in roping contests," Pons said. "And then by using a winch on the back of a fire truck, we hoisted her up the hill. If she had stayed out in the snowstorm, she probably would have frozen to death."

Jacobson said he is seeing more cases of hyperthermia than broken legs, although he knows of two horses that have died as a result of fractures.

"They can't get any traction and do the splits behind or if they move laterally and fall, they can fracture their pelvis," he said.

His advice to horse owners:

* Keep horses in the barn, even though high-strung thoroughbreds usually prefer moving around outside. "Unfortunately, horses are not designed to wear ice skates," Jacobson said. Use common sense about turning them out. "Just leave the horses in their stalls and cut back on their feed," he said. "They are going to have trouble standing on ice. There is no way they can punch through solid sheets of ice with their hoofs."

* If a horse gets down, use sand or stone dust or kitty litter to give them traction so they can get up. It took six men to get one yearling on its feet Friday, he said, and another one had to be pulled onto solid ground by a belly band attached to a tractor before it could get its footing.

* If a horse can't get up, cover it immediately to keep it warm. "It doesn't take long for the blood to leave a horse's muscles and for it to get cold," Jacobson said. "Those muscles need to move, so if the animal is down for an hour or more, try to roll it over. Also give it water and hay and call for help as soon as possible."

Jan Hawkins, a veterinarian at New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., said the hospital has treated one horse for a fractured jaw and another for a broken leg from falls on the ice. "I heard of another horse that slipped in a field, hit its head and died," Hawkins said. "But that's anecdotal. In addition to muscular skeletal injuries, we are seeing colic cases because horses aren't drinking enough water."

Hawkins said the hospital hasn't been swamped with cases "because a lot of people can't get their horses off the farms to get them here. The veterinarians in the field are the ones dealing with most of these injuries."

Pons said his stallions, including Carnivalay and Allen's Prospect, at Country Life Farm haven't been out of their stalls since Jan. 5. "As you can imagine, they are a handful," Pons said. "But we just have to be patient. Horses at the tracks recovering from injuries stand in stalls for as long as a year and have no ill effect. So it's not unusual."

Pons said Country Life was scheduled to breed its first two mares on Friday, but the matings were canceled. "The mares were stuck on farms and the owners couldn't find transportation to get them here," he said.

Smith to be honored

Milton Smith, the first African-American trainer to win the Hambletonian, harness racing's premier event, will be among the honorees Thursday night at the fifth African Americans in Horse Racing dinner and awards ceremony.

Inez Chappell, the organization's president and founder, and Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis will be co-hosts for the event, which will be held at the Sports Palace at Pimlico Race Course.

Smith won the 1993 Hambletonian with $1 million earner American Winner, who also won the Yonkers Trot. The horse missed winning trotting's Triple Crown when he was beaten by Pine Chip in the Kentucky Futurity.

In addition to Smith, three harness trainer-drivers -- David Howard, Major Roane and Dennis Watson -- will be honored, as well as Harry Thompson Jr., a thoroughbred owner-trainer who won more than 100 races last year at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pa.

Chappell said the dinner is sold out and will be attended by Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Oliver Edwards, one of last year's award winners who is a leading trainer at Gulfstream Park.

Dixie date questionable

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