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Why Horses Cast and Ways to Help

by Wendy Sumner
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When horsemen use the word “cast” when referring to horses, they are usually not talking about a covering made of plaster. Instead, they are referring to a horse that has laid down and can’t get up. It is very dangerous for a horse to be cast. Read on to learn more about why horses cast and ways to help.

How Does a Horse Get Up After Laying Down?

Horses make getting up look easy, most of the time. However, it takes strength and coordination. First, the horse needs to be able to roll from his side onto his breastbone, tucking his legs underneath him. Then he will stretch his head upward, lifting his chest, and start to unfold his front legs. When the front legs are straightened, the horse will be in a sitting position. 

Finally, he will forcefully throw his head forward and down, allowing the weight of his front end to act as a counterbalance. This gives him the momentum to lift his hindquarters into a standing position.  

How Can a Horse Become Cast?

A horse can become cast when he lays in a position that makes it impossible for him to get his legs underneath him to rise. This can happen in a stall, by a fence, or on slippery footing in a pasture. 

A horse can lay down and roll in a stall and end up with his feet in the air against the wall. From this position, the horse may have trouble getting the momentum to roll back over. If he can’t get his legs underneath him, he is stuck lying down. For a prey animal, this helplessness can be terrifying.  

Horses can also become cast against fences. This happens when the legs of a horse lying down slip under the bottom rail of the fence. When the horse tries to roll over, the legs are trapped.  

Slippery footing can be another reason a horse can become cast. For example, the horse lays down in the snow or mud. He keeps slipping when he tries to stretch his front legs out or throw his hindquarters up.  

Dangers to a Cast Horse

Instinct tells a horse that “stuck” means dead by predators. The majority will fight until complete exhaustion. If a horse is cast for very long, it can lead to circulatory shock. Circulatory shock is a failure of the cardiovascular system to provide enough oxygen to the organs and tissues. It can quickly lead to death.

If you find your horse cast and don’t know how long they have been there, call your veterinarian. Horses that are cast for a period as short as one hour (sometimes less) can develop any of the following prognosis.

  • Circulatory shock
  • Myopathy (muscle damage)
  • Poor gut motility (possible colic)
  • Gas distension
  • Urine retention
  • Head trauma
  • Poor blood circulation of the kidneys
  • Congestion in the long closest to the ground
  • Eye trauma

How to Help a Horse Who is Cast Get Up

It is dangerous to help a horse that is cast get up, especially if they are panicky. The worse thing you can do is let the horse wear itself out. This can lead to the circulatory shock mentioned above.  

The first time you have to help a cast horse rollover, you will realize just how big and heavy horses are. Also, they may seem helpless, but those legs are still powerful enough to kill a person. Safety is a priority and usually requires at least two people (unless you have a very calm horse)! 

You can help a cast horse by putting him in a position where he will have adequate space to stand up. There are two methods to doing this. One approach is to pull on the horse’s tail and move his body away from the object he is cast against. This method takes a lot of manpower. The second method is more desirable and safer. Here are the steps for that method.

  1. Keep the horse as calm as possible. A second person can put pressure (kneel) on the horse’s neck and head. Horses use their heads as a fulcrum to roll. If the head is being held down, it might calm the horse long enough for you to accomplish the next step.  
  2. You will need two long lunge lines or soft ropes. Loop the rope around the fetlock on the legs closest to the ground (the opposite direction of the roll). Be sure to be aware of what all four legs are doing to avoid getting kicked. 
  3. Standing back as far as possible, pull evenly on both the ropes. The goal is to bring the legs over simultaneously.  
  4. When the legs are past the center of the horse’s withers and facing away from the object, drop the ropes, and let the horse do the rest.  
  5. Call your veterinarian for further advice on possible health issues.  

why horses cast

Final Thoughts

It can be nerve-racking for both the horse and owner when a horse is cast against an object and can’t get up. It is vital to stay calm and get the horse in a position where they can get up. A horse that is cast can get cuts, bruises, or even die. After you get the horse uncast, CALL YOUR VET!  

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