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What can we do to educate our local Emergency Response community in Horse Safety?

What is the best way to approach them?
The short answer is, encourage them to train in Large Animal Rescue. There are instructors throughout North America who would be happy to set up a class in your area, including in other areas of the world. Check the Large Animal Rescue website, SaveYourHorse.

The reality is this: Most response agencies in the US, Canada, and throughout the world have cut back on training and staff because their budgets have been cut. This means that specialty training, such as swift water or large animal rescue, is often not encouraged or funded.

Some agencies require their responders to continue their education, and some LAR classes carry CEUs (continuing education units). In this instance, motivated responders may be encouraged to take the classes – usually because they either own horses or because they like them.

When speaking of response agencies, although all should be trained, the most important to train are the fire departments. They are the folks who are the "doers" at the scene of an incident. They have the skills and equipment to remove critters from entrapment.

Animal Control is usually the LEGAL authority; Law Enforcement handles THE SCENE security; the large animal vet is the MEDICAL authority; the owner is the FINAL authority; and fire is the PRIMARY resource for technical skills. The Incident Command System, or ICS, is the framework that allows inter- agency communication and efficiency of response.

Response agencies work under the Incident Command System (see FEMA to learn more; FEMA also has 3 animals in disasters classes). Anyone can sign on to the FEMA site and take the class, as well as others in disaster management. If you want the ear of your fire department, taking the class will help you speak their language, and garner you some respect.

Like most professionals, responders are not always open to hearing from non-professionals. If you have a community group that already has the ear of the agencies, work through them. Otherwise, make sure YOU are well educated about LAR, and then approach the training captain of your fire department. If s/he is not willing to hear about helping horses because they are animals and not the responsibility of the fire dept., you can point out that fire departments are charged with protecting people and property and that horses are a $112 billion industry in the US ( I don't have figures for elsewhere; the $112 billion is from a study in 1996). That gives horses value as "property". Suggest s/he visit the LAR website to learn more about the subject.

Oftentimes, responders have never had contact with large animals and are justifiably leery of being around them. One thing you can offer your agencies is to set up a "hands-on" class for their personnel. When we set up LAR training in our area, after two days of working with large horse dummies and learning all the techniques, the responders were still afraid to approach live horses, especially our Animal Control Officer! Because of this, I designed a "horse basics" CD-Rom (Horse Awareness and Safety) with a classroom slide show, then a hands-on class using kind and patient horse/handler teams.

Remember, when you are talking with people whose job it is to put their lives on the line every day, there is a certain bravado or "machismo" you need to overcome with respect ( and charm! ). Leave several brochures or flyers or just printouts listing websites for the responders to read and follow up on their own.

My "perfect world" would have a team of responders trained in LAR, with the proper equipment, in each area or community. Each fire district would have a copy of my book on LAR in its library. Horse Awareness and Safety would be made available to every responder. And, every horse owner would know about LAR and would work within his or her community to assure that all responders were given the opportunity to get up close and personal with a horse in a controlled environment, LONG before they ever had to use the skills in an incident.

OH! By the way: Make sure your large animal veterinarians know about LAR. They have the animal skills but don't understand how to work with agencies. They need to be "in the system" and their contact information needs to be in the hands of the dispatchers who will be calling on the agencies to report to an incident.

If YOU call 9-1-1 to report a large animal incident, don't forget to tell the dispatcher to send a large animal vet. They may not know to do that.