Early on a Saturday morning the text alert sounded on my husband’s phone. A neighbor on his way out to enjoy the day had spotted a loose horse on the road near our farm. He immediately snapped a picture on his cell phone and texted with the question; “is this yours?” Thankfully, the answer was no.
There was a time when the majority of horse farms were located far from the road and the occasional loose horse was, for the most part, easily handled and nothing to worry about. In fact, chances were good that neighbors immediately identified the horse with the owner. However times have changed and in today’s increasingly urban society that simply isn’t the case anymore. More and more horse owners are discovering themselves living on property that is ever closer to neighboring homes and even frequently traveled roads. With this in mind, what steps can you take in order to prevent your horses from escaping the pasture and what should you if you encounter a loose horse?
Build solid, visible pasture fences. Just some of the safe and acceptable choices for horse fencing include wood or PVC fencing or fencing constructed primarily from woven or v-mesh wire. After the initial construction phase, it is important to remember to keep your fence in good repair. Of course any horse can spook and run through a fence on his way to escaping but by building solid, visible fences and remembering their upkeep you decrease the likelihood of this happening.
Build perimeter gates and fencing. Even something as simple as a driveway gate that can be quickly closed should a horse escape his pasture or suddenly become loose from a fall while riding or another accident can prevent potential catastrophe. Perimeter fences add an extra layer of protection between your horse and road and provide not only additional safety but peace of mind. I can remember at least two separate occasions where simply closing the gate to the perimeter fence kept a spooked horse from exiting a horse property and heading toward a busy highway.
Make certain your horse has adequate forage. If, for example, your pasture provides sparse opportunities for adequate grazing and you are not also providing free choice hay your horse may decide to look elsewhere for something to eat potentially breaking down the fence in order to reach available grass. My own horse, which due to founder prevention lives on a dry lot most of the year, is a good example of this. Although she is in excellent physical health with nutritional needs that are well met, I have been forced to extend an electric wire along the top of the fence to prevent her from leaning and pushing on the fence to reach grass, which she prefers to hay, on the other side.
Provide contact information to neighbors and local law enforcement. If despite your best efforts you still end up with a loose horse your neighbors may very well be the first to site him. Make certain that they know how to reach you any time of the day or night. Consequently, local law enforcement will likely also be notified should someone you are not familiar with encounter your loose horse. Make certain that they too have your contact information should a horse become loose in your area so that you can immediately investigate and provide assistance if necessary.
Should you encounter a loose horse do the following:
If the situation requires it and you can safely do so, catch or confine the animal. For example, if the horse itself or other drivers are in danger from the loose horse you may consider, if you are prepared for it, catching the horse. First, if you spot the loose horse while driving and know the owners, safely pull over out of the road way and turn on your hazard lights. If possible, signal for additional help and ask them to assist you with alerting other drivers and with contacting the owner of the loose horse. You will especially need an extra set of hands if you are going to attempt to capture it. Keep in mind however that this will only work if you have a halter available or if the horse is already wearing a halter or bridle. Proceed calmly and slowly and resist the urge to chase after the horse which will only add to further problems.
Think about the outcome should you be able to catch him. Can he safely be returned to his pasture if you can patch the fence? Are you close enough to your own farm to place him in a stall? Is there a safe and convenient place for you to simply walk him to a safe area and hold onto him until additional help arrives?
If catching the horse isn’t required or isn’t a possibility, stay to keep an eye on him until the owner or other help arrives. Keep safety in mind and understand that even if you are familiar with horses the fact that the horse has escaped may make him difficult and dangerous for you, a stranger, to handle than it normally might be. Allowing his owner to help with his capture could be a much safer option. If you do not know the owners or other factors in the situation dictate it, you should instead call local law enforcement.
Loose horses present a significant danger to everyone involved. They can cause serious injury to others and, as the owner, you could be held liable for any property or other damage incurred during their escape. By following these simple measures you’ll be off to a good start on keeping your horses safe at home in addition to knowing how to handle the situation should you experience an escaped horse.