Last week, fortunately while every authority figure of the barn was present and in the barn aisle, one of the horses got his head stuck under the pipe panel in his paddock. We were alerted to the situation by the cacophonous crashing and banging, and I ran outside. Poor D was thrashing and thrashing, and at first I thought he was simply cast. Once I realised he was more than just cast — well and truly stuck — I was paralysed for a few moments because I thought I was watching him die. It was pretty terrifying — his whole head and neck were under the panel and he was moving so violently I thought he would break a leg or his own neck, if he wasn’t already impaled somehow. Trainer and BM yelled out at the girls and I who were stuck staring at the situation and I unfroze, ran over talking to D, and Trainer and BM came running out as well.
D settled once we got to him, and Trainer told me to sit on his head while she started undoing the panel D was stuck under. I was like “errr okay” but I will admit to being a little panicked by the idea of sitting on that head and going flying when he thrashed again. I knelt next to him instead, and covered his eyes at the instructions of Trainer. BM and our assistant trainer were there next, and we worked on getting the panel undone, but unfortunately, it wouldn’t come up enough to let D out and the little amount of freedom he felt when we lifted the panel just restarted the thrashing. We ran to get a wrench and undo the center part of the panel, interrupted a few times by D’s thrashing. We needed a halter, and yelled at the teenagers standing around for one (unfortunately had to yell twice), and once someone else was helping keep D calm and by his head, I helped undo the panel. We eventually lifted the entire panel out, the halter helped keep D lying down until all pointy bits were away, and the pony stood up as soon as he was properly free, groaning the whole way.
I’ve been in lots of crises or potential crises in my time, probably more than the average human my age due to my time in Africa and my extended proximity to giant, suicidal ungulates. And while I might not always know exactly what to do in these situations, I feel like I’m pretty good in a crisis because I’m good at following direction and know how to keep myself out of the way. For those who find themselves unsure of what to do, or concerned that they are bad in a crisis, here are my top tips for being helpful when disaster strikes.
1. If you can’t help, stay out of the way
One of the most ridiculous things when an accident has happened is the number of useless bystanders that somehow gather around the scene and ultimately clutter things up. If you can’t actively help get out of the way of first responders. Whether those responders are paramedics or simply knowledgeable individuals helping the situation, they can’t do their jobs without space to work or with people blocking their way. (Definitely get out of the way of paramedics, they know what they are doing.) In certain situations, bystanders can also get themselves hurt or make the situation much worse, and that’s the absolute last thing anyone needs — more injured people to worry about!
2. If you are helping, make sure you are safe yourself
This follows from the end of #1 — you need to make sure that if you are helping, you are not going to make the situation worse by becoming injured. This is one of the first tenets of SCUBA rescue — you can’t help anyone if you’re also drowning. In the example above, before I approached D’s head I made sure to keep well clear of his flailing hooves (front shoes + human tibia = insta-breakage). If you’re working with any animal that’s down, you need to keep flailing feet and possible teeth in mind — panicked animals often forget to mind their manners.
3. If you have expertise in the area, step in to help
Especially if there are no paramedics on the scene, or you have knowledge that can help the situation (think engineering or architecture for something like D’s situation, veterinary techs, nurses, and obviously doctors in a human/animal emergency), or even if you’re just handy, offer your assistance — and speak up (though try not to be obnoxious). If you can see an opening to step in and help where someone hasn’t done a task required of them, step in and do that task quickly and quietly. And if you notice something going on that’s important, speak up, even though it’s hard to do so when older, more experienced people than you are running the show. A few years ago, when I was helping with chimpanzee health checks, one of the chimps didn’t go all the way under anaesthesia, which I was monitoring. The techs were so busy focusing on their job that they didn’t notice that every prick and prod they made woke the little chimp up more and she was on the verge of getting up and walking away. I had to step up and tell people superior to myself to stop what they were doing to re-evaluate the anaesthesia. This is important in any situation — i f you see something going on that needs addressing, address it.
4. If you don’t know what to do, you can still help by quickly doing exactly what you are told.
Even if you’re not sure what to do in a situation, don’t underestimate the usefulness of someone who promptly does exactly what they are told. So if you’re a bystander and you see something that’s been asked for going untouched, get on it. If you hear someone looking for a bandage and you have a sweet first aid kit in your car, run and get it. If there is a crowd forming and the responders need space, work some crowd control. Especially in a situation with children (sometimes the person in need has kids, or the responders have kids they have to ignore a bit to get things done), crowd control is necessary — and sometimes crucial. Nobody wants their seven year old seeing a horse euthanized on course, so help everybody out by ushering children away from emergencies.
5. Think about the other responders
When a crisis situation goes on for a while, first responders can get tired, fatigued, and have their own needs. Offering water, relief (if someone is bracing something heavy, for example, they will need relief), or just checking in on people with their hands on the scene can be very helpful. Especially in hot or inclement weather, it’s important to think about the people working as much as the individual being helped.