First Responders Ready for Large Animal Emergency Rescue


2023 has seen an uptick in training of first responders with over seven fire departments, two mounted police units and five veterinary clinics participating in training this year.  The next stop for Equine Guelph’s Large Animal Emergency Rescue (LAER) training team will be at the Ontario Veterinary College, October 21, for a special offering for veterinary students, interns and residents.

Participants of Large Animal Emergency Rescue training by Equine Guelph at WindReach Farm in Ashton ON Sept 2023.

The last two-day operational level course in Ashburn, Ontario on Sept 16 and 17, 2023 was attended by Fire Departments from Scugog, Severn, Whitby, Kawartha Lakes and Caledon as well as York Regional Police.  Also in attendance were a handful of veterinarians, vet technicians, and members of PAWS – Provincial Animal Welfare Services (Ontario).  Presented by Equine Guelph (University of Guelph), this workshop was kindly hosted at the beautiful WindReach Farm.

I found the course extremely informative and enlightening,” says Karin Davis, chair of the board of directors for WindReach Farm.  “The instructors were great to work with and were happy to share their knowledge with all of the participants! There were some very serious moments but also some fun times.  A great learning opportunity!  As the hosts, we would be more than happy to have them back again!

This was not the first training session for the Scugog fire fighters.  They have been putting their rescue skills to good use, most recently last May, when they were called to respond to extricate a horse that found itself trapped in a well.

The Township of Scugog Fire & Emergency Services had been working with Equine Guelph – University of Guelph and WindReach Farms over the past year to host the LAER program and as it happened, SFES was called to a horse down a well. ‘Sea-Biscuit’, they affectionately named the horse with no name, survived the ordeal to make a full recovery.

“The training we received introduced many hands-on, technical options for large animal rescue,” says Clint Walker, Training Officer, Scugog Fire & Emergency Services. The course was extremely thorough and provided a wealth of knowledge. If your response demographic serves the farming community, equine centre, track, or fair boards you need this course in your toolbox.”

Working with specialized equipment, using the incident command system and working quickly to bring in the necessary assistance are all part and parcel of the training for emergency response teams that are charged with extricating large animals trapped in tricky situations.

Since 2014, Equine Guelph’s LAER program has been providing workshops to first responders and training best practices to mitigate risks for safe outcomes for both the first responders and the large animals at risk.

“The proper use of specialized equipment and positioning of webbing around the body of the animal is so important to having a positive outcome of lifting or dragging a large animal to safety,” says lead instructor Victor MacPherson, EBSP Rescue.

LAER rescue scene with horse on a glide Ashburn ON
‘Rusti’, the 600-pound horse mannequin on a glide in a rescue simulation.
Check out the video

“Your team was amazing!” says firefighter, Sinead Gallagher. “Wonderful teachers and they have such passion. Thank you for the opportunity. Excellent instruction and very valuable skills learned.  I’m excited to share my knowledge look forward to working together again. Many thanks and again, this was an amazing experience.”

The group of first responders at WindReach farm were introduced to many techniques such as using straps and special equipment for forward and rear assists, sideways drags and securing horses to a glide to remove them from dangerous situations. Floss techniques were also covered (no – dental tape is not involved) for correct placement of straps.  Tutoring in basic anatomy stressed that the horses head and tail can never be used as handles and then safe ways to lift a horse were discussed and put into practice.

‘Poly’ helps facilitate a simulated mud rescueVideo available!

The participants learned how to make emergency halters, perform confinement techniques and work safely in confined spaces and trenches.  The tractors came out for scenarios involving vertical lifts, mud rescue and more.  ‘Rusti’, the 600-pound horse mannequin, found himself in all sorts of positions and predicaments, including upside down for the cast horse rescue.

Safety was paramount throughout the weekend full of lessons in animal handling techniques, animal restraint and equine behaviour.  Staying out of kick zones was of utmost importance no matter how sedate the horse appears.  Behaviour knowledge also became important for the sessions that followed on loose horses.

Equine Guelph appreciates the supporters, facilitators and participants of Large Animal Emergency Rescue workshops.  Thank you to Karin Davis, not only for hosting the event at WindReach Farm but also for loaning her own personal truck and trailer for the trailer rescue scenario.  The staff at WindReach were doing double duty, both participating in and helping out with the event.  Tony Da Silva (property manager) and Andrew Vestby (staff farmer) were kept busy assisting with the horses, demonstrating with the cows, sheep, goats and donkeys and driving the tractor wherever was needed.

Thanks go out to Scugog Fire Department for partnering on the weekend workshop.  A tasty lunch was most appreciated, catered by Lisa Bibb at Hy-Hope Farm. 

Fire Fighters in Livestock Trailer at Large Animal Emergency Rescue training by Equine Guelph  in Ashton ON Sept 2023
First Responders in a livestock trailer at Large Animal Emergency Rescue training by Equine Guelph in Ashton ON Sept 2023.

Jamie Marquis of Jamie Marquis Trucking kindly provided a livestock hauler for workshop participants to explore.  Special thanks go out to Farm & Food Care ON and Ontario Beef for helping secure the hauler.

“It is such a pleasure and honour to have the opportunity to work with our training team of first responders.” says facilitator Dr. Susan Raymond.  “Our program continues to grow under the guidance of our lead trainer, Victor MacPherson. Each course offers a unique learning experience.”

The two-day operational level workshop is relevant across professions whether it be veterinarians, police, firefighters, animal welfare officers, horse caretakers or barn owners.  All large animal incidents regardless of cause or scope, present a risk of injury to responders.  The way to improve the odds of a favourable and safe outcome for both animals and responders is through proper training of best practices and the use of rescue equipment.

Participants must be a minimum of 18 years of age.  First responders, pre-service, law enforcement, animal welfare officers, veterinarians, vet. technicians, emergency animal response teams, horse owners, livestock producers and associations are all encouraged to attain skills in large animal rescue.

Equine Guelph’s LAER program continues to grow and expand its offerings to a varied group. If you are interested in helping to build this program or would like to discuss offering this program in your area or to your members, please contact Susan Raymond at Equine Guelph. Courses can be offered on a cost-recovery basis, or through sponsorship, to communities/individuals who would like to expand the reach of this training program.