Maplewood Stables Holds Successful First Responders Horse Handling & Safety Clinic

More than 30 people learned how to safely and confidently handle horses in emergency situations during the inaugural Maplewood Stables First Responders Horse Handling & Safety Clinic, held November 27 at Maplewood Stables in Reno, Nevada.

The clinic was led by Maplewood owner and operator Julie Winkel, as well as her her staff and resident horse trainers. The clinic focused on educating first responders and other good samaritans who wanted to learn how to safely handle horses with hands-on opportunities and training.  

"After the recent Little Valley Fire that destroyed many homes and horse properties in the area, we thought this clinic would be a great way to help our local firefighters and police officers learn how to properly halter, lead and load horses," said Winkel, who also spoke about equine physiology and psychology and led a post-event discussion about how to improve the community's communication and procedures during emergencies. 

Winkel herself experienced the devastation a fire can bring when in 2012 she lost her home. Maplewood's 50+ horses were safely evacuated during that fire, and the barn was spared, but Winkel is acutely aware of how close she came to losing more than her home and belongings. Since then, she's educated her staff on fire safety protocols, holds fire drills, and ensures that her horses are trained at an early age to easily and quickly load into horse trailers. 
"As a victim of a wildfire myself, I'm aware of the dangers these events have on the property owners and first responders," she said. "Knowing how to safely approach and handle a horse can go along way toward keeping everyone safer in an emergency situation, including the people trying to evacuate the animals and the horses themselves." 

The spring edition of the Maplewood Stables First Responders Horse Handling and Safety Clinic will be held on Tuesday May 23, 2017, at 5 p.m. Please visit the Maplewood website Calendar of Events for more information and to RSVP if you would like to join the potluck dinner.
Special thanks to Julia Berg for sharing her notes and providing the basis for the following recap of the clinic.

First Responders Horse Handling & Safety Clinic Recap
Maplewood Stables
November 27, 2016

Attendees included: horse owners, 4-H members, Search and Rescue, CERT, Washoe Animal Services and KOLO Channel 8.
"Knowing how to safely approach and handle a horse can go a long way toward keeping everyone safer in an emergency situation, including the people trying to evacuate the animals and the horses themselves," said Julie Winkel in her introduction.
The primary goals for the clinic were for attendees to learn how to properly catch, halter and lead a horse. They were also shown the process for loading and unloading a horse into a trailer. In addition, Julie provided information about equine behavior and psychology so attendees could better understand how horses typically react to fires and other emergency situations.
Horse Physiology:

  • Horses are stronger than you--but you are smarter
  • Horses want to be with other horses
  • Horses have flight instincts
  • Horses want a leader--which is the handler
  • Horses see best from the side and not directly in front of them or behind them
  • A stall is the horse's safe space; the animal may not want to move away from the stall

Rules for Handlers for Domestic Horses:

  • Stay calm
  • Do not go directly to the front of the horse
  • Stay on the left side of the horse at all times
  • Talk to the horses calmly (if you are calm so is the horse)
  • Make slow movements
  • When leading a horse, you go first
  • Don't look at the horse when you lead it
  • Don't pull horse if it stops and is frozen in place. Safely push it forward instead or "untrack" it by moving it sideways. For two people to push a horse, lock hands and push together from behind with one person on each side
  • You can be forceful with a horse but not rough

Removing a Horse From a Stall:

  • Obtain the halter--check the direction for the nose and hold the lead rope in an "S" shape (not coiled around your hand)
  • Open the stall door partially so that your body blocks the opening (don't open all the way)
  • Talk to the horse to make him comfortable--pet his neck and side calmly--make him your friend
  • Put the lead rope over the horse's neck and grab both sides of the rope
  • Determine where the halter nose and buckle are located
  • Put the horse's nose in first through the nose band of the halter, then bring the back strap of the buckle to the side over the horses head, and buckle it on the left side, snug but not tight
  • Take hold of the lead and loop the rope in an "S" shape for easy release
  • Face the horse to the front of the stall door and then open door fully
  • Slowly walk out of the stall first, lead horse (not looking at him)--your body should be in front or adjacent to the head and shoulders
  • Close the stall door behind you
  • Hold the rope--not the metal on the lead rope or the halter itself--there are lots of places your finger can get stuck and maybe break

Leading a Horse Into a Stall:

  • Walk the horse to the stall holding the lead rope, giving the horse enough room to turn and go in straight
  • Open the stall door all the way
  • You walk in first, lead the horse inside and then turn the horse around to face the stall opening
  • Close the stall door partially
  • Remove the horse's halter
  • Exit the stall, taking the halter and lead rope
  • Be sure to close the stall door completely and latch

Loading a Horse Into a Trailer:

  • Before you begin, take a minute to check out the trailer--how do the doors work? Is there room to get out when the lead rope is tied after the door is closed? There are many types of trailers, and many of the dividers used to separate the horses are different. Also, check to see if there are escape doors in each stall and how the door opens
  • Horses do not like to go into dark spaces--turn on the interior light if there is one--use a car headlight if available
  • Do not put a stallion (intact male) next to a mare (female). It's OK to put a gelding (male horse that's castrated) between the male and female
  • Load the oldest or most docile horse first--the other horses will follow easier
  • Lead the horse to the entrance of the trailer, let him look inside and allow his eyes to adjust
  • Keep calm and talk to the horse to keep it calm
  • Go into the trailer first and have the horse follow
  • Move to the stall space efficiently--you may need to push a horse's hind end to get it to fit in a slanted trailer
  • Once the horse is in place, close the gate quickly before the horse moves again
  • Tie the lead rope in a horseman's knot (slipknot) for easy release. The tie-off is normally high above the horse's head near the top of the trailer
  • Have a helper hold and close the trailer doors to prevent the horse from stepping off once he's in the trailer
  • If you are not helping with the horse loading, step away to a safe distance in case the horse should suddenly decide to back out of the trailer

Unloading A Horse From a Trailer:

  • Obtain clear instructions as to where the horse is to be moved
  • Take a minute to check out the trailer--how do the doors work? Is there room to get into the stall area to remove the lead rope? There are many types of trailers, and the dividers and tie-ups are often different
  • Untie the lead rope--some trailers have windows so you can untie the lead from the outside--some have escape doors to get into the stall without having to go through the trailer's main doors
  • Open the stall/divider all the way and turn horse to face the doors
  • Check to make sure it's safe to move the horse out of trailer--people are not in the way
  • Lead the horse out using the lead and halter, not looking at the horse
  • Be sure to remain at the horse's side to avoid being stepped on as he exits the trailer 

When Walking a Horse:

  • Keep two horse lengths between horses
  • Moving (walking) side-by-side with the horse through an opening is OK
  • Don't let a horse smell another horse or touch noses

Caution Items:

  • Ears back may mean a horse is collecting information
  • Ears flat back on the horse's head means that its angry
  • A horse's ears are very sensitive--be careful with halters, lead ropes and your hands around a horse's ears
  • If a horse lifts one leg it may mean he's confused or frustrated and ready to kick
  • Keep in mind that if you leave a blanket and a halter on the horse where there is heat from the fire that the gear may melt on the horse and be very painful
  • If fire or heat is imminent, you can use the water from a horse's water bucket to wet the horse or his blanket before taking him out of the stall
  • Keep the halter near the horse--i.e., on a fence post or outside of the stall
  • In extreme cases, you may want to blindfold a panicked horse to lead him out of a barn if he won't leave the stall

After Training Meeting - Discussion Items
A follow-up discussion provided many great ideas and talking points for future improvements to moving horses and livestock during emergencies and preparing for such events.

  • The Washoe County Animal Service indicated they have a free service to insert a microchip with registration, and they have a scanner. They do have evacuation volunteers. They would be willing to travel to a ranch to insert microchips if there are enough horses.
  • The community needs to work on a reverse 911 phone alert system, improve the Washoe County website and/or establish a local phone tree to improve communication during emergencies.
  • Owners need to ensure lead ropes and halters are near each horse. 
  • It's a good idea for volunteers to carry an extra halter and lead with them
  • A communication system with first alert handlers needs to be developed.  
  • Whom do owners contact if they need help?  
  • Should owners leave a note at the farm entrance that all livestock has been removed from the property so first responders know the status of the farm animals and don't waste their time?
  • Should owners have a sign to let first responders know how many horses are housed in the barns?
  • How should owners identify their horses? 
  • How can the horses be identified once they are moved? 
  • How does an owner find out where the horse has been moved?
  • We need to work on a certification process for livestock trailer owners who wish to volunteer to move livestock so that they can get through the sheriff's blockades.
  • We need to work on compiling a list of alternative safe locations so more animals can be moved quickly to nearby locations. 

"We are making this clinic an biannual community event," noted Winkel. "With the Washoe Valley and Pleasant Valley areas home to so many stables, barns and horses, we want to help educate those who might help us in the future."  

For more information about Maplewood Stables and future First Responders Clinics, please contact us: or (775) 849-1849.

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