Firefighters used a backhoe to help lift a 900-pound horse out of a cellar on Thursday morning after it became trapped with one leg through the floor.
The rescue of Prissy, a 6-year-old Tennessee Walker, was a first for the Ashland Fire Department, which has the area’s only trained large animal rescue specialists. The AFD was brought in to assist Boyd County Animal Control and the Westwood Volunteer Fire Department, which both responded to the incident that occurred in a pasture off Hardeman Road in Westwood.
Prissy, according to her owner Jillian Keeton, became trapped sometime late Wednesday or early Thursday morning. The cellar, which was built into the side of a hill with two levels, was being used as storage shed for hay.
Keeton said she believes it was the smell of that sweet hay that enticed Prissy into the cellar after the wind blew open the doors sometime late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
The distressed neighing of Prissy’s companion, a 12-year-old quarter horse named James, is what first alerted neighbors that something was wrong.
“They said they heard James carrying on,” said Keeton, 19. “He’d run back to the barn, then he’d run out into the pasture and holler, then run back to the shed. They said they knew that wasn’t normal. When they came out they found her with one leg through,” said Keeton.
Keeton said the horses have been together for three years, and are “really close.” When one’s gone from the pasture the other is always anxious, she said. “He’s stood right there at the door, ever since I’ve been here, waiting,” Keeton added.
Indeed, James refused to go far from the rescue operation, and rushed immediately to Prissy’s side when she was able to rise onto her legs after being freed. Then as Jillian and her father, Danny Keeton, led Prissy around the pasture to keep her from stiffening up and colicing, James walked dutifully with them.
Veterinarian Tim Roberts said the outlook for Prissy is good, but he cautioned it could take days or weeks for the extent of her injuries to present themselves.
“She is doing pretty well now, but she has several days to weeks of concern for what is going to happen. We don’t know how long she was down. She’s got some scrapes and bruises, that’s no big deal, but she has some places that are already starting to swell,” said Roberts who works out of the Tri-County Animal Clinic in Louisa.
Of main concern is Prissy’s foot, he explained. “A horse’s foot is very sensitive to injury, so we have to worry about that hoof. That will take several weeks to find out if she is OK,” said Roberts. “I really feel she’s going to be OK. She’s just going to be sore for several days.”
Roberts praised Ashland Fire Department for its help in the rescue, singling out Capt. Keith Salmon. His large animal rescue skills were instrumental in getting Prissy freed safely, said Roberts.
“Keith came in and took control of the scene,” he said. “I just kept her asleep and assisted how he needed. We were able to work and get her out.”
“It’s the first rescue we have had since we had the training,” said Salmon. “We have a quite a few large animals in this area,” he said, noting the skills learned were instrumental in ensuring the safety of the responding humans and the horse during the operation.
Salmon is one of two firefighters on the department who received the large animal rescue at Eastern Kentucky University several years ago. ““It was a tremendous help,” he said, of his training. “It was unique because they used live animals so the risk is there, the dangers you encounter. I’ve been around horses my whole life, but actually manipulating and working with them while they are injured is a different situation.”
“It’s a fairly serious situation because you have an unstable structure and an animal that is distressed — a big animal,” said Roberts. “I prayed on the way down here that we would get her out but nobody would get hurt. With that structure, especially where we cut the roof out, it was shaking the whole time.
“The main thing we had to do was sedate her. That allowed us to safely work and get her out.”
Firefighters cut a notch out of the cellar’s roof, then slipped straps under the horse that they attached to the bucket of the backhoe. “We used it to lift the horse up and get the leg out of the hole in the cellar,” explained Salmon.
Boyd County Road Department employee Jimmy Ruggles operated the backhoe, which he positioned carefully above the cellar on a steep muddy hill.
Salmon and Boyd County Animal Control Director Paul Helton in turn said having Roberts on the scene was crucial. “I’m well pleased,” said Helton. “I was glad they were able to get a hold of a vet to come in. We could sedate the horse, but it would have taken three times as much,” he said. “All the resources came together and worked just great. Without the right kind of resources, how could you do it?”
“I’m very lucky that they were able to get her out and that no bad damage was done,” said Jillian Keeton.
The Westwood Volunteer Fire Department also responded to the scene.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2653.