It can happen at any time and in any place. One moment you are safely hauling your two horse gooseneck trailer down the road, then suddenly disaster strikes. Overturned horse trailers on the highway, barn fires, natural disasters, horses stuck in the mud, or trail horses stranded on a mountain are situations that we all dread but assume will never happen to us. Sadly, these situations do occur and the local emergency responders may not be properly equipped or trained to deal with your beloved horse whose life is on the line.
Justin and Tori McLeod of Spring Lake, North Carolina are owners and sole operators of a rare, but essential, horse rescue team. Their business, 4Hooves Farm Equine Services and North Carolina Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team (4HFES and NCSMART, LLC), is one of only two mobile large animal technical rescue teams in the state (the other rescue team, North Carolina Animal Response Team (NC ART) in the Triad area of the state, are close friends of theirs.) This “not-for-profit” service specializes in assisting equine owners or professionals with emergency situations. This is not a “cruelty investigation” horse rescue that you might be used to hearing about. Instead, Tori and Justin respond to situations where they can assist local emergency responders and veterinarians when dealing with a trapped or distressed horse or a horse that is medically compromised or unable to stand unassisted. This may be a horse along side a highway, trapped in a ravine, or down at an owner’s farm. Whatever the situation, it is important to have professionals there who know how to safely and efficiently help the horse out of a dangerous and possibly life-threatening situation.
Both Justin and Tori have a long history of working as emergency responders. Along with her 30 years experience with horses, Tori has over 15 years experience working as a paramedic, volunteering with the local fire department and working as a veterinary assistant for both large and small animals. She currently serves as a Supervisor at a 911 Emergency Communications Center. Justin has approximately 20 years in the fire service as a firefighter, rescue technician, and Emergency Medical Technician. They met at a Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) training session in 2006. Tori has been actively involved in TLAER response and training courses since 2002 and Justin since 2006. Today, Tori and Justin are both Assistant Instructors with a TLAER, Inc and are active members and Executive Directors of the NC Equine Assistance and Specialized Transport (NC EAST) team based out of Southern Pines, North Carolina.
After receiving their TLAER training, Tori and Justin realized there was a need for a response unit in North Carolina that was specialized in large animal rescue and capable of responding anywhere. There was no one to contact if a trailer accident occurred, horses needed evacuation after a disaster, or an animal was trapped. Most of the existing emergency responders, veterinarians, and animal control workers did not have any type of specialized training in large animal rescue. They would “wing it” and “hope for the best” in desperate situations. Many rural emergency responder units could not host a training course or send personnel for specialized training in programs such as TLAER because of a limited budget.
Fortunately, Tori and Justin began to offer their own “basic” level large animal technical rescue training presentations and clinics at a reduced cost from the regular training. Their training presentations and clinics provided a basic level of knowledge and hands-on training to prepare the students for the more advanced level of training provided by TLAER, Inc while also adding awareness to the risks involved with large animal rescue and teaching the techniques needed to handle most basic incidents. This helps emergency responders and veterinarians know how to safely handle situations so that they can minimize the risk to the horse and any person involved in the rescue.
Today, the 4HFES and NCSMART, LLC has grown beyond their expectations. As Tori put it, her and her husband “knew they would help the public and emergency responders, veterinarians, and animal control if they were contacted, but at the time, they never imagined what they had started would grow into what they have today.”
In addition to their emergency services, Tori and Justin’s business also provides equine and livestock event emergency stand-by services, deceased animal services, routine equine transport or evacuation, and emergency preparedness training for groups of equine and livestock owners.
Tori and Justin emphasize that emergency preparedness of your horse trailer, farm/facility, horses, and your self can prevent most emergency situations. Preparation can also make a rescue operation much easier. Make sure you check back for part 2 of this article where they share their top 8 tips for Emergency Preparedness.
4HFES and NCSMART, LLC needs to use some highly specialized equipment to safely and effectively do their work. The rescue units are equipped with 800 MHz hand-held communication radios compatible with the VIPER (Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders) network. This allows them to communicate with the local emergency responders without the use of a dispatch center.
If they come upon a “down” horse that is unable to stand, they might use a Rescue Glide to move the horse safely from an enclosed area like a stall or aisle way or a Becker Sling with a spread bar to lift a horse to a standing position.
The most incredible piece of equipment is surely the 40ft gooseneck trailer used for live ambulatory hauling, routine equine transports, and emergency evacuation. This trailer was custom designed and built in the Double D Trailer factory, owned by Brad Heath, and is modified to carry one to five horses with varied configurations. It is made of superior materials, with highly durable construction, and unparalleled safety features.
“We took all of the knowledge we had obtained over the years with regard to trailer safety and equine transportation along with the training we had in large animal rescue response and designed a safe, spacious, comfortable, and easily altered (in case of an emergency) horse trailer with some aftermarket additions,” shared Tori.
Brad Heath and Double D Trailers specialize in custom-built trailers, so Tori and Justin were able to create a vehicle to perfectly suit their needs. They even added some extra features once the trailer was finished. It sports a 7.5’ high by 7’ wide design that is fully insulated and includes 4 entry/exit points. There are quick release pins through out the interior, on the divider hinges, barns and front center post. The interior is fully padded and the breast bars are designed to release under the weight of a horse. Four dual-sided roof vents and three 12V fans on the ceiling keep the interior well ventilated during travel.
This trailer is primarily used as a transport trailer and can also be used as a teaching tool when showing people what they should look for in a horse trailer.
“We also plan to use the trailer for emergency evacuation efforts before or during natural disasters to relocate the horses away from affected areas,” she went on. Their current technical rescue response trailer is a Keifer Built that they purchased from a relative at minimal cost. Tori stated that "we anticipate meeting with Brad sometime in the future to design the next evolution of our emergency response trailer."
This trailer is just one example of the specialized equipment that makes the 4HFES and NCSMART, LLC team truly spectacular in their work. If you are interested in having your own custom-built trailer designed by Double D Trailers, like this 2 horse gooseneck trailer, be sure to contact them today.
On their home farm, Tori and Justin have twelve equines including one mule, two miniature horses, two miniature donkeys, and seven horses. They use Pat Parelli’s Natural Horsemanship training methods on all of their animals. Five of the equines are used as demonstration horses for their training programs. These horses will tolerate webbing straps, inexperienced handlers, and even a sling so that trainees can learn rescue techniques.
Tori and Justin are extremely busy with their full time jobs and 4HFES and NCSMART, LLC, so they don’t get to play with their horses as much as they’d like. “Typically it happens that when we are not working and want to interact with the horses, the weather is not conducive for outside activities or if we are off work and the weather is nice we will end up getting a service call or emergency that we need to respond to and handle.”
This commitment to their service is what has made Tori and Justin the “go to people” for questions regarding transportation, emergency preparedness and prevention, large animal technical rescue response, and stabilizing medically compromised equines during the healing or treatment process.
Tori shared, “We have worked for years to build a good reputation with the equine industry and equine community. We have developed numerous relationships with everyone from backyard horse owners to Olympians and have maintained a good rapport with them over time.”
For Tori and Justin, their favorite part of this job is the appreciation they receive from owners when their horses are safely rescued or assisted to stand when down. They also love training students in emergency prevention and preparedness and basic rescue techniques and hearing about all the positive changes that are made based on their new education.
If you would like to learn more about the emergency and non-emergency services and educational sessions offered by 4HFES and NCSMART, LLC, please visit their website at www.4HoovesSMART.com. Or you can contact them directly at (919) 201-6789 (Justin), (910) 494-8210 (Tori), or email NC4HoovesFarm@gmail.com.
You never know when disaster might strike and you need the help of some trained equine emergency responders. What are some experiences you’ve had with your horse where an emergency responder could have made the difference? What lessons did you learn from this experience to prevent its reoccurrence? Do you know of some other horse rescue operations in your home state that you could share with fellow readers?
~Double D Trailers - September 12, 2014
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