WORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS, left to right, trainer Debra Fox of Hollister, Misty Levan of Alturas, Luther Brown of Alturas and Michelle Dominguez of Fresno use a fire hose, web material and rope to practice turning a plastic training horse during the Large Animal Rescue Company's three-day workshop on large animal rescue. The workshop was at Sundance Springs Ranch in Shingle Springs. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene


How to safely help a horse

By From page B2 | July 21, 2014

Whether you’re a horse owner or just a horse lover, seeing a horse lying on the ground and needing help can be a frightening sight.

Knowing how to help a large injured animal or evacuate a terrified horse from a dangerous situation while keeping the animal and the human responder safe, takes special knowledge of the sort that large animal rescue training can provide.

Dr. Cheryl Ellis of Placerville and partner John Maretti of Animal Rescue Training partnered with the Large Animal Rescue Company to offer a three-day workshop in technical large animal rescue at Sundance Springs Ranch in Shingle Springs from July 9 to 11.

Trainees were members of Native American tribes from all over California and the trainers were John and Deb Fox and Kristi Frederickson of LARC and Ellis and Maretti of ART.


Grant funding

The training was funded by a grant from California Office of Emergency Services for the Intertribal Council of California and California Tribal Emergency Response and Relief Agency.

As tribe members from the Pit River Tribe from Modoc County wrapped restraints around the life-size plastic horse lying on the ground, guided by Frederickson, members of other tribes listened to John Fox as he stood outside a horse trailer. He instructed  them in how to help a horse who has gone down in a horse trailer. Another group worked with Deb Fox to prepare another plastic horse for an airlift.

“We do a classroom type overview the first day and then we’re out in the field, like today, for the next two days,”said Maretti.

The final day of the July training took place at Brown’s Ravine at Folsom Lake with participants learning about water rescue of large animals.



James Shoshone of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe in Death Valley had traveled 500 miles from his ranch in Idaho to attend the training.

“My closest neighbor is a mile away and the closest veterinarian is 100 miles away. I have seven horses. I wanted to know how to safely rescue or extract a horse from danger or help someone else who is doing it.”

Shoshone, with years of working with animals and children, would like to become a trainer for large animal rescue himself.

Sonya Axelrod of the Kosealetke Band of the Pit River Tribe is on the tribal council and works for the Natural Resources Department. She is also part of a newly formed firefighting crew.

“We live in a rural area of Modoc County and there are no large animal rescue services in our area,” said Axelrod, who was practicing how to harness a horse for an air lift.

She plans to work with two other trainees, members of different bands of the Pit River Tribe, to form a regional emergency response team that will serve all 11 bands.

“There’s a lot of wilderness and we have an evacuation plan for people but not for large animals,” aid Axelrod.

Sky Road Webb, consultant for the Intertribal Council of California, used part of the Cal OES grant to set up the large animal rescue training held at Sundance Springs Ranch.

“We have tribes here from Tuolumne, Washoe, Coast Miwok and the Pit River Tribe,” said Webb. “Some are members of tribal fire protection, some Search and Rescue or Emergency Management for their tribe and some are also horse owners. We’re training them so they can work together as community emergency response teams for their community and also regionally.”


Valuable lessons

Webb took the training himself about 2 1/2 years ago and decided it would be important for the tribes, many of which live in rural and remote areas hours away from veterinary and emergency response services.

“It’s amazing the frequency of accidents involving large animals, but there is hardly any training available for first responders and horse owners,” said Ellis. “There are only eight organized, professional LAR teams in all of California.”

John and Deb Fox, founders of LARC, also founded two of the state’s LAR teams. One is in Felton and one is connected with their current jobs at the San Juan Bautista Fire Department where John is the fire prevention officer and Deb is the medical director and firefighter/EMT.

Frederickson, with more than 20 years of experience, teaches horse handling techniques for LARC.


Sundance Springs

Sundance Springs Ranch is also the site of a Kids Horse Camp. Several of the children had a chance to take a peek at the training and were amazed. Ranch owner Julie Vance and trainer Ellis approved of the sneak peeks.

“We want them to see how to keep themselves safe while helping a horse. Horses are dangerous and powerful animals and learning the correct way to approach them is very important,” said Ellis.

“You can easily make things worse,” said Ellis. “A lot of first responders have never been around horses, so we teach basic horse handling as well as rescue. We use some specialized equipment, but also show how to use what you have, like wildland fire hose as harnesses or even webbing.

“Our goals here are to teach rescuers how to keep themselves and the animal safe and to improve animal welfare and to set up emergency response teams. We hope the trainees here today set the standards for the rest of their community.”


Training important

Why aren’t more first responders trained in large animal rescue, especially in areas like El Dorado County that has a big population of horses, cattle and other large animals?

“It can be expensive and not a lot of people offer it. Each one of these plastic horses cost $10,000 to $15,000,” said Ellis, who was actively involved in rescuing a horse in Somerset who had fallen down into a creek, two years ago.

Ellis was an instructor for the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in training first responders, veterinarians and vet technicians in animal rescue. She is also a firefighter for Sacramento City Fire Department and an EMT.

She is currently the disaster coordinator for California Region IV. Her partner in ART, Maretti, is a recently retired firefighter from Chico who is also a hazardous materials specialist, EMT, swiftwater technician, a national responder for the American Humane Association and Helicopter Rescue Crew Chief.

Large animal training by LARC and ART is not only for tribal emergency teams, but is offered to all first responders who want to start a large animal rescue team or just improve the skills they may already have.

ART at offers training in county animal rescue, advanced animal rescue, swiftwater and flood rescue, California State Fire Marshal certified low angle rope rescue and CSFM technical rope rescue.

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

Wendy Schultz

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