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Equine emergency 101

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Cherie McKenzie gets involved with horses -- intimately.

"I just take this like so," she said, swinging a brassiere over the face of a horse, "and then I put the straps underneath."

The animal looked ridiculous, and everyone at the horse rescue clinic Saturday laughed.

But the bra had the desired effect. The horse, unable to see, calmed down and stood like a statue in the middle of a horse stable in Cambridge.

It was McKenzie's demonstration of creative ways to handle animals injured in traffic accidents or trapped in ice, water or mud.

With about 150,000 horses annually involved in traffic accidents, said McKenzie, America's first-responders need training. McKenzie founded the Sundown Horse Farm and Shelter in Hugo and travels around the area teaching firefighters and police how to handle injured animals as carefully as they handle human victims.

McKenzie, 51, lives for horses. A horse owner since age 12, she ditched careers including real estate agent, small airplane pilot and tour guide for the joys of working with horses.

"My therapy is getting on the back of a horse," she said.

An injured animal can be a magnet for good Samaritans. "We saw this in Hurricane Katrina," said McKenzie. Time after time, people tried to save dogs, pigs or horses -- only to injure the animals and themselves.

"I tell the first-responders: You'd better take the calls to help animals, because if you don't, they become calls to help an animal and a human," said McKenzie.

When arriving on an accident scene, she said, the first thing to do is calm the frightened animal.

Familiar smells help. A horse's sense of smell is better than a dog's, except a bloodhound. "They smell you first, hear you second and see you third," she said.

It's a good idea to blindfold the horse with anything handy -- even a life jacket, which can be fastened under the chin.

Bras are often available at an accident scene. "I sometimes tell women firefighters, 'Give one up for the team,' " said McKenzie.

Horses use their heavy heads and long necks to balance themselves when standing up, she said. That's why it's a mistake to pull on the halter or head of a prone horse.

Instead, McKenzie said, a horse can be lifted or rolled by putting two ropes under the chest area. Lacking ropes, she said, firefighters have used fire hoses.

Once a horse is standing, she said, a homemade halter fashioned out of rope can be used to lead it.

"The front end is steering," she said, tapping the neck of a cooperative horse. "The back end is the gas and the brakes."

Despite what is seen in movies, horses are poor swimmers capable of only short distances. "If you can, put a flotation device under their necks," McKenzie said.

Her pet peeve is owners who tie horses inside trailers with heavy rope or bungee cords. In an accident, she said, the horses could die of hanging. "Better to use twine," she said.

McKenzie's animal injury clinics are free, and she also donates her time and money for rescuing neglected horses.

"I enjoy the heck out of the animals," she said. "I love what I do."

Bob Shaw can be reached at 651-228-5433.

How to help

To volunteer or contribute to Sundown Horse Farm and Shelter, a nonprofit horse rescue group in Hugo, go to sundownhorseshelter.org or call 651-407-1908.

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