Oct. 15, 2015

Here's the scenario: Horse trapped, rider unconscious

Second-year Vet Med students practise skills during injured horse simulation
Props at the simulated accident scene include a horse model, barbed wire fencing, and realistic details such as fake blood.

Props at the simulated accident include a horse model, wire fencing, and other realistic details.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

It was an afternoon horseback ride in the countryside gone wrong. A young woman trying to jump a fence was dumped from her horse — leaving her unconscious on the ground with her horse nearby, tangled in barbed wire, bleeding and badly injured.

Fortunately, this didn’t actually happen.

Faculty and staff at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) were staging a riding accident scenario as part of an experiential learning course for second-year students.

The accident scene was created on the grounds of UCVM’s Spyhill campus, using a horse simulator model — with movable joints and weighing the same as a real horse — as well as barbed wire fencing, lots of fake blood and other props.  

Students were brought to the scene not knowing what to expect, only that they’d encounter a mock emergency situation and have to work as a team to handle it.

Mock emergency prompts students to work collaboratively 

“Because they may one day be the first on the scene of an accident, we’re teaching them what they need to know to manage the whole scene, manage the people, make a plan, and use good communications skills,” says Dr. Ashley Whitehead, assistant professor of equine clinical sciences.

The students got to work, first checking on the fallen rider and then the injured horse. Each student took a different task, from calling an ambulance or fetching veterinary supplies to dealing with curious bystanders, a television news crew and an anguished horse owner, a role admirably over-acted by Whitehead, who also supervised the session.

A mock ambulance arrived and took the fallen rider to hospital, while the students extricated the horse from the barbed wire and treated its injuries.

Students at the UCVM’s Spyhill campus encounter a mock emergency situation and learn how to work as a team to manage the scene, make a plan, and use good communication skills.

Students at Spyhill campus encounter a mock emergency situation and learn how to manage the scene.

Principles of emergency management and care in the field

“They have to deal with the fact that the horse has barbed wire wrapped around his back leg, has wire that’s gone into an open knee joint, and wire underneath his head could cause a problem because he might perforate his eye,” explains Kate Armstrong, a clinical skills teaching support technician who helped set up the scene. “We try to make it realistic, because this is something they could one day possibly encounter.

Photos and video were taken throughout the exercise. Back in the classroom, Whitehead debriefed the students, showing them what they did right and wrong.

“We go through the pictures and point out where they were in a dangerous position and could have been kicked or how if they didn’t anesthetize the horse, in a real-life situation it would have gone crazy and injured itself further," says Whitehead.

Along with teaching the principles of emergency management and veterinary care in the field, Whitehead goes through actual cases she’s dealt with in her work as an equine veterinarian, discussing how to deal with owners, emergency personnel, and how to document incidents. 

“It was really intense but I enjoyed it,” says Jacqueline Bowal, a second-year doctor of veterinary medicine student. “I think it was done really well in terms of having all the people around. It showed how chaotic emergency situations can be and how much you can forget.”