It's not the kind of thing most people have to deal with, but if you're ever faced with a 1,500-pound horse stuck in a ditch, its legs buried in mud, there's only one way to get it out.
Oh, and make sure you're not a blubbering mess. You'll spook the horse and make it worse for everyone.
Those were a couple of the lessons imparted Friday at Goucher College's stables in Towson. A handful of Baltimore County firefighters joined about 20 horse breeders and aficionados at the start of a three-day class, given by out-of-state instructors, on the finer points of large-animal rescues and how to accomplish them.
Most of the props for the outdoor class were real - two very cooperative horses, Ariel and Tornado, who are accustomed to taking part in the lessons from their tours around the country, and an equally compliant llama named Levo. None of the three seemed to mind being roped, pulled or prodded, and Ariel even lay down on command to help demonstrate how an injured horse should be lifted and transported.
Other props included a life-size pony made of plastic, and another, stuffed and much smaller. Much of the first day's afternoon session dealt with the intricacies of ropes, knots, harnesses, webbing and other equipment, including a curved knife at the end of a long pole that is used to cut a tether when, for instance, a horse is tied to the inside of a flipped-over trailer and must be released.
"Don't cut my horse!" Rebecca Jimenez, one of the instructors, called out as one of her pupils was about to practice slicing the rope that held Ariel. The slice went off without a hitch.
Jimenez, who lives in Augusta, Ga., and her ex-husband, Tomás Jimenez, a native of Mexico City whose home is near Greenville, S.C., led the class, a serious affair leavened by occasional bouts of levity. A discussion about the importance of taking care of equipment ended with a dire warning.
"If we catch someone stepping on a rope, we're going to have our lifting mechanism set, and we're going to hang that person," Tomás Jimenez said, wagging his index finger. "The rescue is not over when you get the victim out of its predicament. It's when you get all your equipment accounted for and put away."
Above all, the idea of the class is to prevent accidents involving animals from involving people.
For instance, Tomás Jimenez said, if a trailer is on its side, a rescuer should not immediately climb in to check on the horse. The animal, possibly injured and scared, could kick or roll on top of the rescuer, Jimenez said.
"This is expanding our base of knowledge a lot," said Rachel Westerlund, a veterinarian with a practice in Sparks who heads the nonprofit Equine Rescue Ambulance Inc., a group of Baltimore County horse breeders and riders who provide aid to injured or trapped horses and other animals. Many are involved in accidents, whether on trails, highways or steeplechase races, or are stuck in ice, water or burning barns.
In the past few years, Westerlund's group has worked more with Baltimore County's fire and police agencies, and they have traded their expertise, she said, so that both sides benefit. "I don't know how to tie a knot ... and a lot of firefighters don't know the first thing about horses," she said.
Nancy Elberty, a horse lover and rescue instructor from Tewksbury, N.J., who was helping the Jimenezes, said emergency responders are getting better at handling animals. "Unfortunately," she said, "it takes a real disaster, like an 18-wheeler going over full of horses, for people to realize they have to know this stuff."