Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Accident, Hoof or Limb Trapped in Steel Grate, Cattle Guard

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

    Cattle guards are heavy steel grates that allow vehicles to pass through fence lines without the need for a gate. They are common in rural lands where roads intersect livestock containing enclosures.

    Horses unfamiliar with cattle guards may try to cross them and trap a limb between the bars. This is especially common in snowy weather when heavy winds blow snow drifts across cattle guards, obscuring them.

    I have assisted a number of horses caught in cattle guards or steel grates. Some escaped with only minor injuries. Some sustained lower limb fractures. Most had severe blunt trauma to the lower limb without fracture or life-threatening injury. Some sustained large wounds and some had severe damage to the hoof capsule.

    In cases where horses have been trapped for an extended period of time or have lost significant blood, they may be in shock. In one instance, I sedated a horse while the owner cut the steel cattle guard bars with a cutting torch.


    Call your vet immediately and try to keep the horse calm until your vet arrives. In some cases, the horse will need to be sedated by your vet in order to gently maneuver the limb out from between the bars.

    Pay attention to how the horse is able to bear weight immediately after the accident. If they can bear weight at all, that is a good sign that the limb is structurally intact. Some horses that can hardly bear weight initially will improve dramatically with treatment and a bit of time. Horses with severe injuries to vital structures will continue to show serious lameness.


    After removing the horse from the grate, your vet will assess the horse’s general health and the severity of the injuries. Treatment options and prognosis depend on whether important anatomic structures of the limb have been injured.

    Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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