What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


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


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.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

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.

What Not To Do

Do not force the limb free. Do not pull on the horse to pull the limb free. Do not attempt to free the horse if it is struggling violently.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Is the horse still trapped or have you released it?
  • Does the horse seem to be limping or lame?
  • How lame does the horse seem to you?
  • Is there a wound or swelling in the lower limb?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

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further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP