Saturday, February 12, 2011

Electrocution's Shocking Effects on Horses

From the annals of Hoofcare and Lameness Journal and the Hoof Blog, here are some memorable accounts of horses who have lost their lives or been injured or at least caught my attention by their ability to conduct electricity:

In 2004, Horse and Hound told us about a horse that really got a warmup before the cross-country phase at the Blenheim Petplan International Horse Trials in England. Special Agent Wal had his studs in when he perforated a power cable with one of them. It gave him such a shock that he was thrown to the ground. The veterinarians still cleared him to go and he jumped a clear round. Way to go! Is that what the Brits mean with those "Keep calm and carry on" signs?

In 1999, a seven-year-old Manhattan carriage horse named Jackie stepped on a steel Con Edison service box cover on East 59th Street. She reacted by kicking her driver in the head, then collapsed and died. A spokesman for Con Edison said that the use of salt in winter may have corroded wires underground and that humans wouldn't feel the electricity because they don't wear metal shoes. But poor Jackie felt it on a rainy day, in a big way.

In Ireland in 2005, the Dublin Horse Show champion Dimmer Light and a stablemate were electrocuted when a short circuit from a light switch in their stable yard electrified the ground and gates, according to a very sad news report in Horse and Hound that I have kept tucked away. I think the ironic match of the cause of the short circuit and the horse's name always intrigued me as much as the electrocution angle.

One of my favorite all-time horse safety articles is from Windy Meadow Farm in Maryland. Eventer Michael Hillman was challenged by his water trough. Little did he know that every time his horse tried to take a drink of water, he was getting a shock to his lips! Michael's article,  Dear Diary, I Almost Electrocuted My Horse Today is a classic. So is everything he writes!

My friend Cyrstal Kimball, editor of The Equiery in Maryland, told me a story about a time when she was out hunting and the entire field came upon a hot spot. "It was a downed electric fence, still hot, that electrified the wet ground in the surrounding area, and when the field hit it at a dead run, horses were winging off in all directions..." (But it sounds like they lived to tell the tale.)

None of us can remember exactly where or when the show was, but a dressage show in the Northeast had a hot spot inside the arena. Every time the horses came to the spot in the ring, they reacted.

And then there was the one about the horse owner who was driving down the road and had his trailer struck by lighting, leading to an electrical fire in his horse trailer. So it seemed like a really smart idea to drive right into a carwash. The horse was electrocuted and died.

Horseshoes and thunderstorms don’t mix: This old photo shows what was once an unsettlingly common occurrence in America: multiple horse deaths due to electrocution in thunderstorms. This six-horse hitch of Percherons owned by the Christy Brothers Circus was struck by lightning on September 1, 1923. They were hitched up for the circus parade when lightning hit a transformer nearby. The wet mud surrounding each horse’s shoes provided a perfect field. In addition to this team, four horses pulling the calliope and eight horses pulling the lead circus wagon were killed. And a few people, too. Thanks to the Wisconsin Historical Society and Circus World Museum for the loan of this photo.

Speaking of lightning, that is probably the most common way that horses are electrocuted. I'm still struck by the imagery in this amazing story about a polo player's horse trailer and his ponies being struck in New Jersey in 2008. They all survived but I just can't forget the description of the ponies going down "like dominoes". For your own safety's sake, read the article, which has a lot of good information about lightning strikes.

A horse named Sadie survived being struck by lightning in 2001. Her owner looked out the window and saw a cloud of orange smoke where her horse should have been. She ran out and found the horse on the ground; the horse got to her feet after a while and staggered around. After a few weeks she was fine, except for lingering foot soreness. Her vet attributed her survival to the fact that she wasn't shod.

We all live in a tangle of wires, in an environment with increasingly severe weather and crazy service problems for our utilities. Our horses, even if they aren't shod, have plenty of metal on their tack, hang out by metal gates, live behind electric fence, and require heated waterers in their paddocks in winter and electric fans in their stalls in the summer. The possibilities for any of us to be zapped at any time, in any barn, are high.

Think about what you're touching, especially with your bare hands on a wet day, and keep an eye out for horses that might need help. And if a horse is acting completely out of character, there might be a good reason why.

 © Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to
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