19. Traffic accident
Emergencies involving horses generally concern colic, deliveries or injuries. Providing medical assistance at horse events and accidents involving horses requires special veterinary skills.
A call comes in from the state police on Whit Monday: there has been an accident involving a horse on the A2 near Rosmalen. I am present at a show jumping competition in that village. Via the secondary road, it is only a 5 minute drive to the motorway. From the fly-over, I can see a tailback all the way from the river Meuse to the north. A motorcycle police officer is directing traffic at the approach road. He waves me onto the motorway before I have a chance to lower my side window. Two of the three lanes are closed. Cars creep past the crash barrier in the left lane: full of curious people who have rolled down their windows so as not to miss any of the sensation.
A jeep is in the centre lane facing the wrong way. I can see a trailer behind it on its side; somewhat twisted and without a roof. Large pieces of polyester lie scattered around. A fire engine is standing next to the trailer. Men with helmets and in black suits are working busily. Two girls of around 18 years old are quietly standing by. They are wearing riding clothes and look pale. They were freed from the jeep by the firefighters and had a lucky escape.
The horse is lying thirty metres away, across the right lane and the hard shoulder under the crash barrier. He is lying flat on his left side with his nose in the direction of the traffic, meaning the other way round than the jeep: he must have made a somersault in the air when he was thrown through the roof of the trailer. He is alive. He lifts his head up, banging it against the bottom of the crash barrier. He is thrashing his front legs back and forth over the asphalt but can’t get a grip. A man is looking on from a short distance away. I ask him to give me a hand: the horse’s head must be held down to the ground so that he does not harm himself any further. And it will allow me to give him an injection in his jugular vein.
The horse is administered a sedative. A voice near my ear asks: “Shall I cut away a piece of the crash barrier?” It is a firefighter with an inquisitive look on his face. The crash barrier is made of solid steel. Cut a piece away? The man points to the huge scissors that he is holding. A hose leading to the fire engine provides hydraulic power. But I want to examine the horse first. Head, neck and back appear to be unharmed. From the horse’s back, I examine his legs and joints as far as I can reach them. They too seem intact. The gelding can probably stand up and walk on its own. But in order to do that, we have to get him out from under the crash barrier.
Four firefighters offer to help. Two grab the tail and two the lead rope so they can pull the head. One, two, three: Go! The other helper lifts the horse’s head above the asphalt so that the underlying eye is not damaged. “Again: one, two, three: Go! Go!" The horse slides out from under the crash barrier and is lying in a peaceful sleep on the hard shoulder: the sedative is working. The firefighters want to hoist him up using straps under his belly. I tell them that it is not necessary, the horse can stand up on its own. They look at the motionless horse and I can tell that they have their doubts.
The horse lets out a deep sigh and seems almost unconscious. “Watch out for his front legs when he stands up” I warn the man near the head. “And when he does stand up, walk straight to the trailer there without stopping”. The man does not respond, but ‘that trailer there’ happens to be his property. I thrust both of my knees into the horse’s ribs: “Come on! Get up!” The animal lifts its head and stretches its front legs far forward. He folds his rear legs under his belly and stands up with one move. “Go on! Move!”
I grab his tail and drag it with my feet forward to slow him down. This is to prevent the horse from stumbling and falling: I am a tail rudder of sorts. Because the animal is weak from the injection and his legs are dull from lying down. And he is bruised all over. It does look strange, a man dragging a horse’s tail, but it works. The unknown helper supports the head and directs the horse to the trailer without saying a word. Everything goes smoothly, like we do this every day. Without stopping, he walks up the loading platform and into the trailer in one stretch. He pushes the lead rope through the eye at the front of the trailer and ties a quick release knot. The gelding is wet with sweat and is trembling all over. The animal leans against the side of the trailer for support. I walk back to my car to get a syringe with a painkiller. His muscles will soon start to swell because of the bruising and will then become stiff. Painkillers are needed to keep him moving and thus stimulating the blood flow in the muscles.
loading on motorway A2
The girls have meanwhile had a chance to catch their breath and have called home. One will wait by the wreckage of the trailer until her father comes to collect her; he is already underway. The other girl rides along with the helpful man and the horse, giving directions on how to get home. I give her some painkiller paste for the follow-up treatment. Upon arriving home, the horse must first be showered and then dried. Next he must be given a double blanket and walked. He must also be walked a few times a day in the days to come. Meanwhile the jeep and the wrecked trailer have been towed aside to the hard shoulder, the lanes have been cleared and traffic is once again rushing by across the three lanes. This accident ended incomprehensibly well for both the girls and the horse: amidst the busy traffic of Whit Monday! It took less than an hour to get everything back to normal.
Should you become unexpectedly trapped in your car following an accident, then here’s hoping, no praying, that a police and firefighter team like the one that day is ready to be of assistance.
It is not long after this incident that a television program reports on new developments in equestrian sports: a new national coach for Dutch sport jumpers has been appointed. The man is interviewed on television. He looks familiar to me, but at first I don’t know why. A few minutes later, the penny drops: he is the man who helped me during the accident with the horse on the A2. Bert Romp is his name.
© Leo Rogier Verberne