A lovely client, Sandra, called me at the yard this morning in distress when her Sunday morning hack ended in disaster.

Her 6 year old TB, Murphy, usually travels well in her 3.5t rear facing lorry. Today, as she headed home in her lorry after meeting a friend for a hack, Murphy attempted to clamber over the solid breast bar and was left hanging by his stifles and with his headcollar caught in his haynet.

I grabbed everyone I could from the yard and it took just minutes for us to reach them. The vet was already on her way to sedate the panicking Murphy but it was clear we weren’t going to get him out easily and needed the fire brigade too.

Understandably, Sandra was as distressed as her beloved Murphy. However, he’d spent a week with us recently, he knew and trusted us and he seemed reassured with me standing with him, wearing Sandra’s hat (mental note to grab a hat next time I’m called to help in a crisis).

The vet reached us within 15 minutes of the call, with the fire brigade just 5 minutes later, but that’s where the severity of the situation became clear. Sandra has owned horses for many years and is a careful and conscientious owner, She’s always put her horse’s safety first. Her lorry is well maintained, serviced, MOT’d and fully road-worthy. She’d trusted that the horsebox manufacturer had also made it horse-worthy, yet the breast bar was fixed permanently in place without any form of emergency release.

There were two options to get Murphy off the breast bar that he was hanging from; take the roof off the lorry like a tin can and winch him out in a harness, or attempt to dismantle the breast bar and solid partition below before taking him through the back doors. A total of 5 fire engines from Oxfordshire and Berkshire, including a crane unit and the specialist animal rescue unit from Reading, assessed the situation and decided to attempt the second option.

horse rescue from lorry

Meanwhile, despite sedation, Murphy continued to try to get himself free and in the process he put a front leg through the wheel arch in the grooms area. He was now hanging from his stifles, with a badly lacerated front leg, a torn lip and cut face.

The process to dismantle the breast bar first involved taking weight off the bar by pushing wooden boards under Murphy’s back feet and lifting him with blocks. They used electric saws to cut the bar and solid partition into small sections, using riot shields as protection from flailing hooves.  Once the partition was sufficiently dismantled he needed to be led out though the double back doors but that involved considerable risks from him cutting himself on the remaining sharp partition edges. There was concern that he might be too unsteady – or too unsound – to manage the drop to the ground safely so one of the team from Churn Estate brought hay bales to soften the landing.

2.5 hours after the drama began, Murphy was finally released. The cuts to his front leg went right through to his tendon so having only just been released from one box, he had to be loaded into a second lorry for the short journey to Donnington Grove Vet Hospital to remain in their care overnight, courtesy of KBIS Insurance.

Donnington Grove Vets

The rescue involved 2 vets, 5 fire engines, 4 of our yard team, a closed road and a traumatised owner. Murphy had a lucky escape; we don’t yet know whether he’ll have lasting damage but it could have been so much worse.  If his horsebox had the same sort of quick release bolts that most reputable trailers and horsebox manufacturers fit as standard, he would have been out within minutes.

When you go to your yard tomorrow, have a look at your horsebox. Could a horse attempt to go over or under the breast bar? If so, do you know how you’d release it in a hurry? If you have quick release bolts are they greased? Do you keep any tools needed to undo them in the trailer or lorry?

Now’s the time to modify your box to make it safe; please don’t let it be the fire brigade that does it for you.

Murphy earlier this month at Churn Stables

Update 1st December

(Don’t scroll down if you are squeamish!)

A week on and Murphy is still at the vet hospital so that his dressings can be changed regularly and to reduce the risk of infection getting into the joint. We are hoping he’ll be going home in another week.

In the meantime he’s enjoying his new found fame after his exploits were documented in the Newbury Weekly News:


Murph cut leg



Sandra had insured Murphy with KBIS and would like to thank the team there for dealing with the claim so quickly and sympathetically at such a distressing time.