Least Resistance Training Concepts

Volunteers Training for Emergencies

  LRTC Technical Large Animal Rescue Team
Technical Information

Water Rescue Practices

Part One - Updated February 24, 2023

This information sheet is primarily intended for persons associated with or working with the LRTC Technical Large Animal Rescue Team, however the information may be useful to other groups or private individuals who may wish to similarly equip their own technical large animal rescue team, and for agencies or entities that may be present at incidents where such rescues are required.

Note: These suggested procedures are not intended to be applicable for swift water incidents.

  Purpose of this Technical Information Sheet

This information sheet is intended to provide basic rescue concepts in order to prevent civilian and first responder injuries or deaths as have occurred during incidents involving large animals, and to successfully extricate the involved large animals without causing further injury or distress.


Removing horses and other livestock from high water and from bogs warrants carefully considered actions and proper equipment. This Technical Information Sheet describes the water rescue equipment carried by the LRTC Technical Large Animal Rescue Team and discusses the use of such equipment. However nothing in this information sheet should supersede the use of sound judgment and appropriate adaptation as may be warranted due to unexpected or changing conditions.

In this information sheet we will use the term, "horse" to indicate large animals in general. Horses are by far the most common large animal species involved in these responses.

Water rescues can range from safely guiding a horse through deep water to a safe landing location, to dealing with a horse that has somehow become bogged or entangled in something. Since most horses are adequate swimmers, virtually all the incidents we have been called to (other than wide-area flooding) have involved some precipitating problem that contributed to the stranding of the horse in the mud or water.

Incidents occurring in water have to be quickly but carefully sized-up. Operations must be supported by appropriate specialized equipment, and extrication plans should produce intended results while minimizing risks to responders and civilians.

General considerations

  • If the horse has not self-extricated, there is likely some technical rescue or medical issue involved.

  • If the horse has been stranded for some significant amount of time, flotation assistance for the horse's head may be an immediate priority.

  • If the incident is in a public place, civilians will likely have already involved themselves in rescue attempts.

  • Removing civilians from an in-water emergency scene is often not practical, so most often the best tactic is to have trained responders take over higher risk activities and direct civilians to engage in support tasks that are low risk and where specific technical skills are not required.

  • All responders going into the water should wear proper Rescue-rated Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs.) Responders on shore also need to don, at minimum, USCG approved PFDs as unanticipated circumstances may warrant their entry into the water.

  • If responders enter the water, rescue throw bags should be deployed on shore in a location accessible for immediate use if required.

  • Responders should form into a minimum of two formal teams; a Rescue Team and a Rigging Team. (A Logistics Team may also be warranted, depending on incident complexity.)

  • Only appropriately trained Technical Large Animal Rescue Responders should be assigned to the Rescue Team.

  • Many recreational rescues will take place near broad lake beaches. Unless lake levels are high, there will likely be no natural or vehicular anchor points close to the water's edge. The rigging team may need to develop an appropriate anchor point using duplex pickets or other devices.

  • Beaches with soft sand are often traps for responding vehicles. Four-wheel-drive is essential and routes to the water that can support light civilian vehicles won't necessarily support vehicles loaded with equipment or pulling technical rescue trailers.
  Required Resources

The following equipment should be deployed for any incident involving a large animal stranded in a stream or body of water.

  • Rescue certified PFDs for in-water members to which tag lines can be attached and quickly released if the line gets snagged.

  • USCG Approved PFDs for all members operating on the shore.

  • Helmets appropriate for water operations.

  • Water rescue throw bags.

  • Floating (polypropylene) utility, tag and haul lines. (Non-floating lines should never be deployed.)

  • Ground pads.

  • Rescue Glide (or equivalent.)

  • Hobbles, straps, etc. for securing the animal to the Rescue Glide.

  • Clean water supply for water-powered rescue gear and for decontamination of people, equipment and the animal.

  • Transport trailer.

  • Panels to contain the animal following extrication.

  Standard Response to Water / Mud Rescues

  • Closest TLAR rescue unit
      Rescue Glide and accessories, PFDs, standard rope rescue gear, ground pads, etc.

  • Special Operations Support Unit-1
      PFDs. Ground pads, throw bags, heavy rope rescue gear, anchor equipment, dewatering pump, etc.

  • Water Supply-1
      Water and air powered rescue equipment, Nikopoulos Needle, jetting wands, floating boom.

  • Incident Support Unit-1
      Rescue certified PFDs, Water Rescue Harness, throw bags, floating rescue ropes, support and rehab.

  • Transport Unit
      (With 66 feet of loading panels.)

Some incidents will require constructing a hasty corral for proper decontamination.

      Responder Safety

    “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” - Vince Lombardi

    Except for wide-area flood events, water rescues involving horses generally involve some form of entanglement or the horse becoming bogged in mud or "quicksand," As a result, most extrications will not be simple. During actual events it is easy to get fixated on resolving the problem, therefore personal safety practices need to be reviewed during every training session and become second nature.

    Practicing with throw bags, rapid reloads and use of floating line before entering the water.

    Practicing with the mannequin using multiple tag lines.

    The Rigging Team needs to get anchor and pulley systems in place while the Rescue Team prepares to enter the water. (During training exercises we don't assume that we have vehicles or other objects to use as anchor points since during most real incidents the water's edge is some distance from access and natural anchor points.)

    A line of duplex pickets installed to provide an anchor point.
    (This anchor is for a simple change of direction. For heavier loads, windlasses would be added
    to tension the anchor and the pulley attached by separate webbing from the base of the first picket.)

Continue to Part Two

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The training information presented in these information sheets and guides is offered for illustrative and volunteer refresher purposes only. It is not a substitute for actual hands-on training.

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