By Hilary Winocoor
During the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, a group of investors got together and sponsored an equine ambulance. Following the Games, the ambulance owner planned to have the equine ambulance disabled.
Meri Straz, an attendant who worked with the ambulance during the Olympics, decided to take over and see if it was feasible to provide emergency transport service at horse shows. With the help of her friend Jill Parsons, they came up with the name and made the “HEART” start beating.
HEART, Humane Equine Aid and Rapid Transport, has been in operation since 1997. Robin Sweely, president and director of operations, has been working at HEART since 2000. “Our ambulance service can be described as being the equine equivalent of a human ambulance. We’re a transport service, so when there’s an injury, a vet is always there doing the treating and we do the transport after the animal is stabilized. We have equipment the vets can use for stabilizing such as leg splints, bandages, sleds, and glides, to name a few,” Robin said.
HEART uses state-of-the-art equipment to help injured horses and Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) attendants are part of the ambulance staff.
Michael Morrissey, horse show manager at the American International, Lake Placid, Great Lake, American Gold Cup and the National Horse shows, makes sure HEART is always on site at his shows. “In the early 2000s, we started using HEART and we’ve been using them ever since. They’re a very professional organization and it’s very important for us to makes sure the horse has the best care possible if there’s a problem or some type of injury. They always come out with quality, well-trained attendants and take very good care of the horses,” Michael said.
Having HEART on the show grounds ensures that if something goes wrong in the ring or at the barn, the horse can be immediately transported to the local vet clinic.
Danielle Torano, one of the top Amateur-Owner hunter and jumper riders in the United States, had two horses colic at Lake Placid last year. “HEART was immediately there to take our two horses to the vet clinic. They called us while they were transporting the horse to give us updates. HEART got the horses to the clinic, where they were given fluids. We caught it early enough that they were able to save both horses and showed them later that season. It makes a big difference to know HEART is at the shows,” Danielle said.
In addition to transporting horses, HEART also does public demonstrations and tours of the ambulance to promote awareness of their services.
David Distler, the horse show manager at Devon, USEF Talent Search and the Washington International Horse Show, has used HEART since their inception. “When I see them in action, whether it’s at a show I’m operating or a show I’m officiating, they always do a fantastic job,” he said.
HEART is a non-profit corporation with 501(c)3 charitable tax status that survives on funding from individuals, organizations and corporations. For more information and to donate, visit: www.equineambulance.com.