Equine First Aid

A stable’s first-aid kit, with all the essentials in one place, is a great idea for any horse owner. Stored in a conspicuous spot, it’s at your fingertips the moment you discover the latest equine injury. You can assemble one yourself for relatively little money and a lot of peace of mind.

To start, any first-aid kit should include a sturdy card with emergency phone numbers – your veterinarian, your farrier, the closest veterinary and human hospital, the fire department and the police. It’s important to have an inventory, as well, that you can tape to the inside lid of your kit. Type a list of every content in the kit, so you’ll be able to see at a glance if it contains what you need. When you use up an item, cross it off the list, then to be sure to replace it! (Remember too, that many drugs and ointments have expiry dates).

Temperature – the normal body temperature of a mature horse at rest is between 37-38.5C

Pulse rate - Horse should be calm, rested and relaxed to obtain an accurate heart rate.Press your fingers against an artery (back edge of lower jaw, inner surface of the groove under the jaw, inside the elbow, up and forward against the chest wall, under the tail close to the body or the in- or outside of the pastern)                                                               - normal mature horses- 28 to 40 beats per minute                                                                                                      - newborn foals – 80 to 120 beats per minute

Hydration -Check skin pliability for dehydration. Pinch a fold of skin on the neck and release it. It should quickly return to its original position. If the horse is dehydrated, the skin returns slowly and tends to stay in a fold.

Mucous Membranes - Gums, inside lips of a mare’s vulva and nostrils should be pink. A fire engine red colour usually denotes illness. Anaemia causes a pale colour. Lack of circulation causes a blueish-purple colour.

First aid action

The aim of first aid is to take immediate action when an injury is discovered, to prevent the condition getting worse while awaiting veterinary assistance.

• Prevent further injury by taking charge of the horse and guiding it to a place of safety                                                  • Briefly assess any injury and be ready to relay details to the veterinary surgeon                                                         • Call the veterinary surgeon and act on the advice received from them                                                                         • Identify the cause of the injury and take measures to prevent it happening again                                                         • If in doubt, always call the vet

A call to the veterinary surgeon might not necessarily result in a visit. Advice given over the telephone can provide reassurance to the keeper and ensure that correct first aid treatment is given. Calling the veterinary surgeon early is essential. It is a false economy to seek professional advice only when symptoms have worsened considerably. It may cause additional suffering to the animal if attempts are made to treat an injury without due consultation, or if the severity of the injury is underestimated.

Assessing wounds

Cuts and grazes are the most common injuries that are likely to need attention – to stop bleeding and to prevent infection. The type and location of a wound, and the manner in which it was caused, can affect its severity and treatment. It is important to assess the wound quickly and to contact a veterinary surgeon in all cases other than very minor cuts and scrapes.

Veterinary attention is always advisable and is essential if:                                                                                         • the horse keeper is in doubt or lacks experience to assess and treat minor wounds                                                    • the wound is more than skin deep or more than a few centimetres long                                                                      • there is a lot of bleeding or the injury involves the eyes or joints                                                                                 • the wound is very dirty and/or difficult to assess                                                                                                       • the horse is lame and/or other underlying or internal injury is suspected                                                                     • the horse has not been vaccinated against tetanus

Types of wounds

Clean-cut (incised) – caused by something sharp. This can be serious as there is often a lot of bleeding. The edges of the wound appear clean and straight and the wound can be a lot deeper into the tissue than may first appear. Clean the wound to remove debris and hair. Do not apply lotion or ointments as these can complicate suturing and healing. Cover the wound to keep it clean and moist. If the wound is bleeding severely apply a pressure bandage till the vet arrives. If the pad becomes blood soaked don’t remove it, just add another pad and continue to apply pressure.                              Torn (lacerated) – caused by something hard but blunt, for example barbed wire. The edges of the wound are irregular and jagged, although bleeding is not usually as profuse as for clean-cut wounds. There may be associated swelling.    Puncture – caused by a piercing object, such as a nail or thorn. These wounds can be far deeper than the external wound suggests and they pose a considerable risk of infection. They are also more easily overlooked.                             Grazes (abrasions) – may appear superficial but have a large surface area that poses an increased risk of infection. There is often associated bruising and they can take a long time to heal.
Bruises, lumps, swellings and inflammation (even in the absence of an obvious wound) – can be evidence of an underlying injury, and veterinary advice should be sought.                                                                                      Acute lameness – Restrict the movement of the horse and confine to a stable or a small yard. Do not give pain medications unless advised by a veterinarian.                                                                                                       Colic – Walking a colicky horse can resolve in mild episodes or keep moderately colicky horses safe from rolling until your vet arrives. Use caution if the horse is violently colicky, leave the horse in a safe area to prevent injury to people. Do not administer mineral oil by mouth as this can lead to severe aspiration pneumonia. Call before providing any medication or pain relievers to ensure appropriate therapy and so as not to complicate diagnosis.                                               Eye injuries – saline can be used to flush the eye and keep it moist. Do not place any medications on the eye without veterinary approval as applying mediations can result in severe complications! Most eye injuries or abnormalities should be treated as an emergency and require attention as soon as noticed. Delaying treatment can result in blindness. A fly mask can be used to keep flies away from the injury. If a foreign body is embedded or near the eye, do not attempt to remove it.  

 Supplies for emergency kit          


 Having supplies ready for emergency situations is very helpful.                                                                                   - Digital thermometer                                                                                                                                                - Bandage Scissors                                                                                                                                                 - Gamgee (1 roll)                                                                                                                                                      - Gauze squares                                                                                                                                                       - Vetwrap (4 rolls)                                                                                                                                                     - Elastoplast (2 rolls)                                                                                                                                                 - 1x poultice                                                                                                                                                            - 1 bottle betadine scrub                                                                                                                                           - 1 bottle betadine solution                                                                                                                                        - Gloves                                                                                                                                                                   - Flashlight to help you see wounds in dark                                                                                                                 - Hoof pick (to clean out the bottom of the foot to search for punctures, bruising or other foot problems)

A final caution                                                                                                                                                      Even the best-equipped first-aid kit is intended only to help you deal with minor injuries and health problems. You should not expect it to cover major medial crises.Any situation you can’t quickly and confidently treat, consult your veterinarian immediately.