How to Create a First Aid Kit for Horses
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Why do I need a First Aid Kit?
If you own horses, eventually some type of injury or illness is inevitable. A well-stocked first aid kit is the first step in getting prepared. Three common injuries with horses include wounds, eye injuries, and lameness. Colic is the most prevalent illness. This article includes a list of basic first aid items. Once you create a first aid kit, remember to check it for appropriate quantities and expiration dates at least once per year.
Treating Various Illnesses and Injuries
Learning how to treat various illnesses and injuries is part of horse care. Whether you’re dealing with something easy, like a superficial cut, or something more serious, such as colic, being prepared can help reduce the stress of the situation and increase your ability to respond quickly and appropriately.
Common Uses for a First Aid Kit
Examine Your Horse Every Day
A good practice is to examine each horse once per day (at a minimum!) This consists of a visual inspection (is anything swollen? Bleeding? Looks abnormal?) and physically running your hands down each leg to check for swelling. It’s also a good idea to watch the horse move—can you detect any limping? Do they look stiff or sore? Any red flags should be investigated. The sooner you catch an issue, the better the prognosis.
Three common injuries seen around the barn include:
Wounds: Cuts, abrasions, and puncture wounds.
Minor cuts and abrasions can be easily treated at home. If you have concerns, call your vet. Texting a picture for a second opinion can’t hurt. Large, deep wounds or cuts over a joint may require stitches or other veterinary assistance.
If the cut is minor, cold-hose it to rinse it out. This will clean out any dirt and debris. If you’re worried about infection, you can gently clean it with Betadine solution. Next, apply a topical ointment. Monitor it for signs of infection (heat, swelling, oozing). If it is not healing on its own, consult your vet.
Puncture wounds are more serious—they can become infected, which could be life-threatening. Consult your vet for puncture wounds. The horse may require antibiotics.
Debris can get in the horse’s eye and scratch it, causing a corneal ulcer. They will often not want to open the affected eye, and you will observe swelling and drainage. your veterinarian right away for eye injuries—if left untreated, they eye may have to be removed.
To treat, rinse the eye with saline solution to remove any debris. Your vet may give you medication to apply. A fly mask with UV protection may be necessary to protect they eye from sunlight.
If you observe your horse limping, refusing to put weight on a leg, or resting a front foot, you’re dealing with a lameness issue. Lameness is a catch-all term for pain that affects the horse’s ability to move comfortably. The source could be a back, shoulder, or hip problem, a soft-tissue injury such as a bowed tendon or torn ligament, or an abscess in the hoof.
If you notice that your horse is lame, a general first step is rest. Restrict the horse’s access to large, open spaces. Hand-walk the horse to identify which leg is the source. Sometimes, it’s obvious—a cut, or swelling could indicate the source of the problem. However, sometimes lameness can be infuriatingly difficult to identify.
When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian. However, here are a few tips on treating lameness in order to better explain the contents you will need in a first aid kit:
- If you suspect a soft-tissue injury, such as a bowed tendon, you can treat the leg with a poultice. This is a thick, clay-like substance that will help draw swelling out of the leg. First, apply the poultice. Then, wrap it in saran wrap; you want it to stay moist. Once it drys out, it will be ineffective. Next, cover the plastic wrap with a cotton bandage. Then, secure in place with a polo wrap. If you’ve never wrapped a leg before, seek help! Too tight and you can cut off blood flow, causing further injury. Too loose, and the wrap won’t stay in place, which could cause a safety concern. You may also want to put the horse on Bute—it’s an anti-inflammatory, but must be prescribed by your vet.
- An abscess in the hoof could also be the culprit. To treat, soak the foot in hot water with Epsom salts. This can help draw out the infection. If the abscess has ruptured, you will need to pack the hoof and wrap it so that it does not become infected. A combination of duct tape and Vet Wrap can be effective for this task. (You can duct tape the hoof, but never hair).
The most common horse illness is colic. For the purpose of this article, colic will not be discussed in detail. If you observe a horse with colic symptoms, immediately call your veterinarian. Hand walk the horse and do not allow them to lay down or roll. Your veterinarian is best equipped to deal with colic.
It’s important to note—some equine insurance companies will void the policy if anyone other than a licensed veterinarian administers an injection.
What Should Be Included in the First Aid Kit?
- Gauze Pads
- Epsom Salts
- First Aid Book
- Emergency Contact List
Diagnostics & Examination Tools
Wraps & Bandages
- Vet Wrap
- Standing Wraps (Cotton)
- Polo Wraps
- Saran Wraps
- Duct Tape
Wound Cleaning & Care
- Betadine Solution
- Vetericin Plus Wound Care Skin Liquid
- Multi-purpose ointment
- Saline Solution
- Oral Medication Syringe
- Wonder Kote
A well-stocked first aid kit is only the first step. It takes time, experience, and practice to learn what to do in any given situation. It’s important to remember not to panic—horses can pick up on your feelings. Stay calm and try to think logically. One fact that helps me calm down when I encounter a bleeding horse is knowing a horse can lose a gallon of blood before they are really in trouble. When in doubt, stay calm and call your vet!
Hopefully, you won’t need to use your first aid kit that often. That said, items do expire. It’s a good idea to go through your kit at a minimum once per year and check for expiration dates and inventory your remaining quantities by item. Keep your first aid kit in a secure area—you don’t want it exposed to sunlight, extremely hot or cold temperatures, or rodent activity. Depending on your barn, items may “walk away” if left easily accessible in a common space.
Your first aid kit should evolve over time based on your personal preferences and what you need. Different regions experience different things. Some horses may be more prone to allergic reactions or fungal infections. Others may be extra accident prone; you may need additional bandages on hand.
A well-stocked first aid kit is an essential for every barn. Being prepared in advance will help you quickly and effectively react to a variety of unforeseen accidents or injuries. Always ask for help if you are uncertain on how to proceed. When in doubt, call your veterinarian.