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Basic Equine First Aid

Guest Author - Susan Hopf

The emergency first aid kit – should be kept in some sort of tote or pack, updated and regularly well stocked.

1- flashlight with extra batteries
1 - Stethoscope
1 - Bandage scissors
1 – blunt/blunt curved surgical scissors
1- tourniquet
1- tweezers, thumb forceps and hemastat
1 – thermometer – digital is the quickest and there will be no need for a string and clip
6 – surgical gloves latex or other
1 package of sterile long applicator sticks (can also include same applicator sticks soaked with betadine and alcohol)
Wound packing – either a roll of sterile cotton or 6 sanitary menstrual pads
Gauze pads both sterile and non-sterile
Non-stick sterile gauze pads
Kling gauze – 6 - 3” rolls
2” adhesive tape – 1 roll
1 package sheet cotton
flexible cohesive bandage – 6 – 3” rolls
1 – bottle of eye wash
1 bottle saline
betadine solution – or pre-soaked betadine wipes
alcohol – or pre-soaked alcohol wipes
hand sanitizer
1- instant ice pack


Also a good idea to keep on hand –

Epsom salts
Electrolytes
Banamine paste
Hoof boot
Wire cutters
Duct tape

What to do in an emergency.

First make sure you can manage your horse – do not put yourself in danger.

Any spurting or pumping blood must be stopped and your vet should be informed immediately. Use the wound packing or sanitary pads and apply direct pressure until the spurting stops. If you can bandage it wrap it tightly and change when the bandage is soaked through and dripping. If it is on a limb that will accept a tourniquet apply this and tighten until the flow has stopped – this must be loosened every 20 minutes or you can irreparably damage the circulation to the limb. If the wound is on a part of the body that cannot be wrapped you must hold the pressure until the vet arrives.

If possible and practical assess the animal’s vital signs – it is best to know the normal values for your horse (which is something most veterinarians will be glad to help you to ascertain) but as a guide the normal pulse is between 30-40 beats per minute. There are pulse points but in an emergency the heart rate is easiest to assess by feeling about a hand’s width behind the elbow preferable with a stethoscope but you can also feel this with your hand – count one beat for each lub-dub that you hear. Any heart rate over 60 is a red flag situation.

Once the heart rate is established check the respiration rate. Count breaths by watching the flank – count either the ribs going in or out but not both – normal is about 12-18 breaths per minute. Any signs of labored breathing, white, pink or red foam at the mouth or nostrils and food in the nostrils are all red flag situations.

Anything out of the ordinary with pulse and respiration could mean the horse is in shock. If so keep the animal quiet and cover with a blanket.

Other veterinary necessary emergencies include eye injuries, a wound near a joint that is leaking yellowish fluid with or without blood, a horse that has been down for more than two hours, erratic behavior and loss of balance.

If none of the above describes the emergency and the vital signs are stable then you can take a moment to breathe and assess the nature of your horse’s injury. A wound should be cleaned with saline and bandaged with sterile material while waiting for the vet to arrive. A bowed tendon can be hosed with cold water – only wrap a tendon injury if you know how to do so – a poorly wrapped leg can do more harm than good. A sudden lameness can be watched with the horse confined to prevent further damage. Foreign bodies can be removed if this can be done safely for both human and horse – don’t poke a hole in your horse’s eye while trying to help.

A well-stocked first aid kit, a little planning and know-how and a calm demeanor will get you through the worst of emergencies.

Not really an emergency but you are faced with a wound – these simple steps will start the healing process.

Rinse the wound repeatedly with saline.
Wash with an antiseptic like betadine or nolvasan.
If possible keep covered with the wound cream recommended by your veterinarian and a bandage. If it cannot be bandaged apply some sort of insect barrier during the months when insects are a problem.
Repeat above daily.
Watch for the beginnings of proud flesh and inform your vet immediately if this nasty side effect of equine wounds start to form. You will notice a grayish colored thickening around the edges of the wound. Also keep alert for infection – any foul smelling discharge should include medical attention.

Any questions or concerns should be referred to your veterinarian who will best advise you regarding such.

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Content copyright © 2014 by Susan Hopf. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Susan Hopf. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kim Wende for details.

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