Many have said that a horse could injure itself even if it was maintained in a luxury-padded room, and there are times when that seems totally true! Horses are a ‘flight’ animal, and self-preservation is extremely important to them, thus injuries are fairly common.
For those that travel or compete, the added stress of frequent shows and long hauls in trailers makes way for acute onset illness, particularly involving the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. It therefore behooves a horse owner to keep certain first aid and health care items on hand to help with initial health evaluation and patient care until professional help can become involved.
The following first aid list is not totally comprehensive, but will include many of the items that will be useful in addressing the issues of a horse with acute onset illness, or initial management of a horse with a laceration or recent wound.
Fortunately, because of cellphone technology, a horse owner will likely already have the phone number available and be able to make a call to their own veterinarian, but good horse sense dictates that you obtain the number for the on call veterinarian or clinic that is providing services for any show you are attending.
General First Aid Items
Acute illness usually involves the respiratory system or colic associated with the gastrointestinal system. Because of respiratory disease outbreaks that can occur at horse shows, an owner should be able to take their horse’s temperature and therefore know how to properly obtain a rectal temperature. A horse’s temperature is a vital piece of information that a veterinarian is going to want to know to help direct a treatment plan.
Stethoscope (if possible)
Owners can learn how to take a peripheral pulse, but acutely ill or injured horses often will not remain sufficiently quiet to let someone get a pulse. Learning the basics of a stethoscope allows us to take a more easily accessible heart rate instead.
Works great when it’s dark and you wish you had a flashlight.
It’s often a lot easier to work with the materials, tissues, and fluids if your hands are protected.
A good pair of scissors
First aid may require the cutting of tape, bandages, or other materials.
Notepad and pen
At times it may be important to record temperatures, or take notes while on the phone with a veterinarian. Don’t get stuck without a way to write important information when you need it most.
Bandaging Materials and Dressings
Probably the most common event requiring first aid intervention with horses is management of lacerations and wounds. A person does not need a vast supply of materials to manage these situations, just some common sense items.
These are used to slow or stop major bleeding. They also represent the primary wound contact layer of any bandaging. Materials will vary slightly in size and specification depending on whether you’re dealing with a large acute wound with considerable hemorrhage, or a smaller less involved wound without active hemorrhage.
Maintaining cleanliness, especially before bandaging, is paramount. Having some sterile saline on hand can be useful for some wounds, but often volume cleansing using just water makes more sense than limited cleansing using sterile fluids.
Regional cleaning of the hair and skin around a wound can be completed using a surgical scrub soap or simply a bit of dishwashing detergent like Dawn soap. Avoid getting the soap directly into the wound as much as possible.
60 ml large catheter tip syringe
High fluid pressure is usually not indicated for wounds, so this device can greatly assist with wound irrigation.
A few tubes of triple antibiotic ointment
Apply to certain wounds to assist with initial local antibacterial control.
Bulk cotton or diapers
The intermediate or secondary layer of a bandage is the bulky component that will allow you to apply pressure to a wound. This is generally some type of bulk cotton, but disposable diapers can also function effectively in emergency situations. This secondary layer covers the primary contact layer of bandaging to help hold it in place, and should be applied as evenly as possible.
This is a tertiary bandage layer to allow application of counter pressure to the wound. This counter pressure is what will help with hemorrhage control in the case of an acute wound, or with regional swelling in a wound that is more chronic.
The final layer of bandaging goes around the stretch gauze. It can be either a non-adhesive outer layer like Vetwrap, or an adhesive backed material like Elastikon. Wide duct tape can also be used effectively in this situation.
Obviously, when it comes to using some of these materials, a horse owner needs to have had some exposure to what is involved in situations like bandaging the leg of an agitated horse, or taking temperature and heart rate effectively. Ask your veterinarian to assist you in learning if need be. If possible, try to always have another experienced person assist in handling a horse in need, especially an agitated one. There are many more emergency or first aid situations that can arise that have not been dealt with here, and that may require other equipment and materials, but we have covered what should effectively manage the majority of the emergency first aid situations you might encounter as a horse owner and traveler.