First Aid for Horses

Our first client education seminar was last week, we had a handful of eager human participants (and two slightly reluctant equine participants), and it was a lot of fun.  We went over basic bandaging, such as stable and shipping wraps, as well as more advanced bandaging, for wounds and hooves.  Towards the end of the seminar, someone asked an excellent question:  "What should be put into an equine first aid kit?"

I'm an old Pony Clubber, so I've put together some equine first aid kits in my day.  Everyone is different, and my list won't be the same as every single vet.  I've broken the list down into "essentials" and other items that are nice to have, but only if you know how to use them.  Here goes!

Essentials:

1.  Antiseptic solution (Betadine or Chlorohexidine solution): Betadine is easily found at the drug store.  When using, make sure to mix with clean water or saline solution to make a "weak tea" (in the case of Betadine) or light blue (in the case of Chlorohexidine) solution, since this will be less tissue irritating.

2.  Antiseptic soap (Betadine/Chlorohexidine scrub, or Ivory soap): again, mix with water to use

3.  Saline solution: Good for wounds or eye lavage.  Straight tap water can be irritating to tissues. 

4.  Clean gauze squares: Usually purchased in "sleeves", sterile ones are usually not necessary.  Great for cleaning wounds, holding ointments in place, etc.

5.  Non-stick gauze pads (Telfa's, etc): good for bandaging over wounds

6.  Rolled "kling" gauze: for holding Telfa's or other dressing in place

7.  Antibacterial ointment: Neosporin or equivalent works great.  Dermachlor is the "blue stuff" which also works well.  "SSD" has some anti-fungal properties, and I like it for older wounds. 

8.  Padding for leg bandaging ("Quilts", "Pillow wraps", BB satin sheet cotton or rolled cotton)

9.  Outer wraps for leg bandaging (reusable "track wraps" or non-reusable VetWrap)

10.  Epsom salts (for soaking suspected hoof abscesses)

11.  Duct tape (for applying hoof wraps, and a million other uses!)

12.  Thermometer (a cheap digital one from a human drugstore works just fine.  Just label it!)  If you are using an old mercury thermometer, make sure to tie a string to it so as to not "lose" it.  You must shake these down before using, or the result will not be accurate.  Newer digital models are much easier, trust me....

13.  Stethescope:  A cheap one will not set you back as much as you think, and once you learn to use it, it can be invaluable for listening to gut sounds or taking a heart rate.  Next time we're out at your farm, ask us where to listen! 

14.  Bandage scissors (if they are not very sharp, adding a pocket knife can be helpful for cutting things entraping a horse, if necessary)

15.  A copy of your horse's records (vaccine status, normal vitals) and important phone numbers (your vet, a friend with a trailer, etc).

16.  Flashlight (and extra batteries): horses like to hurt themselves in dark fields, or when the power goes out.  Murphy's law. 

17.  Watch: for marking time, or taking vital signs

18.  Extra lead rope/halter

Other items (nice to have, only if you are comfortable using them)

1.  Tweezers/forceps: good for removing splinters

2.  Sterile swabs: good for probing wounds to determine depth, ONLY after cleaning them thoroughly, and only in a calm horse.  (sticking something into a wound in a flighty, unsedated horse is a good way to create a foreign body...)

3.  Exam gloves: latex or nitrile are available.  Sterility is usually not necessary.  Helpful if you are dealing with a large wound and using your hands to examine it. 

4.  Bute/Banamine: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, only to be used in consultation with your vet.  Most vets are comfortable with owners having these drugs on hand for emergencies, but it is always a good idea to call before using them.  Bute comes in paste, tablet or powdered forms (an injectable is available but it should ONLY be given by a vet), and Banamine comes in a paste or injectable form.  A note about Banamine injectable:  this drug is labeled to be given in the muscle, but it has been associated with a severe muscle infection when given this way.  If you are comfortable giving intravenous injections, it may be given this way.  Otherwise, give it by mouth - it is well absorbed this way, and you don't risk the side effects. 

5.  Acepromazine: this is an injectable or oral tranquilizer.  Again, this drug is only to be used on the advise of your veterinarian, but many people find it helpful to have on hand. 

6.  Syringes/needles: if you are comfortable giving injections, or to draw up injectables to be given orally

7.  Long length of gentle curving (wide diameter) PVC pipe, cut lengthwise, or strong wooden board (2"x4" at least) - useful for splinting suspected fractures, but ONLY in consultation with a veterinarian.  Frequently we don't have these materials on our trucks (due to space constraints), so knowing where to find them in an emergency can save lots of time. 

8.  Long length of strong, soft rope: very helpful to correct "cast" horses - but be careful, and call someone who knows what they're doing... usually your vet!  (Sensing a theme?)

While you're at it....

Remember that horse emergencies can sometimes turn into human emergencies.  Try to avoid getting hurt yourself - your horse may be your best friend, but helping him or her is still not worth your life.  That being said, it's helpful to have some items in your "equine" first aid kit that can be used in the case of a bump, bruise, or scrape in a human helper:

1.  Instant cold pack

2.  Advil/Tylenol/Aspirin

3.  Band-Aids

Whew!  I think that's all I can think of, but there are always more items.  The bottom line is making sure you have the tools to deal with an emergency before the vet gets there - but knowing how to use these tools is the biggest part of it.  Why purchase a stethescope if it just collects dust in your barn? 

Until next time, keep those horses safe!  And if you'd like more information on Equine Emergencies, I'm doing another client education seminar on November 18th - I'd love to see you there!