WHAT TO HAVE
A first aid kit is a necessity for every barn. A smaller version should also be taken when trail riding or going to shows. Anytime something is removed from the kit, it should be replaced as soon as possible. Check the kit periodically to be sure the inventory is complete.
Have your veterinarian show you how to take the temperature, pulse rate, and respiratory rate of a horse and how to check the membrane color and refill time. Check these resting values several times and write down these normal values for your horse. Your veterinarian can also show you the proper application of each of the supplies in your kit.
Normal Adult Values
Temperature = 99-101°F
Heart Rate (Pulse) = 20-40 beats per minute
Respiratory Rate = 12-20 breaths per minute
Mucous Membranes = pink with refill <2 seconds
WHAT TO DO
In any emergency, call a veterinarian immediately. Never give any medications unless instructed by your veterinarian! Stay back until the horse has stopped thrashing and you have experienced help. If you have help, one person should call while the others keep the horse calm and out of further danger. If the horse is able to move and is in immediate danger in the current location, move the horse to an open area.
If you have ever had a first aid course, you are familiar with ABC’s (Airway, Breathing, Circulation.) These principles also apply to horses.
If the horse is in respiratory distress with labored or no respiration, check the nostrils to make sure they are clear of mucous, debris, or other foreign bodies. Examine the mouth to look for obstructions in the back of the mouth such as the tongue. Watch out for your fingers.
Any horse that is not bearing weight on a limb should be seen immediately. Most non-weight bearing lameness’ are due to foot abscesses, but fractures must be ruled out.
These are the most common emergencies of horses. If the horse has impaled itself on a nail, post, or other object, do not remove the object until the veterinarian arrives. If necessary, the ends may be cut to facilitate moving the horse out of danger. If a foreign object is removed, save the object and mark the exact location of entry. Apply pressure to the wound with a clean towel to stop bleeding. Apply a tourniquet only in cases of severe, uncontrollable bleeding. After the initial bleeding has stopped and if the horse is not in shock and will tolerate it, cold water can be run over the area to cleanse the wound and reduce swelling. Do not use any soaps, detergents, ointments, or powders on the wound unless instructed by the veterinarian! These can cause tissue damage and slow wound healing.
Superficial scratches can be treated by cleaning around the wound with a dilute solution of Betadine or Nolvasan, rinsing thoroughly. Contact your veterinarian if the wound penetrates any deeper than the skin, if there is excessive bleeding, if the wound is near a joint, if the wound is a puncture, or if there is severe contamination. Check the vaccination status of any horse with a wound or laceration. If the horse has not received a tetanus vaccination within the past six months, the horse must receive a booster.
In the case of a known or suspected fracture, do not move the horse until a veterinarian arrives. If there is a wound associated with it, follow the procedure outlined above for wounds, being extra gentle to prevent pain, displacement of the fracture, or further damage.
HEAD/SPINAL CORD INJURIES
Head and spinal cord injuries most commonly result from falls, collisions, and kicks. There is often little visible damage, but there may be significant internal damage. DO NOT MOVE THE HORSE! The horse may be delirious or ataxic (wobbly) and could be dangerous. Try to keep the horse calm. One of the most common causes of head injuries is horses flipping over while loading. If a horse pulls back while loading, do not pull back or it will be more likely to rear. Be careful when cross-tying a horse, as well. If a horse fights in the cross-ties or if you are about to perform a procedure which the horse may object to, have someone hold the horse.
Accidents may result in any or all of the above trauma—shock, lacerations, fractures, and neurologic injuries. Follow the above procedures as appropriate. Be especially careful when removing a horse from a trailer accident. They will likely struggle and attempt to scramble out of the trailer. A lunge line or long lead rope should be attached to the halter and to the tail so that you can stay out of the way, but retain control of the horse. Be careful to keep the ropes out of the way of the legs to avoid further problems. Have your veterinarian show you how to apply a tail tie.
If the horse is thrashing, is extremely painful, or has cold extremities or dark pink mucous membranes, call the veterinarian immediately. Stay back until the horse has stopped thrashing and experienced help has arrived. Move the horse to an open area, if possible. If the horse has very pale or dark pink mucous membranes and cold extremities or rectal temperature <98°, place leg wraps and blankets on the horse to maintain body temperature and do not move the horse. If the horse is in mild to moderate pain, try to keep the horse up and walking until the veterinarian arrives. Small amounts of cool (not cold) water may be offered, but do not offer any food.
Do not administer any pain medications unless instructed by the veterinarian. Pain relievers may mask signs which would indicate the need to refer the horse to a hospital. Time is critical in surgical cases. Be prepared to answer questions about the horse’s history of colic, the normal diet and any changes, water intake, fecal output and consistency, recent deworming, or other medications. If you pick out the stall, save the feces for the veterinarian to examine.
In cases of known ingestion or contact with toxins, find the source and remove it. If external, flush the area with large volumes of cool water. Wear gloves to avoid exposure to the toxin yourself. If internal or inhaled, move the horse into fresh air and keep the horse quiet until a veterinarian arrives. Allow the horse to drink water.
In any eye trauma, call the veterinarian immediately. Place the horse in a dark stall. Make sure to check the stall for any protrusions that the horse may further damage the eye on. If the horse was in the stall when the injury occurred, place him in a different stall. Horses with lacerations often injure the other eye on the same object! If the horse is attempting to rub the eye, it may be necessary to cross tie him or stay with him to prevent further damage. Do not remove any foreign objects from the eye. An approved eye irrigation may be flushed into the eye to remove chemicals, dirt, or debris. Do not use eye drops or ointments.
If in an emergency, you may be instructed by a veterinarian to give oral medications or an intramuscular (IM) injection. Your veterinarian can show you how to do this. Intramuscular injections usually work within 15-20 minutes while oral medications may take up to an hour. IM injections are given in the neck or rump. Insert the needle straight into the muscle and pull back to check for blood. If you see blood, pull back and redirect and aspirate again.
If you would like to have this handy in your barn or your emergency bag, below is a printable version.
First Aid Kit
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