Courtesy of South Dakota State University
Despite our best efforts to create a safe and healthy environment for our horses, accidents can happen. As a responsible horse owner or caretaker you should have a first aid kit prepared and stored at the barn and in the horse trailer for such events. First aid kits come in handy for addressing minor injuries, or for supporting a horse during an emergency until the veterinarian arrives.
You will need to gather several items to prepare your first aid kit. While this yields costs up front, most of the items are non-perishable and will only need to be restocked as they are used.
Choosing a Container: First aid kits can be made out of any type of container that will keep the items free from moisture and dust. It is helpful if the container allows you to keep items organized. Plastic totes, toolboxes, and even plastic kitty-litter containers can serve the purpose. Make sure the container is clean and well-labeled with “First Aid” so it can be easily found during an emergency.
Emergency Contact Information: Emergency contact information should be prominently posted in your barn or near the arena. It is also helpful to have this information duplicated in your first aid kit. Information should include:
- The name and number of your veterinarian.
- Who to contact in case of emergency.
- The name and number of your farrier.
- Dial 911 for emergencies involving people, fires, etc.
Items to Protect You and Your Horse: When it comes to handling wounds, dirty hands are never a plus because they can introduce debris or pathogens into the compromised tissue. It’s always a good idea to limit exposure to bodily fluids from people and animals. Therefore hand sanitizer and latex or nitrile gloves are staples in a first aid kit.
Items for Cleaning and Dressing Wounds: If a horse is bleeding, apply pressure to stop the blood flow. Once the bleeding has stopped, it is time to clean the wound. Here are several items that come in handy when cleaning and dressing wounds:
- Square gauze pads.
- Syringes of various sizes (20, 30, 60 mL).
- Sterile saline or distilled water.
- Hydro-gels (Don’t put gel or ointment on a wound that the veterinarian may have to stich. It is difficult to clean out of the wound, and it could be uncomfortable for the horse).
Materials for Bandaging: Bandaging can be a great way to keep a wound clean, or to add support to a leg. Poor wrapping skills can cut off circulation, or cause extreme discomfort. Anyone who is wrapping a horse’s limb should be properly trained and well experienced. Bandaging materials should include:
- Rolled cotton.
- Standing wraps.
- Non-stick medical pads.
- Roll of stretch gauze.
- Adhesive elastic.
- Vet wrap.
- Medical tape.
- 2-inch adhesive tape.
- Blunt-ended scissors.
- Square gauze pads.
- KY-based fly repellant.
Items for Giving Medication: Always consult a veterinarian before using antibiotics or analgesics that you have on hand. Your veterinarian should also be consulted regarding dosage and duration for use of medications. Also be aware of expiration dates. You may consider having the following items on hand, noting that medications should be kept in a secure location:
- Syringes (12, 20, 30 mL).
- 16 and 18-gauge needles.
- Bute paste or tablets.
- Antibiotic eye ointment.
Additional Helpful Materials: Your veterinarian may ask you to take the vital signs of your horse in which case a stethoscope and thermometer can be useful. The following items may also be helpful, depending on the type of emergency:
- Thermometer and tube of lubrication.
- Stethoscope for listening to gut and lung sounds.
- Flashlight with spare batteries.
- A sharp pocket knife.
- Directions to the nearest emergency vet clinic.
Prevention is the plan, but when emergencies arise your first aid kit will come in handy. Don’t forget to re-stock items in your first aid kit after every use. Consult your local equine veterinarian or your SDSU Extension equine specialist for assistance with developing an emergency-preparedness plan for your facility.