A good equine first aid kit is an absolute must-have item for you and your four-legged friend. Anyone who has spent much time in the company of horses will know that, despite their size and power, they are sensitive creatures when it comes to their health. They seem prone to catching themselves on this or that – or each other! And can occasionally be involved in more major incidents.
For all but the most minor of injuries, you’re going to need to seek professional advice over the phone at least, but treating those minor injuries quickly and effectively will reduce pain and discomfort for your horse, and may even prevent the need for further veterinary intervention. For more serious injuries, a well-stocked, well-labeled, and accessible first aid kit (along with the knowledge of how to use it) will enable you to minimize damage, control the situation, and provide vital information to your vet, while you wait for them to arrive. So, to cover all eventualities; here’s what a horse first aid kit should contain.
|Common Activity||Contents Required|
|Storage||Bag, Boxes, Labels, Essential Info (Vet, Transport provider, ‘Normal’ stats), Contents list|
|Cleaning a Wound||Saline or wound-wash, Hemostats or Tweezers, Hose nozzle, Triple Anti-biotic cream|
|Dressing a Wound or Injury||Gauze, Padding (cotton wool, leg wrap, blanket, towel), Vet Wrap, Tape, Gaffa Tape|
|Taking Vitals||Thermometer, Stethoscope|
|General Use||Latex gloves, Headtorch, Halter|
|Trail Riding / Traveling||Separate mini kit including saline, gauze, padding, vet wrap, and halter|
You can find all these items on our Amazon Equine First Aid Shopping List.
Your equine first aid kit needs to be stored in a clearly marked bag or box, in an accessible location. You can find a good option for a bag, along with other recommended items, on our Amazon first aid kit shopping list. Remember that what is accessible from your yard may not be accessible from your paddock and so you may want to consider having multiple kits, depending on the size of the area and number of horses you work with.
You need to keep any essential information either inside, or close to, your first aid kit. Vital telephone numbers such as your vet and a transport provider will mean you don’t waste any time looking for them when it matters most. It also means that someone else will be able to take action without having to reach you to get this information first. You may also want to keep a record of what is normal for your horse in terms of their vital stats and any ailments or previous injuries. This could save essential minutes if you are absent in the event of an emergency.
For your peace of mind, and especially if you are sharing first aid supplies with multiple horses and/or owners, it’s a good idea to keep a contents list with each kit. This way, you can check stock periodically and order more as items are used, to avoid being caught without.
Cleaning a Wound
The priority with wounds is to stop the bleeding if there is any. If your horse is bleeding significantly or the bleeding won’t stop then you would not attempt to clean the wound, but instead, move straight to the dressing stage and wait for your vet to arrive.
Assuming that the bleeding has stopped or is under control, you’ll need to clean the area as thoroughly as you can, to remove debris and bacteria. The most effective way to do this is with plain water or saline, using a gentle hose or shower. You can carefully use tweezers or hemostats to remove larger debris if needed, but don’t ever remove the cause of a puncture wound if it is still embedded – such as a nail. If you are not sure whether the debris is embedded or not, assume it is and leave it until your vet can advise you further.
Don’t be tempted to apply ointments, lotions, or creams before being advised to do so. Modern research suggests that this can cause more harm than good, so just wash and dress. You may want to keep some triple anti-biotic cream in stock but always ask the vet before using it.
Here is a great video giving veterinary advice on how to wash a wound:
Dressing a Wound or Injury
Once the bleeding has stopped and the wound has been cleaned, or if the wound is heavily bleeding and can’t be cleaned, you’ll need to dress it.
For this, you will need a non-adherent pad and gauze to place on the wound itself. The non-adherent pad will protect the wound from further contamination, while the gauze on top will help to discourage further bleeding by adding pressure to the wound. If there is continuous, significant bleeding, you may need to fold up several pieces of gauze to reach the desired amount of pressure.
You will also need padding to wrap around or place onto the wound, vet wrap (which is a type of bandage that sticks to itself) to hold everything in place, and possibly duct tape to make everything waterproof, depending on where the dressing is to be applied or whether you have access to a dry stable (eg, if it is on the base of the hoof, or you can’t get to a stable, you’ll want to make it waterproof).
In this video, Dr. Christy Corp-Minamiji shows how to effectively dress a leg wound on a horse:
For wounds that can’t be wrapped (eg. on a flank or a shoulder), you will need some clippers to gently clip the hair around the wound (not the wound itself) so that you can use tape to keep the dressing in place.
Your horse’s vital signs include respiration and hydration, among others – which you can observe yourself, by listening to him breathe and pinching his skin to check how quickly it springs back into place. Heart rate is another vital sign, and you might well be able to measure this by just using your finger on his pulse point and timing it. A lot of people find this more difficult than it sounds though, as there can be interference or confusion from your pulse, so to make things easier, you may want to invest in a stethoscope.
Certainly, when it comes to taking your horse’s temperature, you are going to need a thermometer that is suitable for equine use, along with wipes to ensure everything is kept sterile while you are working, and ready for the next use once you are finished. Both of these can be found on our first aid kit shopping list.
It’s good practice to keep a record of what is normal for your horse so that you and your vet can easily spot when something is wrong. They may also ask you for vital sign information to determine the severity of a situation and whether they need to make an emergency visit. Regularly measuring your horse’s vital signs will give you the confidence to conduct the necessary tests quickly and efficiently when you need to. Additionally, practicing regularly under everyday conditions will get your horse used to the process of having his heart listened to, or his temperature taken, which will make things much less distressing for him when he is not feeling well or is hurt.
Here, Lydia Gray gives a simple to follow tutorial on equine vital signs:
There are a few incidental items that you’re going to want to keep on hand in your first aid kit. These include, but are not limited to:
Latex gloves – these will keep you and your horse safe from contamination.
Head torch – an absolute godsend in lots of circumstances, because it allows you to see what you are doing whilst also having both hands free to work with your horse. So, if your horse is sick or injured in the dark, or if the light fails in your stable, or even if you just need to check an injury in an awkward place where light is scarce, like under his chest. Make sure you also carry spare batteries too!
Lightweight halter and lead rope – in case your horse has broken theirs, they don’t wear one or you can’t get to it. This will enable you to keep your horse steady while you attend to them
Trail Riding or Traveling
If you are going out riding or traveling with your horse – even for a short time – you need to take some basic first aid items for both of you. You’ll need to carry drinking water for yourself anyway, so this could double as wound wash so long as it is plain water. To be certain you won’t be caught without, you could also carry a small bottle of saline. Additionally, you will need the basic items to be able to protect and dress a wound, should the worst happen. Gauze, padding, tape, and vet wrap. We also recommend that you carry your lightweight halter with you in case your horse loses his bridle and you need to get him to safety.
As accident-prone as horses are, it’s possible that, with luck, you could go months if not years without any kind of first aid requirement for your horse. It becomes even more important then, to make your checks and your practice part of your routine. You could even write down what you will do and in what order, in the event of an accident or injury. Think about where you want to place your first aid kits and what you want to keep in each of them, according to their most likely use.
You’ll find everything you might need here on our Equine First Aid Kit Shopping List (Amazon).
Remember that first aid is exactly as it says. You don’t need to be veterinary trained, but you do need to be able to take the first essential steps on the scene, making your horse as comfortable as possible, until any required professional help arrives.