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Equine First Aid Kit

By: Galadriel Billington

10:28PM Apr 10, 2004

Horses are walking self-destruct machines. I am certain that it is every horse's goal to injure himself in the most difficult to treat, most expensive way possible. Thus, it's a good idea to have a fairly extensive first aid kit on hand--if something goes wrong, you simply don't have time to run out and grab first aid supplies.

You should also have a good idea of how to *use* your first aid supplies. There are quite a few good horse health care books out there.
I have benefited from these books: I particularly recommend these books,
both by Karen E. N. Hayes, DVM:
How to be your Own Veterinarian
How to be your Own Veterinarian

by Ruth James, DVM
Emergency!: The Active Horseman's
Book of Emergency Care
Horse Health Care
Horse Health Care:
A Step-By-Step Photographic Guide

by Cherry Hill
Hands on Horse Care
Hands on Horse Care from Horse and Rider:
The Complete Book of Equine First-Aid

I found "Emergency!" terrific especially; it's the best book on emergency equine care that I've ever read. It has very clear, step-by-step instructions for how to deal with common emergencies. The clarity makes it perfect for a horse owner who's in the middle of a panic, and not thinking too clearly. (I've been there before...) I borrowed it from my library to read over, and ordered myself a copy before I was even halfway through. My copy will remain with my first aid supplies, and travel with me in the first aid kit when I trailer the horses to shows, etc.

Don't forget to keep your veterinarian's phone number accessible too. I have mine out at the barn with the first aid supplies, and also stuck to my fridge on a magnet. I don't have to go digging through a stack of numbers if I should need to call quickly.

Here is a list of what I have in my first aid kit, with descriptions; what it's used for and why I keep it.

Diagnostic Tools and Vital Signs:
  • Twitch: Sometimes you need to restrain a horse in order to do what's good for him. "No, I don't WANT you to scrub that wound clean, it HURTS!"
  • Thermometer: A horse's normal temperature is around 99 to 100.5F
  • Stethescope:
    • Heartbeat: A horse's normal pulse is 30-40 beats per minute.
    • Respiration rate: A horse's normal respiration rate is 8-15 breaths per minute. The respiration rate should never be greater than the heart rate.
    • Gut sounds: A horse's gut should have lots of gurgly noises at all times. If you listen in the area behind the ribcage and don't hear anything, be very worried.
  • The horse's mouth: Gums and Capillary Refill Time
    • The horse's gums should be a pale pink. It's good to know about what color they ought to be, so check it a few times when your horse is calm. It should be pink, but not as pink as a person's. If the gums are very much more white, red, yellow, blue, or purplish than normal, it's an indicator that something is wrong. Often a horse who is feeling unwell will have very pale gums.
    • When you press a thumb briefly against your horse's gums, it should go white and then get pink again quickly. This is the "capillary refill time" (the time it takes the blood-carrying capillaries to refill after you press on them). The capillary refill time should not be more than 1 or 2 seconds.
  • Pinch Test (Dehydration): If you gently "pinch" your horse's neck, pulling up a little "tent" of skin, it should flatten immediately. If the skin stays "tented," the horse is dehydrated.

    There are many reasons why a horse might stop drinking:
    • Water which is stale or dirty
    • Cold air temperature + cold water, or ice in the water
    • Horse is feeling unwell
    • Another horse is "guarding" the water
    • When travelling, the water tastes different from water at home
    When it's cold, I give my horses extra salt to encourage themto drink more. It's important to keep your water tubs clean, and empty/rinse them every few days/week. If you have a particularly bossy horse, you may need to provide several water tubs in turnout areas.

    If your horse has become dehydrated, it's important to try to get him to drink. Don't force water down his throat; with a horse, it's too easy to accidentally send it down the airway instead of the esophagus. Instead, try giving him fresh water, and give him a little salt or electrolytes (I use powdered Gatorade, because my horses think it's a treat). If the horse won't eat it, you can rub the salt on the gums above his upper teeth. If the dehydrated horse still doesn't drink, call the vet; the situation is serious.
It can be useful to check your horse's vital signs a few times when you and he are both calm. This will give you an idea of where his vital signs are normally, and also help you to work out how to read the vital signs. It can be difficult to figure out something new when you are worried. It's also helpful to note the horse's vitals when calling the vet: if you can give that information over the phone, the vet can offer you advice of what to do until he arrives, and also make sure that he brings the correct supplies.

Wound Care Supplies:
  • Saline Solution: Water with a little salt in it. This is ideal for flushing (cleaning by pouring liquid over) a wound.
  • Iodine, Peroxide, Rubbing alcohol: I have all three, but iodine alone is usually fine. Any of these can be used to clean and disinfect a wound. If a veterinarian is coming, do NOT use one of these products; leave the wound as is. If you really need to clean it a little, flush it with saline solution.
  • Corona ointment: You usually want to use some kind of wound ointment, like we use antibiotic ointment on our own wounds. In fact, you can use antibiotic ointment itself on horses. There are a multitude of wound products available.
  • Wonder Dust: Wonder Dust stops bleeding and helps prevent the formation of proud flesh on a wound.
  • Swat: fly repelling ointment which is safe for use on wounds. Often flies are attracted to blood, and Swat helps keep the wound clean and pest-free.
  • Liniment: I use liniment when a horse has over-exerted himself or just been worked hard. Liniment can be useful if, say, a horse slips in pasture and you are worried about stressed muscles.
  • Non-stick gauze pads (many sizes): If you're wrapping a wound, you want to put one of these on first so the bandage doesn't get bloody, and so the forming scab is not pulled off when you next undo the bandage.
  • Quilts/Cotton Batting: When you put a pressure wrap over a wound, you need to buffer it with a layer of cloth first.
  • Polo/Standing Wraps: These are used over the buffering material to wrap the wound tightly.
  • Vetrap: Vetrap can also be used for pressure wraps, or simply to hold gauze in place to keep a wound clean. Vetrap is self-stick and very handy.
  • Duct tape: Putting duct tape over a bandage can help it withstand a horse's exuberance in turnout, and make the bandage more waterproof.
  • Soaking boot: If your horse has a wound in his hoof or on the coronet band, a soaking boot can be used to soak the hoof in Epsom salts or iodine, or to hold medication in, or to keep the wound clean in turnout.
    If you do not want to buy a boot made specifically for this purpose, you can make a useable "boot" with a disposable diaper wrapped on with duct tape.
  • Epsom salts: Good for soaking hoof injuries, like abcesses.
Illness Related Supplies:
  • Large syringe: Used for administering liquid medicines.
  • Gatorade powder: For dissolving/administering by syringe in case of dehydration. (This is what I use. You may choose to use an electrolyte powder sold for horses, or even a tube of electrolyte paste.)
  • Mylanta: about 30 cc of Mylanta helps relieve mild diarrhea.

Injections and Injection Related Supplies:
  • Disposable needles, small syringes: for administering medications intramuscularly. I do not recommend that a layperson (non-vet) inject a horse intravenously.
  • Banamine: Muscle relaxant/anti-inflammatory; used commonly for colicking horses (always call your vet for advice first).
  • Bute: Pain reliever/anti-inflammatory; use as recommended by vet.
  • Penicillin: Antibiotic; use as recommended by vet.
  • Epinephrine: For anaphalactic shock; call your vet immediately if you think you need to use this.

first aid costs
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2004 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.