The first most important rule in first aid is BE PREPARED!! Any emergency involving your own or someone else's horse will be a stressful time so it is important you know exactly where to find things quickly.
It is very useful to have a first aid box that is fully stocked and checked regularly to make sure it is full and all relevant items are in date.
A basic equine first aid kit should include:
- Rectal thermometer.
- Cotton wool/Gamgee tissue.
- Gauze pads (assorted sizes).
- Bandages (crepe/elastic/elastoplast).
- Sharp scissors.
- Antiseptic cream and/or ointment.
- Clean bucket.
It is also useful to keep a list of telephone numbers including:
- Your vet
- Yard owner
- A transport option – especially available in the middle of the night!
- Friend that will help in an emergency
In the first instance, you should try and prevent further injury to your horse by catching it and calming it but without endangering yourself.
Emergencies requiring first aid include colic, rhabdomyolisis, also known as ‘tying up’, severe episode of laminitis, asthma attack or ‘heaves’ and wounds. These are each covered in depth in their individual information sheets. The majority of first aid, however, will apply to bleeding cuts and applying bandages so that is the focus here.
Remember a small amount of blood will go a long way and most cuts, even severe ones to the lower limbs, will not result in your horse losing enough blood to be life threatening.
In the first instance, the area should be continually hosed with cold water. This will thoroughly clean the wound and also help to stem the bleeding. Get a friend to do this whilst you prepare a suitable covering for the wound.
Make sure you stand to the side of the horse facing its hindquarters to apply any bandage. The horse will almost certainly be painful and may resent you trying to touch the area so your own safety is very important.
Never apply cotton wool directly onto an open wound. The fibres will stick and cause problems later during wound healing.
Apply a melolin dressing or similar. If the wound is very large then use gauze or gamgee. Don't be afraid to apply the bandage tightly. It will only be on a short time until the vet arrives and it is designed to protect the wound from further damage and help stop bleeding.
How do I apply a bandage?
Make sure the legs and bandages are clean and dry. If there is a wound, make sure it has been cleaned, rinsed and dressed according to your vet's recommendations.
Always stand to the side of the leg, facing the hindquarters, when applying or removing bandages or boots.
Apply an inch or more of soft, clean padding so it lies flat and wrinkle-free against the skin - this will protect the leg beneath the bandage.
Start the bandage at the inside of the cannon bone, above the fetlock joint. Do not begin or end bandaging over a joint as movement may loosen the bandage and cause it to come undone.
The bandage should be applied in a spiral pattern, working down the leg, from front to back (counter clockwise on left legs, clockwise on right legs), and up again, overlapping each layer by approximately 50%.
Half an inch of the padding should remain visible at the top and bottom. If there is a potential problem with bedding or debris getting into the bandage, seal the openings with a loose wrap of flexible adhesive bandage.
Use smooth, even pressure on the bandage to compress the padding. Make sure no lumps or bumps form beneath the bandage.
Be careful not to bandage the legs too tightly, creating pressure points and eventual damage.
Avoid applying bandages too loosely as they will not provide the support needed and may become a source of danger/injury, especially when travelling.
Leg padding and bandages should extend to below the coronet band of the hoof for protection, especially when travelling.