Horses are notorious for throwing us curve balls. Having a well-stocked first aid kit on hand can make all the difference in an emergency.
When it comes to horses, we can learn something from the US Coast Guard’s motto –”Semper Paratus — Always Ready”. Keep your first aid kit stocked with these basic supplies and prepare for accidents before they happen.
You do not need to have a special large animal thermometer – a digital thermometer like the one you have at home is fine. Just make sure everyone knows it’s for horse use only. Ideally, keep two on hand, in case one doesn’t work or loses battery. Any time a horse is not acting like himself, take his temperature. One of the most common reasons a horse will go off his feed is a fever.
Again, you do not need an expensive specialized version of this tool. A farm catalog stethoscope will give you an accurate heart and respiratory rate, and let you listen for gut sounds.
3. Wound cleansing solution
Saline is a good option that’s easily accessible. Plain saline solutions made for contact lenses are easy to buy and store; just be sure to avoid products with additional chemicals. It’s available in handy squirt bottles that are perfect for rinsing the eyes and small wounds. Keep a few on hand and be sure to check their expiration date.
4. Chlorhexidine scrub
This is the safest scrub for wounds in horses. Keep gauze squares and a small plastic bowl nearby for adding the scrub to the gauze. Remember to rinse the wound thoroughly after use.
5. Clean wound dressings
These can be sterile gauze squares, women’s sanitary pads, or sterile non-stick pads. The important thing is that they are clean and big enough to cover larger wounds.
6. Enough bandaging material for all four legs
You can use quilts and track wraps, disposable cottons with a self-adhesive bandage, or a combination of these materials. You need enough to make thick tight bandages that may need to go above the knee and hock. These bandages should be clean and dedicated to first aid use only.
7. Antibiotic ointment
Ointment should only be used on a wound after a thorough assessment. If you are unsure, ask your veterinarian first. Based on the most current research, a triple antibiotic ointment is the best choice1. Do not use anything caustic, drying or sealing without discussing it with your veterinarian. Many of these products inhibit healing and are not suitable for initial wound care.
8. Duct tape
There are endless uses for this item. Duct tape comes in handy whether you’re at the farm or on the road.
A small LED flashlight is great for assessing wounds, looking into the eyes, testing pupil reaction, and much more. Check the batteries at least twice a year.
Large, thick bath towels can dry off a chilled horse. They can also be used as extra bandage padding or to apply pressure to a wound that can’t be bandaged.
11. Triple antibiotic eye ointment
This item must be obtained from your veterinarian. It is often used to treat eye injuries and is safe to use on skin wounds around the eye, but always consult with your vet first.
12. Pen and paper
These items are simple but important. You may need to jot down phone numbers, your horse’s vital signs, and other pieces of crucial information to relay to your vet once he or she arrives.
13. Information card
This card should include names and contact information for your vet, an emergency shipper and emergency contacts, as well as the normal vital signs for the horse. Laminate or cover in clear packing tape to protect it, and be sure to keep the information up to date.
14. Big plastic tub
This tub will keep all your supplies together, clean, organized and accessible. It should be clearly labeled and located where everyone in your barn can find it, ideally in a space that is temperature controlled. Do not be tempted to pilfer from your box unless absolutely necessary, or you will regret it in a true emergency.
Go through your kit at least twice a year, and add to it depending on your horse’s needs. Make sure your ointments and solutions are up to date, your phone numbers are current, and your bandages are stocked, clean and ready to go. Any time you use something, replace it immediately so you’re never in a jam when emergency strikes. We can’t predict everything our horses will do, but by being prepared, we can help protect them. Semper Paratus!
1Hendrickson, Dean A. “What You Should And Should Not Put In Or On A Wound”. Proceedings of the 61st Annual Convention Of The American Association of Equine Practitioners, December 5-9, 2015.