A first-aid kit has to be built around the reality of our abilities, our resources, and our financial commitment. Really, how many people are going to be able to stabilize a fracture in an equid successfully (especially without sedation)? How many of us would attempt a tracheotomy on an awake horse?
Why do so many first-aid kits have things in them that we never use or don't know how to use? Why do untrained people attempt first aid on things that are usually terminal injuries (like fractured legs)?
I am proposing a first-aid kit that is built around reality and the most common types of injuries that are most easily solved by horsemen and women in emergency situations.
Rule 1: Admit there is a problem--our horses can get injured.
Each of us knows that it isn't a matter of if our horses will eventually get a boo-boo (or worse), but when it will happen. Horses just seem to be too clever for their own good sometimes. Even inside a stall they figure out ways to injure themselves on bucket hooks, hay racks, and sometimes we can't even figure out how they managed to hurt themselves. When we expand their territory to buddies at pasture, or trails or roadsides, that increases the options for them to injure themselves from T-posts to holes they step in to tree branches that sweep their eyes.
Rule 2: Have a plan.
A good plan includes a first-aid kit to be prepared to stabilize an injury while waiting for the veterinarian to arrive, or while hauling to meet the vet. (Having availability of a trailer is a good backup plan.) There are so many articles about first-aid kits in the equestrian media - and many of them have excellent ideas and suggestions. If you can afford them, there are even pre-made kits that you can purchase. Whatever you pull together - I suggest that you have one permanently in your horse trailer, and another in your barn.
Rule 3: Get some training in how to deal with injuries when they happen.
For some of us, that would mean getting training from a veterinarian or vet tech. See Dr. Roberta Dwyer's video First-Aid Kits for Horses. For the rest of us, take a first-aid course for humans. After all, you might have to use these materials on a person someday. And a horse is just a much larger and more panicky patient, their 10-organ systems work just like a human, so understanding human first-aid basics will help you understand what to do with a horse.
Occasionally there are first-aid courses offered for horses by local veterinarians or humane organizations - if you can get to one of those that would be fantastic.
Rule 4: Call a veterinarian immediately when you find an injury. A veterinarian is the best qualified person to assist you even over the phone with providing first aid to the animal.
Rule 5: If the stuff in the kit is more than two years old you need to update the kit especially ointments and solutions and pharmaceuticals.
Rule 6: Make sure the kit is well marked.
Everyone should understand it's for emergencies only. Otherwise when you need it, the supplies will be depleted.
Rule 7: Most injuries require three things, clean it, treat it, and follow up daily or more often.
No matter how innocuous the injury might seem, I always get a picture of it and consult my veterinarian as to whether she needs to see the horse immediately.
Rule 8: There is no such thing as CPR for an adult horse in the field, and even for a foal it requires special equipment and training. If a horse dying, get out of the way or perform field euthanasia immediately. A dying animal can hurt you with frantic flailing. Call a veterinarian and have a necropsy done so that you know why it died.
First-Aid Kit Supplies
This list suggests a few simple options to deal with some of the most common injuries. You can add to it as you see fit, and as you can afford it. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, and it includes many suggestions from veterinarians all over the world. You can keep everything in a bucket or bag that is wrapped in plastic to keep it clean and secure.
- Thermometer (digital);
- Scissors (blunt tip);
- Duct Tape;
- Pliers, Knife (sharp!);
- Ziplock Baggies;
- Pen and notepad for TPR and observations;
- Hemostat and tweezers;
- Flashlight with batteries
- Sterile and nitrile or latex gloves;
- Horse fly mask;
- Wound tape; and
- 60 cc and 12 cc syringes.
Basic soultions, ointments, and creams:
- Wound and equipment antiseptics (Nolvasan, Betadine scrub);
- Epsom salts;
- Super Glue;
- Zinc oxide cream;
- Silver sulfadine burn creme;
- Water-based lubricant;
- Petroleum Jelly;
- Electrolyte paste;
- Wound Ointment and spray;
- Eye saline solution;
- Hand Sanitizer; and
- Antibiotic Ointment.
Pharmaceuticals (as prescribed by your veterinarian, might include):
- Banamine for IV or oral administration; and
- Phenylbutazone in oral form.
- Baby disposable or gauze diapers;
- Baby wipes;
- Adhesive wrapping materials;
- Self-sticking adhesive wrap;
- Clean stable wraps, quilted bandages, or rolled cotton;
- Polo wraps;
- Women's tampons (super);
- Women's hose;
- Sterile Gauze;
- Non-stick telfa bandages; and
- Ice-pack leg wraps.
Do you have suggestions for additions that you use in your kit? Do you have a story to tell of an injury that you were able to easily handle because you were prepared? This is the place to share your knowledge and experiences.