No matter how watchful you are or how well the barn is managed, the unexpected sometimes happens. If an emergency does arise, you'll be in much better shape to help your horse if you've got a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand.
"Keep the items in an accessible place, such as next to your horse's tack, and store them in sturdy covered containers," suggests Rhonda Rathgeber, an equine veterinarian in Lexington, Ky. "Be sure you can get to it easily during an emergency. The last thing you need when you're in a panic situation is not to be able to find your first-aid kit."
You can buy a pre-assembled first-aid kit at a tack shop, but if you do, you'll probably want to add a few extra items of your own, just to make sure you're covered for emergencies. You also can assemble your own first-aid kit. Many of the items you will need can be found at grocery stores, drugstores and feed stores.
Put all your supplies in a covered plastic storage container, plastic file box with a handle, or in a medium-sized toolbox. Make your first-aid kit portable so that you can carry it easily in case you need to evacuate your barn during an emergency or for when you're on the road traveling to horse shows or other events.
Key Items for Your First-Aid Kit
Antibacterial soap. Many veterinarians recommend Betadine, Chlorhexidine scrub or Hibiclens to clean minor wounds. The soap should not be left in the wound, so have some saline around to flush the wound before wrapping.
Antibiotic ointment. After a wound is cleaned and dried with a sterile sponge or gauze, you should apply an antibiotic ointment (e.g. triple antibiotic, neosporin or bacitracin) to decrease the chance of infection.
Sterile gauze sponges and pads. Have a variety of sizes on hand for covering the minor cuts or wound.
Two to four disposable diapers or wrapped sanitary napkins. These items are effective as absorbent pressure pads when trying to stop bleeding.
Bandages. Include an Ace bandage, a 2½ – inch gauze bandage roll, as well as several equine leg bandages, which are available in most tack stores.
Adhesive tape, 1-inch and 2-inch rolls. These will keep pads and bandages in place.
Two to four quilted or padded wraps. The wraps should be placed under bandages for added absorption.
Household scissors and/or knife. These can be used for cutting clothes, straps or ropes that your horse may be tangled in during an emergency.
Tweezers. These can be used to remove splinters, thistles or other fragments that might be lodged in your horse's skin. Do not pick at wounds aggressively as this can deepen foreign bodies and elicit a dangerous reaction from the horse. The vet will remove foreign material, usually with the horse under sedation.
Ice bags or a chemical ice pack. These can be used to prevent or reduce swelling from blunt trauma (e.g. a knee that hit the fence), reduce bleeding or swelling at the edge of a fresh wound. Other applications of ice include shrinking hives, treating head injuries contracted while loading or swollen injection sites. In the case of heat prostration, one can actually douse the horse with ice water from a large bucket.
Rubbing alcohol. Use this to disinfect your thermometer after and before you use it.
Veterinary or human rectal thermometer. Keep this to take your horse's temperature and know whether or not he has a fever before you call your veterinarian. This bit of information will help steer your vet in the right direction before he or she visits your horse. Digital thermometers are less likely to create worry about glass breakage and are very accurate. They come with a nice plastic container.
Lubricant. Include a tube of K-Y Jelly or another water-based lubricating product to help grease the thermometer before insertion into the rectum.
Stethoscope. This will help you monitor your horse's heart and lungs before the vet arrives. You must have proper training on this device if it is to be useful. The heart rate can be taken on the facial artery located across the angle of the jaw. It helps to have a watch with a second hand.
No one wants to face an emergency. But when it comes to the well-being of your horse, it's always best to take precautions in advance – and be prepared for the unexpected.