When working with horses, accidents and emergencies will inevitably happen. It is essential to know what to do during those times to remain calm and provide the best first aid to your equine partner. You need to be prepared and it is best to have a friend or someone you can call to help you remain calm or assist with emergencies. If you remain calm, your horse will be calmer. In this article we will highlight knowing the normal for your horse, some common equine emergencies and some items to
have in your first aid kit.

Knowing what is normal for your horse gives you a base line for when you should be concerned. Your horses temperature can be slightly high right after you have worked them. If your horse rolls after every ride, you won’t think its colic when he rolls at the show after his class. EDUD (eating, drinking, urinating and defecating) is also an indication of normal. Know how your horse normally eats, when he drinks, and how often is he defecating and urinating. Also be aware of when your horse prefers to lay down. If the horse doesn’t normally lay down in the stall at shows, you might be concerned. Just being extra observant with your horse will pay off.

Temperature:98.5 – 101.5 F
Pulse:20 – 40 beats/minute
Respiration:8 – 16 breaths/minute
Gut Sounds:Every 30 seconds, left and right side
Capillary Refill:1 – 2 seconds, pink and moist

When dealing with emergencies, the first thing is to call your veterinarian. Some common equine emergencies are colic, lameness, wounds and lacerations, eye issues and respiratory emergencies. Colic is nothing more than abdominal pain which can be caused by many different problems. All potential causes have various methods to diagnose and treat. Be sure to remove all hay, feed, and water until the vet arrives. Walk the horse if it is safe to do so.

Severe lameness that is noticeable at the walk or causes the horse to be unwilling to move constitutes a medical emergency. Important descriptors: lame at the walk vs. trot, a little off vs. non-weight bearing, swelling or heat in the limbs, presence of digital pulses. Pick out and clean the hoof and try to get the horse to a barn/ stall before the vet arrives. Do not remove and foreign body in the foot unless otherwise directed by a vet. Also do not give any medications because they could hide symptoms needed for diagnosis.

While lacerations happen frequently with horses, the required diagnostics, treatments, and prognosis for healing depend upon location and structures involved. Try to describe where on the body, proximity to joint(s), how old is the injury (don’t be embarrassed if the wound is not fresh – vets just need information and the more accurate the information is, the better job we can do. It’s also okay to not know!)

The equine eye is very reactive to injury and infection. Because it is so reactive, eye problems can severely worsen in a short period of time. Try to describe swelling, discharge, the cornea or surface of the eyeball (color, clarity, spots). Find a fly mask because it is often needed during treatment.

Horses are natural born athletes with huge lungs and reserve air capacity. When horses have difficulty breathing, it is a medical emergency. Try to describe respiratory rate/effort, respiratory noise. Keep the horse cool by cold hosing or standing in the shade. Also increase ventilation by having a fan to improve air flow. Do not turn the horse out with others or ask them to move excessively or be out in the sun.

Whenever dealing with an emergency, it is best to have some prior knowledge of how to describe your issue to the vet. Be familiar with terms and symptoms of each of the common emergencies to help your vet direct you for that essential first aid.

Always make sure you know how to use all items in the first aid kit. If you don’t know how to give medicine in the vein or in the muscle, you probably shouldn’t have needles and syringes in your kit. Always have your veterinarian’s number written down because cellphones often go dead at the worst time. You can include human items in the first aid kit, like band-aids, bug spray etc. One thing to make sure you have is a head lamp. This will allow you to be hands-free but have light in case of a night time emergency. Before making your own kit, consult with your local vet to see what they suggest.

Prevention is the key for managing emergencies. Keep your horse updated on farrier services, dental maintenance, parasite control and vaccines. Forming that relationship with your vet will allow them to be more familiar with your animal and you. Be sure to regularly inspect stalls, fencing and pastures. Be sure feeds are properly secured and protected from spoilage and insects. Always check your truck and trailer and have an alternate form of transportation just in case. Murphy’s Law says the less prepared you are the more likely you are to have an emergency.

Ashley Best, Newton County Extension Coordinator & Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent