Basic First Aid for Horses

Emergency Care Information and First Aid Kit
(Important to keep the kit near the horse, like the tack room or feed barn in a sealed container. A 5-gallon bucket with top works well or large Tupperware type box but be sure to mark it Horse First Aid Kit. Commercial Kits are a great way to get what you need quickly but you will likely need to add some products for a truly complete horse first aid kit.

Remember Prevention is the key to stopping emergencies before they occur. Check your horse's stall and turn out area for wire, nails and sharp edges. Move horses that like to bite each other etc ., provide a safe and clean environment.

The following suggestions should be viewed as guidelines:

1. Catch and calm your horse to prevent further injury. Move the horse to a stall or other familiar surroundings if this is possible without -causing distress or further injury to the horse. Providing hay or grain can also be a good distraction.

2. Get help before attempting to treat or evaluate a wound. It can be difficult and very dangerous to try and inspect or clean a wound without someone to hold the horse. You cannot help your horse if you are seriously injured yourself

3. Evaluate the location, depth, and severity of the wound. Call your veterinarian for a recommendation anytime you feel your horse-is in need of emergency care. Here are some examples of situations where your Vet should be called:

A. There appears to be excessive bleeding
B. The entire skin thickness has been penetrated.
C. The wound occurs near or over a joint.
D. Any structures underlying the skin are visible.
E. A severe wound has occurred in the lower leg or below knee or hock level.
G. The wound is severely contaminated

4. Consult with your veterinarian regarding a recommendation before you attempt to clean the wound or remove debris or penetrating objects, as you may precipitate uncontrollable bleeding or do -further damage Io the wound. Large objects should be stabilized to avoid damaging movement if possible. Don't put anything on the wound except a compress or cold water.

5. Stop the bleeding (This may be the FIRST step, if the bleeding is profuse!) by covering the wound with a sterile, absorbent pad (not cotton), applying firm, steady, even pressure to the wound.

6. Do not medicate or tranquilize the horse unless specifically directed by your veterinarian, If the horse has suffered severe blood loss or shock, the administration of certain drugs can be life-threatening.

7. If the eye is injured or looks cloudy, do not attempt to treat- Await your veterinarian.

8. If a horse steps on a nail or other sharp object, and it remains embedded in the hoof, first clean the hoof Consult with your veterinarian regarding a recommendation before you remove the nail. If your veterinarian advises, carefully remove the nail to prevent the horse from stepping on it and driving it deeper into the hoof cavity. As you remove it, be sure to mark the exact point and depth of entry with tape and/or a marker so the veterinarian can access the extent of the damage. Apply antiseptic to the wound, and wrap to prevent additional contamination.

9. All horses being treated for lacerations or puncture wounds will require a tetanus booster.

Other Emergencies

There are far too many types of emergencies - from heat stroke to hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, bone fractures to snake bits, foaling difficulties, to colic - to adequately cover them all. However, regardless of the situation, it's important to remember these points:

1. Keep the horse as calm as possible. Your own-calm behavior will help achieve this.

2. Move the animal to a safe area where it is unlikely to be injured should it go down.

3. Get someone to help you, and delegate responsibilities, such as calling the Veterinarian, retrieving the first aid kit, holding the horse, etc.

4. Notify your Veterinarian immediately- Be prepared to-provide specific information about the horse's condition, as mentioned above, and other data that will help your practitioner assess the immediacy of the danger and instruct you in how to proceed.

5. Listen closely and follow your equine practitioner's instructions.

6. Do not administer drugs, especially tranquilizers or sedatives, unless specifically instructed to do so by the Veterinarian.

Equine First Aid Kit

Anyone who owns a horse should own a well-stocked First Aid Kit. Start by buying a plastic bucket that has a lid and place all of the first aid supplies in the tightly sealed container. The following are first-aid supplies that are essential to a well-stocked First Aid Kit. These supplies should be kept in all First Aid Kits...

You should check and measure heart rate and gut sound when horse is well to make a comparison when the horse is ill. Normal rate for adult horse is around 30 to 40 beats a minute and significantly higher for a nursing Mare and a Foal is around 60 to 80 beats a minute.

Iodine Solution Diluted
An Iodine Solution that is properly diluted is Betadine. Any fresh wounds should be flushed out with this solution.

Hydrogen Peroxide
Only use Hydrogen Peroxide to flush deep wounds or punctures only.

Neosporin and Nolvasan
These are topical antiseptic ointments that fight bacteria and promote healing. These should be used twice daily after a veterinarian has seen the wound.

Use to flush wounds after using anti bacterial washes and before wrapping.

Sterile Gauze Sponges
Use these when cleaning the wounded area with a Diluted Iodine Solution.

Sterile Gauze Roll and Self-Adhesive Tape
The Self-Adhesive Tape holds the Gauze to the wound. The tape is easily applied and removed. A few good brands are: Kling, Elastikon, Flexus and Vet-Rap.

Blunt-tipped Bandage Scissors
These come in handy for removing bandages.

Topical Eye Ointment
Non-steroidal Eye Ointment comes in handy when a horse injures his eye, and a veterinarian is not immediately available.

Rectal Thermometer
Use with a string attached to prevent loss into the rectum or dropping and breaking it.
An adult horse's normal temperature is between 99.0 and 101 degrees F. A foal is usually between 100 and 102. You should have some alcohol in your first aid kit to disinfect the Thermometer.

Inject able Sedative and Pain Killer Keep a small dose of each available. They come in handy in situations such as colic or for horses that are unwilling.

For use if dehydration is suspected.

Other Supplies That Should be Included:
Cold packs instant type for first aid Disposable diapers (2 or more for bleeding)
Knife is useful for many things including cutting rope and bandages etc.
Latex gloves
Lubricant like ky jelly to aid thermometer insertion.
Twitch for distraction if necessary.
Digital thermometer
Duct tape Use on hoof
Easy-Boot Use on hoof
Hoof Pick
Fly Lotion
Wire cutters

We recommend a smaller kit be part of your tack if you go on a trail ride.
Consider a Cell Phone. Be prepared with your Veterinarians Emergency number at the Barn and a back up Vet to call if your Veterinarian isn't reachable for any reason.
If you travel remember to have a first aid kit with you.
If you own, ride or handle horses, it is mandatory that you educate yourself of taking care of them. You will need to know at some point, how to tell if a horse is feeling well, or if a horse needs immediate veterinary attention. A horse's vital signs should be checked regularly, once a week is ideal. Check the horse's vital signs every time you suspect any change in his behavior. Learning to accurately observe and judge your horse's vital signs takes a lot of practice. Your horse is counting on you to find and treat every problem or illness in its early stages!

If ANY concern arises, never hesitate to call your veterinarian!


Normal body temperature is 99 - 101 F. A temperature higher than that, may indicate an infection . A healthy horse's temperature can vary by 3 degrees depending on environmental factors. Horses tend to have higher temperatures in warm weather and during/after exercise, stress or excitement. A high fever doesn't always indicate a severe condition, but it is a good idea to take your horse's temperature often and if you his temperature is over 102 F, you should call your veterinarian.

How To Take a Horse's Temperature:

The most accurate way to take a horse's temperature is rectally. Always secure a string to the end of the thermometer, so that it doesn't get lost (some of you know what I'm talking about, or have experienced's not very fun). Tack shops and pharmacies sell all types of thermometers. Plastic digital thermometers work very well and are generally easier to use, and most of them beep when they are done. Be sure that if you use an older mercury-type thermometer that you shake down the mercury before taking the horse's temperature.

The horse should be tied or held still by an assistant. Lubricate the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly, Vaseline or saliva. Move the horse's tail to the side and out of the way and insert the thermometer into the horse's rectum, angled slightly towards the ground. Do not stand directly behind the horse, because some horses don't like this - but most don't mind. For the most accurate reading, leave the thermometer in position for at least 3 minutes. Many digital thermometers work well in less than 1 minute.

Always clean the thermometer well before returning it to its case...and especially if used on an ill horse, to prevent the spreading of an illness.


The pulse rate of an adult horse at rest averages 30-40 beats per minute (bpm). A pulse rate of 50 or higher in an adult horse at rest may mean the horse is in physical distress. The average pulse rates for young horses are as follows:
Foals (70-120 bpm), Yearlings (45-60 bpm), 2yr. olds (40-50 bpm).

The horse's pulse rate will increase if he is excited or nervous, in pain, during/after exercise, or has a disease. The higher the heart rate, the more severe the condition.

How To Check a Horse's Pulse:

The horse's pulse can be found near the front of the left jawbone. Under the jawbone, there is a major artery that sticks out slightly. Using your forefinger (never your thumb - because you may feel your own pulse), press against the artery firmly. Use a clock or counter to time a 15 second period. Multiply the number of beats you counted by 4.

You may also place your hand or a stethoscope behind the horse's left elbow to take his pulse. Be sure to count each lub-dub as 1 beat.


The average respiration rate of an adult horse at rest is 8-15 breaths per minute. A horse's respiration rate increases with hot or humid weather, exercise, fever or pain. Rapid breathing at rest should receive veterinary attention, and keep in mind that the respiration rate should NEVER exceed the pulse rate. A horse should also spend equal time inhaling and exhaling.

How To Determine The Respiration Rate:

Watch or feel your horse's ribcage/belly for one minute. Be sure to count 1 inhale and 1 exhale as one breath (not as two). Each breath is fairly slow. If you are having difficulty seeing the ribcage move, try watching the horse's nostrils or place your hand in front of the nostrils to feel the horse exhale.

An even better method is to place a stethoscope to the horse's windpipe to listen to his breathing. This will also give you strange sounds if the horse's windpipe is blocked by mucous or if the he has allergies or heaves.


The gut sounds that come from your horse's stomach and intestines can be very important information for your vet to diagnose an illness. Gut sounds should always be present. The absence of gut sounds is more indicative of a problem than excessive gut sounds. Usually, an absence of gut sounds indicates colic. If you don't hear any sounds, contact your veterinarian.

How To Check for Gut Sounds:

Press your ear up against your horse's barrel just behind his last rib. If you hear gurgling noises, he's fine. Be sure to check gut sounds from both sides.

If you do not hear any sounds, try using a stethoscope in the same area.


Healthy horses drink a minimum of 5 gallons of water per day. If your horse is dehydrated, it is very important that you urge him to drink. If he refuses to drink water, try adding flavor to it (Gatorade or apple juice) contact your veterinarian if he still won't drink.

How To Perform a Pinch Test:

Pinch the skin on your horse's neck. If the skin flattens back into place when you let go in less than 1 second, the horse is fine. If it doesn't, it means he isn't drinking enough water and is dehydrated.
The longer the skin stays pinched up before flattening, the more dehydrated he is.


Capillary Refill Time (CRT) is the time it takes for blood to return to blanched tissues in the gums. This is an indicator of blood circulation. Normal refill time is 1 to 2 seconds.

How To Check CRT:

Lift your horse's upper lip up and firmly press your thumb against his gums for 2 seconds to create a white mark. This white mark should return to the normal pink color within 1-2 seconds after releasing the pressure.
If the CRT takes longer than 2 seconds, the horse may have shock.


The mucous membranes are the lining of a horse's eyelids, his gums and the inside of his nostrils. The color of the mucous membranes are another indicator of blood circulation. A healthy horse's gums are slightly more pale than a humans. If a horse's gums are very pale, bright red, grayish blue or bright yellow, call a veterinarian immediately.

Color of Mucous Membranes:

Moist Pink: Healthy normal circulation.
Very Pale Pink: Capillaries contracted, indicates fever, blood loss or anemia.
Bright Red: Capillaries enlarged, indicates toxicity or mild shock.
Gray or Blue: Severe shock, depression and illness.
Bright Yellow: Associated with liver problems.


0-2 Years Old:
Dental check-ups for foals are both necessary and helpful. It will ensure that your foals teeth are erupting properly, and will also accustom him to having his mouth handled. When a newborn foal is first born, the veterinarian will check its teeth for abnormalities which may interfere with nursing. As the foal grows, the veterinarian will check that all 24 deciduous teeth come in properly, and removes wolf teeth.

2-3 Years Old:
When a horse reaches 2-3 years old, its permanent teeth begin to come in. The veterinarian will check that the eruption of these new teeth isn't causing irritation to the soft tissues in the mouth. He will also check that the teeth are erupting at the right time.

4-5 Years Old:
In most horses, the permanent teeth erupt within 5 years of age. The veterinarian makes sure that the permanent teeth erupt cleanly with no impactions or irritation. In stallions and geldings, canine teeth will erupt at about 4-5 years. The veterinarian will trim the canine teeth and first cheek teeth to ensure that the bit will fit comfortable in the horse's mouth.

6+ Years Old:
At this age, all permanent teeth should have erupted. The veterinarian will look for and trim sharp edges or points on the horse's teeth, and checks for decay and damage. Keeping your dental schedule consistent and frequent, you can ensure that your horse retains his teeth up to 5 years longer than horses who do not have regular dental care.

What is Colic?

The term "colic" means only "pain in the abdomen" or "pain in the belly". There are many causes for such pain, ranging from the mild and inconsequential to the life threatening or fatal. One of the problems with equine colic is that it can be very difficult in the early stages to distinguish the mild from the potentially fatal. This is why all cases of abdominal pain should be taken seriously right from the onset.

Signs of Colic

The signs of colic in horses range from almost imperceptible in mild cases to extremely violent in severe cases. The following list includes the most common signs:

Ling down more than usual
Getting up and lying down repeatedly
Standing stretched out
Standing frequently as if to urinate
Turning the head towards the flank
Repeatedly curling the upper lip
Pawing the ground
Kicking at the abdomen
Horses do not handle pain well generally and may injure themselves severely sue to pain

What to do

The severity of the case will dictate what you do when you find your horse showing signs of colic. If he is behaving violently call your veterinarian immediately. Violent behavior usually equates with great pain, which usually equates with a serious case of colic. Time is of the essence here. Not all horses show the same severity of signs with the same type of colic, though, and some horses may become quite violent with a relatively "mild" case. If the signs of pain are less extreme, you can take a few minutes to observe the horse's appearance and behavior before calling the veterinarian.
If possible, take his temperature, pulse and respiration rates.
Note what his appetite has been like in the past day or so, and the consistency and frequency of defecation.
Has his water intake been normal?
Are his gums a normal color?
Think about whether he has had access to any unusual feedstuffs in the past day or so, whether any medications have been administered, and whether there have been any changes in management.

Now call your veterinarian! It is important to take all food away from the horse until the veterinarian arrives. If he is nibbling at his bedding, find a way to prevent this. Walking the horse can be a useful way of distracting him from the pain, but he should not be walked to exhaustion. If the horse insists on rolling, there will be little you can do to prevent it. If possible, try to get the horse to an area where he will do himself the least damage when he rolls. But do not get hurt yourself. Do not administer any drugs until your veterinarian has seen the horse, or unless he/she tells you to do so.

Prevention of Colic

If you happen to be a horse, colic is probably an unfortunate fact of life.
Annual colic incidences of approximately 10% are quite common. Listed below are some of the management factors, which are thought to reduce colic incidence. Horses, which fall into high-risk categories, such as stabled horses in intense training and fit horses recently injured, should be monitored particularly closely.

Allow as much turnout as possible
Maintain a regular feeding schedule
Ensure constant access to clean water
Provide at least 60% of digestible energy from forage
Do not feed excessive digestible energy
Do not feed moldy hay or grain
Feed hay and water before grain
Provide access to forage for as much of the day as possible
Do not over graze pastures
Do not feed or water horses before they have cooled out
Maintain a consistent exercise regime
Make all changes in diet, exercise level and management slowly
Control intestinal parasites and assess efficiency periodically.

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