Educate yourself about equine health

How much do you really know about equine first aid? What about lameness? Are you able to treat/medicate your horse (if necessary) for a simple injury? If your horse feels “off”, do you know what to do next?

When it comes to horses, there is nobody better than a trusted vet. It’s hard for a horse owner to stay calm at times, upon discovering their horse is bleeding profusely or in distress. On the other hand, something like a lameness issue can be less urgent but still upsetting or frustrating. Every horse owner should have some basic knowledge of first aid, and it doesn’t hurt to have a working knowledge of several major lamenesses and their causes.

In order to learn about basic first aid,  you should grab a book. Try one like Horse Owner’s Veterinary Handbook by James M. MD Giffin and Thomas DVM Gore, or do some research on a REPUTABLE (key word here people) website.  Please be selective about what you take to heart on the internet, your horse’s health is not something you want to second-guess. Try a website like the Merck Veterinary website, which has been a staple in veterinary resources for decades. It has good information about basic animal anatomy and what to do in an emergency.

Once you have some basic terminology and information, the next (and probably one of the most important) step is to give your veterinarian a call. Ask if there is a time the two of you could chat for a few minutes (as he or she is probably on the go until 6:00-7:00pm at night!) about your horse’s health, and you were interested in learning about equine first aid. He or she will probably have invaluable advice, clarify any questions you have and ideally direct you to a local seminar/class/workshop on the subject. Your vet should also be able to give you a run-down of basic first aid materials you should have at your disposal. (It is possible to buy “ready made” first aid kits, but again, check with your vet if you are uncertain how to use any of the items before using your horse as a guinea pig.)

Here is a sample of what could be included in your kit:

Utensils
Stethoscope
Thermometer/string/clip
Scissors
Hoof pick/cutter
60 ml Syringe
Tweezers
Flashlight
Hand sanitizer
Med Towels
Disposable Gloves
Pen & Notebook

Topicals
Povidone-Iodine Sol.
Antibiotic Ointment
Antiseptic Ointment
Animalintex Wound Pad
Alcohol Wipes
2 Instant Cold Pacs
Eye Wash
Liniment
Epsom Salts
Petroleum Jelly

Bandages
Cotton Swabs 6”
Wooden Applicators
4” x 4” Sterile Gauze Pads
4″ x 8” Non-sterile Gauze Pads
4″ x 5′ Gauze Roll
Roll Gamgee Padding
1′ Adhesive Tape
Cohesive Bandage
Duct Tape

(Want this exact kit? Visit Equi-First Aid to order.)

The rule of thumb is that if you are uncertain how to use a product or item in your toolkit, DO NOT USE IT. Chances are you will do more harm than good. However, after doing your research and hopefully attending a local seminar, all of these items will be invaluable to you. Another excellent resource is a fellow boarder or horseback rider that you can trust. It is surprising how much knowledge one person can accumulate after decades of horse ownership. In an emergency, use this resource to keep your horse’s condition from deteriorating until your vet arrives. Many people are willing to jump in and help if there is an emergency.

As for the sublties of equine lameness, it takes a good eye and often a helper to determine exactly why your horse is off. Be sure to do a thorough examination from top to bottom before doing any sort of flexion tests, or calling your vet out for nerve blocks. For example, being Not Quite Right (NQR) in the hind end could be the result of an abnormality in the corresponding front leg, which could present itself as heat/damage to the front foot or tendon. The best way to learn about lameness is to watch what the vet does when he or she comes out to visit a horse at the barn. Watch and see what they look for, and the sort of simple diagnostic techniques they use (such as flexion tests). Just by learning some of the lingo and observing what sort of things to watch for will become extremely helpful when trying to communicate your horse’s lameness to your own vet.

The key is to be aware. Have a good knowledge of your horse’s “baseline”, which is his typical behavior/movement/vital signs when he is feeling fine. Check for any lumps, bumps or anything that is “standard” for him but might become suspect if there are issues down the road. Is he typically alert and forward under saddle? Sluggish or spooky? Does he tend to be stiff on cold days or is cold-backed? Learning about your horse’s quirks or pre-existing issues will help you and your vet rule out many things when it’s time to diagnose a real problem.

Lastly, knowledge is your friend. Do as much reading as possible from books and reputable website to learn about our equine friends. Have a first aid kit on hand, and know how to use the items and what to do in an emergency. Your vet is your most valuable teacher, so take advantage of his knowledge whenever he comes to the barn, and you’ll be prepared down the road in case of an emergency.