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Save a Horse, Stock your First Aid Kit

First aid kits are an imperative part of a well-managed stable. Though your veterinarian is always on call, having a thorough knowledge of emergency and critical care for your horse and being prepared with an appropriately stocked first aid kit could save your horse in case of an emergency. It is important to think about where your first aid kit will be stored before determining what it will contain. You may consider having a first aid kit for any trucks/trailers used to transport horses, one first aid kit for the barn, and a very small kit available for trail rides. Creating multiple kits increases the chance of having the needed supplies in an emergency, but recognize the extra expense that will occur with this type of redundancy. The first aid kit that is stored in your stable may be a lot larger and have a more robust set of medications and tools. Your trailer and saddlebag kits will require that you be more selective.  When putting together a kit think about how many horses you may be treating – this affects how much you could/should have on hand.  Are you managing a single horse or are you responsible for a herd of fifty?

We’ll review ideas for what to include in your various kits below, but remember – these are the kits for the horses. There are great resources out there for items to include for a human injury as well. Take a look at some commercially offered first aid kits, as well as lists by medical professionalstrail associations and other publications to get good ideas, then buy or make your own.  While kits can vary in size and expense the suggestions below are discussed to provide starting points and spur thought for your needs and capabilities.  When considering supplies only add items to your kit if you understand how to use them and always recognize the limitation of any kit. Finally, realize that if everything goes as planned, items in your kit with an expiration date will have to be replaced, hopefully because you never have a need to use it.  Take the time to discuss your plans with your veterinarian. They are your partner in maintaining your horse’s health and will be able to guide you to best meet your needs.

Saddle bag/Trail Ride First Aid Kits

Due to limited space and the need to conserve weight, limit yourself to a very few basics that should be included in every saddle bag first aid kit. Consideration should be given to the risks that are associated with the region in which you are riding. For example, if you ride in the Southwest, it could be important to carry tools to help your horse in case of a rattlesnake bite. Regardless of region, an item to place in all saddle bag first aid kits, should be QuikClot (human version) or Celox to stop bleeding fast. This bandage is not meant for minor lacerations, it is designed to stop severe/life threatening bleeding. These clotting agents are available in a bandage form which can be utilized by itself to wrap a horse’s leg out in the field. You won’t need any other supplies to assist in a quick laceration bandage. VetRap is also a good option to have on hand, but it will often crush over time and become difficult to utilize. VetRap can keep a wound clean until you get home for a more complete repair.  A bandage scissor or knife should also be carried while on trail.

Truck/Trailer First Aid Kits

These first aid kits can be far more extensive than the minimalist kits put together for the trail. Here are some items to consider:

  • Below are some basic medical tools that allow you to assess and complete a physical exam to determine areas that have been injured. If you don’t already know how to use these tools, go read up on how to complete a physical exam (in 120 seconds), and what you should do to be prepared for an emergency.
    • Stethoscope to complete a physical exam;
    • Thermometer to complete a physical exam;
    • Flashlight and/or headlamp to better to visualize injuries;
    • Knife or bandage scissors to help cut a horse loose if he’s stuck or down in the trailer but still attached to the lead/trailer tie.  Caution should be taken when utilizing ties for horses in trailers.
  • Below are some bandaging materials to include in your first aid kit in case of a laceration or wound. The order of materials is also the order in which you would apply these bandages.
    • Cleaning supplies (betadine solution or chlorohexadine solution or scrub) to help clean a wound. Clean, running water will do quite well, too;
    • Non-adherent bandages – Telfa pads are the most commonly used and available. Feminine hygiene pads can be used for a non-adherent bandage in a pinch;
    • Gauze will help keep your first layer of bandaging (Telfa Pads) in place;
    • Padding of some sort should surround the gauze. Cotton, either disposable or washable, will work well;
    • VetRap as a final layer to apply pressure to the wound.
  • Medications
    • Any medication placed in a tuck or trailer will probably be exposed to temperature extremes that will shorten the useful shelf life and may make them useless for treating any condition they are intended for.  If you intend on carrying these items plan on rotating them frequently and discussing with your veterinarian the proper use;
    • Topical antibiotic medication can be utilized to help with minor wounds.  Beyond the would cleaning agents mentioned above, using antibacterial cream such as Neosporin or triple antibiotic cream will cover most of the concerns;
    • Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug’s are often carried and can be obtained from your veterinarian. The common examples are phenylbutazone (commonly known as Bute), or banamine;
    • Medications utilized for sedation can be obtained from your veterinarian and can be especially useful when traveling.  Further discussion with your veterinarian will provide guidance if you are considering carrying it in your vehicle kit.

Stable First Aid Kits

In your stable, think about the number of horses you have in your herd.  Start with everything from the saddle bag and truck/trailer list of items. Then, duplicate everything. Have different types and sizes of bandages to accommodate different horses and their wounds.  Have more wound cleaner (utilizing saline is a great way to clean small wounds but will be ineffective for flushing a large wound). Have additional medication as appropriate for your horse and your environment. If you are lucky, any medication you place in your kit will likely expire. Check the dates on medication twice annually, dispose of expired medication properly and just be happy you didn’t have an emergency.

Other tips

  • Put an expiration date on your first aid kit – while you should be swapping out items in the kit as they’re used or expiring, putting an expiration date on your kit is a great way to trigger thought about it;
  • First aid kits are the first place that people raid for extra supplies. If you take something out, make a note, and replace it. The last thing you want is to go to your kit in a time of emergency and find that someone removed the medication or supply you need;
  • Educate yourself. Don’t buy products and put them in your first aid kit if you don’t know how to use them. Understand how to do a Physical Exam. Learn different methods for restraint, as your safety and the safety of those around you is critical. Learn how to give intramuscular injections, and how to get oral paste into your horse;

Have questions? Even better, have suggestions for other first aid kit supplies? Leave a comment below, or contact us directly to talk about your first aid kit. We also sell our own version of a stable/barn first aid kit for $75. Feel free to contact us about purchase.

By Dr. Howard Ketover

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