First aid for wounds

First Aid for Horses – Treating Wounds

What should you do if your horse is involved in an accident?

How long an injury will take to heal can be hugely influenced by what you do in the first minutes after a calamity. A few sensible actions can often cut literally months from recovery times but all too often, by the time a vet has been called, inappropriate ‘first aid’ has already been administered.

Many road traffic accidents involving horses occur every year. But dangers lie elsewhere as well; we all know that horses seem to have an uncanny knack of finding that one strand of barbed wire in a field to cut a leg on while some horses seem to make being kicked by their friends a full time job!

So what do you do if your horse has an accident?

Make sure that both yourself and your horse have adequate insurance cover for any potential accident. Membership of organisations such as the British horse Society will often include ‘third party’ cover. Remember that you may be held liable for any damage or injury caused by your horse to others even if it was not your ‘fault’

Be prepared by making sure you are registered with a local equine veterinary practice and that your horse is immunised against TETANUS and that you have an equine first aid kit available.

When riding out always carry a mobile phone (switched off) and make sure that a friend or stable manager knows where you are going and when you are expecting to return. It is safest to ride out in company.

In the event of an accident call for help immediately

If you are on a public road, try to move your horse to a place of safety i.e. onto the grass verge or an adjacent field (even if your horse is seriously injured, it is better to move it a short distance than leave it where a further mishap could occur).

Do not place yourself in harm’s way. Injured animals can behave very unpredictably and even very calm animals can lash out with both front and hind feet when they are in distress.

If your horse is trapped WAIT for professional assistance. Local fire brigades are now given specific training in extracting horses and livestock from intractable situations

Remember, difficult though it may be, you MUST stay CALM. Horses are very sensitive to their owner’s emotions and any sign of panic is instantly transferred to the animal frequently resulting in a ‘flight’ reaction.

First Aid

A standard sized hunter has over 60 pints of blood so although haemorrhages often look severe it is a fact that horses rarely bleed to death from wounds. Tourniquets can be very dangerous, are usually unnecessary and should only be applied after consultation with a vet. If there is substantial haemorrhage a pressure bandage should be applied or a towel pressed firmly against the area. Heavily contaminated (dirty) wounds should be liberally flushed with clean water. Under no circumstances should you apply any cream or ointment to a fresh wound until it has been examined by a vet. Although the traditional ‘blue’ disinfectant / antibiotic sprays are very popular, they are not designed for treating recent wounds and will prevent your vet from being able to do a proper examination or from giving correct treatment. DO NOT USE THEM. Also remember that a small wound around a joint or tendon is likely to be far more serious than a massive laceration elsewhere.

Top Tips if your horse is involved in a road accident:

Stay calm and call your vet and the local emergency services via 999 – have your vet’s emergency number programmed into your mobile phone.

Once in a safe place, try to keep the horse still and assess the situation.

If in doubt WAIT for expert assistance.

If there is severe bleeding apply pressure directly over the area. Do not apply tourniquets around a horse’s leg unless instructed to do so by your vet.

Remember horses rarely bleed to death from wounds below the knee or hock and even seemingly severe bleeding is not usually fatal.

Do not apply any creams and do NOT apply ‘blue spray’ to any wounds.

If the wound is heavily contaminated wash with copious quantities of clean water. Do not use any form of disinfectant.

Finally, if the accident involves another party, try to get the names and contact details of any witnesses.

By minimising the injury, preventing further harm and keeping the wound clean you can help shorten any convalescent period.

Wounds around joints and tendons.

Horse owners often judge the seriousness of an injury by its size. At first glance, a massive 12 inch long laceration seems much more serious than a tiny puncture wound. However it is the location of the wound that is so important. A massive tear down the rib cage or neck is unlikely to be really serious whereas a tiny torn puncture over the knee joint can prove fatal. Vets are particularly concerned about any puncture into a joint or tendon sheath.

In short, joint penetration is:



Synovial fluid (the lubricating fluid found within joints) doesn’t have any white blood cells to fight infection.

Bacteria release chemicals that permanently damage the cartilage surfaces.

Bacteria colonise the synovial membranes – once this happens they cannot be removed.

The result is a horse in much pain with a poor prognosis for recovery.

Phenylbutazone (Bute) initially masks the signs of joint penetration very powerfully so never give your horse ‘Bute’ without consulting your vet first.

A wound into a joint will usually require immediate surgery (often under general anaesthesia) to flush out any contamination or bacteria that may be present.

Top tips on bandaging:

Incorrect bandaging (an example is shown below) can cause serious injury and will certainly delay wound healing.

As a rule a bandage should start at the coronary band and extend all the way up the leg to the joint above the injury. So if a wound is just below the knee the bandage must start at the foot and extend to above the knee.

Equine First Aid Kit.

Two large Melolin or other non-adhesive dressings.

Four Orthobands.

One roll of cotton wool.

One Intrasite Gel.

Two Vetrap.

One Elastoplast.

A pair of scissors.


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