Accidents can and do happen with horses. They also get ill, suffer minor injuries and also need routine treatments on a fairly regular basis.
Unfortunately, as owners, we often don’t make life very easy for the poor vet who comes to treat the horse. Even though vet’s fees are fairly steep, we still shouldn’t expect the vet to traipse miles across a muddy field to get to a horse, or for them to treat a horse who is so unused to being handled that it is quite frankly dangerous.
It is our responsibility as horse owners to at least try to make life easier for the vet. Through careful, disciplined handling any horse should tolerate all of its legs being touched and lifted. They should also be used to having their heads and necks handled in case a vet needs to give an injection.
Practice this, especially with young horses, before the inevitable day when an emergency call out is needed. No one can expect a young un-handled horse to suddenly stand quietly for the vet in an emergency situation if he has barely been halter broken beforehand.
Vet’s in general are used to dealing with all kinds of situations, but it certainly makes their job easier if you have access to a well-lit stable, or at least some kind of hard standing where there is light available so the vet has half a chance of seeing what is wrong with the horse. It is courteous too, to have a bucket of warmish water, soap and a towel available so that the vet can wash any blood and gore off their hands.
Wounds are one of the most common reasons for a vet to treat a horse or pony. All equines seem to be prone to be injury through falls, bites, kicks and preventable accidents such as hitting against solid objects or getting tangled in fences. Wounds fall into two categories: open which involves skin damage, such as punctures, abrasions, incised and lacerated wounds and closed which includes bruises, sprains and ruptures.
Puncture wounds – caused by bites, treading on nails, or penetration by small, sharp objects, such as fencing stakes, or even simply a thorn from a hedge. These can look simple, the skin wound may be quite small, but the injury may go deep into the flesh, with the danger of bacteria being carried into the wound and leading to infection.
Abrasions – caused by saddle sores or grazes from a fall. These are very superficial skin wounds.
Incised wounds – caused by cuts from sharp edges of metal or glass. These usually have clean straight edge and may bleed profusely. Generally there is little bruising and should normally heal quite quickly
Lacerated wounds – caused by barbed wire and other hazards that can be avoided by good stable management, but which horses sometimes seem to find no matter how carefully they are cared for. These wounds often have torn edges and an irregular shape, often with bruising of some degree. There may be profuse bleeding depending on the position of the wound and there could be flaps of torn skin that may die off before the wound heals.
Closed wounds – this type of wound generally has internal bleeding from strains and bruises, this can lead to swelling, heat and pain in the affected area. The affected area should be immobilised as much as possible and treated with cold hosing or ice packs. The cold application will shrink the blood vessels. When hosing first play the cold water on the horse’s hoof before gently working the flow up the leg.
There are three types of bleeding:
A cut in the tiny capillaries in the flesh which is not serious.
Venus bleeding – this type of blood comes from the veins. It is dark red and flows easily. This type of injury can wait for treatment until the horse reaches a place were the wound may be treated easily. Venus bleeding can be controlled by the use of a clean pad, such as a handkerchief if the injury happens away from home. The bleeding will actually help to clean the wound, so do not panic if there appears to be a lot of it.
Arterial blood – this type of blood comes from the arteries. It is bright red and may spurt. Arterial bleeding is difficult to stop and veterinary attention is needed as soon as possible to suture the wound. It is essential to apply very firm pressure by pressing a thick clean pad onto the wound.
Treatment of an injured horse
An injured horse may be shocked and frightened, depending on how the injury was caused. It is essential that the horse be properly and safely restrained in order to treat the injury. If practical the horse should be brought into a stable where it can be restrained easily. A bridle should be put onto the horse to give a better degree of control. Anyone caring for the horse should be calm, speaking reassuringly to the horse. It is important to maintain a calm atmosphere around the horse so that it can be looked at and treated easily. Thoroughness is essential to ensure that the wound is properly dealt with in order to try to prevent infection.
A dirty wound should be washed under a cold hose. Take care not to rush this procedure and frighten the horse. The hair should then be cut away from the region of the wound. Next soak a piece of cotton wool in antiseptic solution and use this to wipe the dirt out, be very careful not to rub the dirt in. Each piece of cotton wool should only be used once and should not be put back into the antiseptic solution to avoid dirt getting back into the wound. Once the wound is clear, dry it with a dry piece of cotton wool. Lightly puff wound powder into the wound. If a dressing is required to keep dirt out of the wound, cover it lightly with medicated gauze, a cotton wool pad and bandage lightly into place. If unsure of the horse’s vaccination history an antitetanus injection should be given by the vet. Puncture wounds should be treated so that they heal from the inside out. Usually it is necessary to poultice the wound so that any infection is drawn out. Severe wounds require the immediate attention of the vet, who may also prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or painkillers depending on the severity and type of the wound.
It is in these types of situations where the training you have done with the horse comes into good use. Having him used to standing quietly for a period of time, and having his limbs handled will be essential in an emergency.
Watch Where You Stand
No matter how quiet the horse is always stand at his shoulder, out of the way in case the horse strikes or lunges forward. In an emergency situation, no matter how quiet the horse is, he may be unpredictable if frightened and in pain.
Stand on the same side as the person working on the horse. If the horse tries to jump or kick, you can pull the horse’s head toward yourself, pulling the hind end away so he can’t kick you. From beside the vet, you can watch what is happening and keep an eye on the horse’s head and expression, so you are ready to deal with any explosions.
Wearing a hard hat and gloves is not being a wuss, it is common sense. With the best precautions in the world a horse can still catch you unaware and your head and his hoof is not a good combination.
If the horse does act up, or continues to do so be prepared for the vet to drug him. It is easier and safer for all concerned.
As a last resort, the vet many knock a horse out to get a procedure done, but that’s rare. Ninety-nine percent of the time, patience, the right medications (to sedate or block) and working quickly will get the job done. Good training, common sense and safety awareness can prevent lots of nasty human accidents while you are dealing with an equestrian one.
Written and images provided by Jacqui Broderick of Lavender and White Equestrian Publishing