A vet conducting a thorough check up on a horse.
When it comes to horses, you need to keep two things in mind: ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong’, and ‘left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.’ Horses are very accident-prone, and if you do not have an equine first aid kit handy, you could end up with a crippled or dead animal on your hands.
You should store an equine first aid kit in a convenient location for fast access. Hunting around for a kit is the last thing you want to do in an emergency where you’re pressed for time. Another reason you should keep your kit in an easy-to-find spot is because you may not be around during an emergency, and you may have to direct someone else to its location over the phone, for example. Storing a kit in a convenient location also makes it easier to check and update it - something you should do regularly to avoid nasty surprises.
You can purchase a purpose-built receptacle for storing first-aid supplies or repurpose a tight-sealing plastic container, a small tool box or a fishing tackle box. Whatever you choose, ensure it is portable, clean, airtight and waterproof. If you’re using a repurposed container, ensure it is divided into appropriately sized compartments to facilitate storage, organization and retrieval.
Of course, an equine first aid kit is only as good as what it contains, so let’s see some of the essentials:
1. Medical Equipment and Supplies
This is a no-brainer - your equine first aid kit should have a rectal thermometer, preferably a digital one because of its better ruggedness and easy-to-read display. Try to get a thermometer with a string and a clip to stop it getting lost in your horse’s innards. Your kit should also include a stethoscope for checking your horse’s heart rate and gut sounds. Surgical latex gloves are another equine first aid kit essential; they’ll help you prevent contamination when you’re checking wounds.
Other equine first aid kit medical essentials include antiseptic wound cleaners such as chlorhexidine, povidone iodine and hydrogen peroxide; zinc oxide cream for soothing and protecting sunburned noses, helping clear up grease heel, and promoting the healing of minor wounds; cotton gauze for padding wounds; and self-sticking bandages for keeping the gauze in place. You’ll also need chemical cold packs for reducing swelling, 10-cc syringes and hypodermic needles for administering injections, 60-cc syringes with a catheter tip for oral medications, and an equine first aid book. Include a small bottle of saline solution for cleaning sensitive wounds, such as near eyes. If you have contact lens solution, that will work as well.
If you have experience giving equine medications, consider including pain relievers - flunixin meglumine and phenylbutazone are good options because they’re orally administered - and mild sedatives in your kit. You can also include electrolyte paste in your kit; this supplement is used to induce horses to drink.
2. Nonmedical Equipment and Supplies
Some nonmedical equipment and supplies that you should include in your equine first aid kit include flashlights, in case you have to care for a horse in a dim environment, a small jar of Vaseline or any other lubricant to help insert thermometers, and a roll of duct tape for wrapping a limb.
Don’t forget to include a pair or two of scissors in your first aid kit. You’ll need them when cutting away bandages. To avoid injuring your horse, buy scissors with rounded tips. Get a pair of wire cutters and at least one sharp knife as well, in case you have to free a horse from a fence, cross ties or a hay net. Tweezers are another item you should include in your kit; they will come in handy when you to remove a splinter or an insect. Also keep a large, clean towel nearby for compressing large wounds or spreading out some tools.
An equine first aid kit is a stable essential. Inspect it at least once a month and throw away anything that’s expired, and replace anything you’ve used as quickly as possible.
However, no matter how well-equipped your kit is, it should never be treated as an alternative for a veterinarian in an emergency. Call your vet, even if you do not think you have a crisis in your hands. They will be able to tell you if it’s something you can handle on your own - or not - as you describe your horse’s symptoms.