Horse First Aid

The horse owner must not attempt to be his veterinary surgeon. There are however some first-aid skills and nursing practices that should be developed by those who look after horses.

Wounds fall generally into three groups:

  • 1. Incised wounds. Cuts made by a knife, a tin, or a piece of glass.
  • 2. Tears. Wounds made of barbed wire or jagged metal.
  • 3. Punctures. Penetrating wounds like those made by a nail in the foot or a thorn in the knee.

In the case of incised wounds and tears, stem the bleeding by applying a pad of gauze, or any other clean material, directly onto the wound and holding it there until the bleeding stops. Clean the wound thoroughly with salt water (one teaspoonful of salt to 600m1 (1 pint) of warm water); do not use antiseptics, disinfectants, or detergents.

Apply an antibiotic powder. The wound may need to be stitched, which will require the services of a veterinary surgeon. An anti-tetanus injection may be required. In the case of puncture wounds, stem the bleeding and dress the wound with an anti-biotic powder. To remove an infection from this type of wound it may be necessary to apply a poultice. Such wounds are particularly dangerous due to the possibility of tetanus.

These can be applied to relieve pain, heat, and swelling, and to draw infection from a wound, on any part of the horse’s body to which they can be safely attached. A poultice can be made from kaolin paste, bran, or a patent-impregnated gamgee such as ‘nimalintex’.

A kaolin poultice is suitable to apply to a leg where there is heat or swelling, for instance in the fetlock joint or the back tendons. The kaolin paste is heated in its tin, with the lid off, until it is hotter than can be borne on the hand. The paste is then spread with a knife onto a piece of gamgee cut sufficiently large to cover the area that is to be treated.

(The paste should be a little over an eighth of an inch thick on the gamgee.) It is then applied with the kaolin paste towards the leg, covered with some waterproof material, and secured with a stable bandage. The poultice must not be allowed to dry out and should be changed every twenty-four hours.

`Animalintex’ is a very useful poultice that consists of gamgee that is readily treated. It has to be soaked in boiling water and when it is of a suitable temperature, it is applied in the same way as the kaolin poultice.

A bran poultice is suitable to apply to the sole. First, the leg should be bandaged from below the knee down to the fetlock joint, and the heel smeared with grease to prevent chapping. A small bran mash should then be made to which has been added a handful of Epsom salts and some non-irritant antiseptic. The mash is put, hot, into a strong plastic hag, and the affected foot is put into the bag so that it is about two inches of bran under the sole.

The foot and the dressing should then, ideally, be put into a poultice boot. If this is not available the foot can be put into the corner of a sack which is secured around the leg with a second bandage, the surplus sacking being removed with scissors. Whilst this poultice is in place the horse should be kept on a short rack, ie tied up so that he cannot bite at the dressing or walk around too much. The poultice should be renewed twice a day.

In the circumstances where one foreleg is being treated and there is a possibility that extra weight will be supported on the sound leg, it is a useful precaution to fit a support bandage to the sound leg.


This is a method of applying a type of poultice to the foot, particularly the sole, where it will have a drawing effect on injuries. A wooden or strong plastic bucket should be used, about one-third filled with warm to fairly hot water, to which a handful of Epsom salts is added.

The foot is put carefully into the bucket and kept there for ten to fifteen minutes. Cold water can be used to reduce pain and swelling, but it is more effective to stand the horse in a cold, running stream where possible. Tubbing should be carried out twice a day until relief is obtained.
Cold water treatment

Pain, heat, and swelling can sometimes be relieved by the application of cold water. This can be done in several ways. Where the feet or the fetlock joints have to be treated, as in the case of laminitis or strained fetlocks, it is useful to be able to stand the horse in a cold, running stream for twenty minutes or so. For the treatment of the forearm, knees, or tendons, running cold water from a hose over the injured area for twenty minutes two or three times a day will often be very effective.

In circumstances where neither of these practices is possible, cold water bandages can be used, being changed every half an hour or so. (The application of a hot bandage is often useful too; the water should be as hot as the hand can hear.)


Nasal congestion can be relieved by steaming. A handful of hay is put into the corner of a sack and a teaspoonful of Friar’s balsam or oil of eucalyptus is added to it. Enough boiling water is then added to make an inhalant and the sack is held over the horse’s nose while he is encouraged to inhale the fumes.

Horse Veterinary First Aid Cabinet

Veterinary first-aid equipment should be kept in all well-run stables. It is unnecessary, and usually wasteful, to keep large stocks but the following list will provide adequate cover in case of emergency:

  • 7.5cm (3in) cotton bandages x 4.7.5cm (3in) support bandages x 2.Gamgee I roll.
  • Medical gauze 1 roll.
  • Cotton wool 1 large roll.
  • Surgical lint 1 roll.
  • 7.5cm (3in) adhesive tape 1 roll.
  • Wound powder, usually in a plastic puffer bottle.
  • Anti-biotic aerosol spray.
  • Colic drink. This can be provided by the veterinary surgeon, together with directions for its use.
  • Epsom salts 225g (8oz) packet. Common salt 225g (8oz) packet.Vaseline, a small jar.
  • Kaolin, or some other type of poultice.Scissors with round ends.

Clinical thermometer.

The quantity of each item that is stocked depends on the number of horses that are kept in the stable and the type of work on which they are employed. Other items such as cough electuary, Friar’s balsam, and American powder tend to deteriorate and are best purchased as and when they are required.

These items should be kept in an easily accessible but secure place, and, of course, in hygienic conditions. It is helpful to keep the telephone number and address of the local veterinary surgeon on, or in, the first-aid cabinet.

See more: Horse Field Shelter

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