America's Quarter Horse Presents:

Your Horses Health



Several years ago we decided we would make up a first aid kit for horses that people could take with them on trips into mountains or desert. We had bandages, ointments, local anesthetics, antibiotics, syringes, needles, disinfectants, and analgesics all neatly packed in a plastic case that we bought at a local department store.

People still ask about taking some first aid items along on a pack trip. The idea of a first aid kit probably was good, but the way we packaged it was not something people could use. Different items may be needed depending on the type of trip, the length of the trip, the distance from available veterinary attention, and the space available in the saddle bags or panniers.

The most common injury when riding in rough country is lacerations or puncture wounds, usually to the extremities. Some bandage material and antibiotic dressings are all that you need to handle the injuries until you can get veterinary attention. Furacin dressing has been and still is the standby for use in horses. A small jar of furacin dressing, some telfa pads or other non-adherent dressings, and some Vet-rap or elastic adhesive bandages are all you need.

If the injury is fresh and clean, don't wash it, just apply a copious amount of furacin, cover with a telfa pad and bandage the leg, covering a wide area so undue pressure is not exerted in a small area, which may have a tourniquet effect. If the wound is dirty, carefully wash it with clean water. If you can see or feel a foreign body - a stick or rock - carefully remove it. Don't' probe around too much with your dirty fingers. You will probably just push dirt and contaminated material deeper into the wound. If the wound is near a joint and it appears to be deep, keep your "dirty paws" out. If the capsule around the joint is punctured, this is an open joint injury and it is an emergency. A delay of a day or two can mean the loss of the horse due to painful septic arthritis. These horses need immediate veterinary attention, usually involving flushing the joint with sterile fluids and starting intensive antibiotic therapy.

At the time of injury, cover the wound with furacin dressing and bandage it to prevent further injury and contamination. Horses with open joint injuries will usually develop an increasing degree of lameness after the injury. Some horses are more stoic than other, so pain is not always an accurate way to tell if the injury did in fact penetrate the joint. The most common joints to suffer open joint injuries are the fetlock, the knee or carpus, and the hock. Once the joint is penetrated by a foreign object, such as a stick, wire, or a piece of rock; the bacterial infection that results in the joint produces toxins which destroys the cartilage pads that cushions the bones as the horse moves. When cartilage is damaged it never heals to its original state and if enough damage is done, bone rubs on bone and a sever degenerative arthritis is the result. The horse may be "three legged lame" and a three legged horse is not of much use.

An untreated joint infection can also lead to infection of the bone called osteomyelitis which can be almost impossible to treat even with extensive antibiotic therapy. As you ride in the mountains or desert you can easily see the horse has plenty of opportunity to injure his feet and legs and those joints, especially the fetlocks, are very vunerable. A 3/8" deep puncture in front of the fetlock is all it takes for an open joint injury in that area.

Other injuries can occur to the upper body and head. These are not usually as serious as the leg injuries. A topical antibiotic is good to carry along to handle these. Head injuries can often be sutured even days after the injury occurred.

Injuries to the foot are a common occurrence. Penetration of the sole with wood or rocks and injuries to the frog are problems that should have veterinary attention due to proximity of the coffin bone to the sole and the navicular bone and vursa and deep flexor tendon under the frog. Removal of the foreign bodies and application of antibiotic dressing or bandages should be done at the time of the injury. Many horses will drive branches or brush under the hoof wall at the coronet band as they move along a trail or in wooded or brushy terrain. Sometimes a piece of wood can be seen at the coronet and when an attempt is made to remove it, the horse moves his foot and the main portion is broken off deep under the hoof wall. These horses will become very lame and need veterinary attention as soon as possible. Sometimes a portion of the hoof wall must be removed, but it will grow back and if the coffin joint was not penetrated, the horse will be sound after a few weeks.

If you are days from a veterinarian, some penicillin and butazoldin are good items to carry. Penicillin is needed to control infection in the case of injury and "bute" for relieving inflammation. Normally penicillin is stored under refrigeration but it will maintain it's potency for 40 days at room temperature, so it can be stored with other first aid items. Tetanus vaccine must be refrigerated so it is more practical to make sure your horse is up to date on tetanus protection before taking the trip, than to pack it along.

Some horses will tie up or get colic when taken on long trips. There are drugs which can help control painful symptoms until veterinary assistance can be obtained. Some wound dressing, bandages, antibiotics, and butazoldin will handle most situations. Other remote areas may necessitate drugs to control colic pain.

Design your kit to fit your needs with the help of your veterinarian.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank HARRIS VETERINARY CLINIC, in Grand Junction, Colorado for providing us with this information.


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