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Horse Injuries and Wounds Treatment First Aid

Anyone who owns a horse needs to be prepared for the eventuality of wound and injury care. Horses often get hurt or injured in the normal course of the day, from barbed wire, nails, fencing, glass or metal. They run into things, step on sharp objects, or get stuck. If there are deep cuts, puncture wounds, open sore injuries or things requiring antibiotics, you're going to need to call the vet, but it's important to be able to provide your horse with first aid until the vet arrives.

Horse's Need Tetanus Shots

You can keep your horse safe from tetanus by making sure he is vaccinated twice a year. As well as building a good first aid kit, preventive measure like a tetanus shot can make the difference between a horse that recovers from even a simple-looking wound and one that dies from a bacterial infection.

Cleaning open horse wounds

The best thing to use in cleaning all sorts of cuts, tears or abrasions is sterile saline solution. You should always have some saline in your first aid kit, and plenty of it, since it's the best way to clean wounds. If you've run out or are in a place where there is no saline, flush wounds out anyway with water from a hose. If there's any contact lens saline around, that will work. The goal in cleaning the wound by flushing with clean liquid is to wash away bacteria which might otherwise cause infection, so use plenty of fluid when flushing a wound, and let the excess pour away, hopefully carrying bacteria with it to the ground and away from your horse.

Puncture wounds

Some puncture wounds are more serious than others, either because of their depth, size, origin or location on the horse's body. A puncture wound in dense muscle is less worrisome than it would be on the chest, belly or lower leg, where it could compromise your horse's internal organs or his running. Anytime the wound is on the abdomen or chest, get in touch with the vet. Assuming the wound is on the upper leg or hip, and has nothing still inside, you can check the severity of the wound by measuring its depth, then clean and bandage the wound.

If the wound is bleeding but not very deep and has nothing left inside, slow or stop the bleeding by pressing on the spot with sterile gauze pads or a clean towel. If the bleeding has already stopped, clean the wound by flushing it out with plenty of sterile saline. If there's no bleeding, you can also see how deep the wound is by inserting a Q-tip, but obviously, if your horse objects, leave that to the vet. In some cases, the object that causes the puncture may have pulled out leaving some ragged skin or torn tissue that protrudes into the wound. In this case, don't try to remove anything; just flush it with sterile saline and wrap it in dampened bandages.

If the puncture has made a nasty hole in your horse, you may feel that cleaning the wound will push the dirt or debris deeper rather than washing it away. If it doesn't look like you'll be able to effectively rid the wound of debris by flushing it out, wait for your vet to come. In deeper puncture wounds or in cases where the object is still in the wound, the vet will probably X-ray the area before trying to remove the foreign body. If you try to take it out yourself, you're more likely to cause more damage than the original wound. Other cases where a vet is definitely indicated include wounds that are more than an inch or two in depth, or wounds that don't want to stop bleeding.


Abrasions usually occur when a horse falls and skids, skinning her hip, leg or shoulder. If the wound is a simple abrasion, you can probably take care of it yourself, but check to make sure there are no punctures, lacerations, broken bones or other more serious damage before treating the skin damage.

Assuming there is no other problem, clean the abrasions by flushing with lots of saline to remove the dirt, grass or other particles. Apply a disinfectant like dilute Betadine solution, which will kill bacteria left on the wound. Be gentle with the skinned area: don't scrub it. Just wash it down tenderly to avoid causing further pain to your horse and more damage to the skin. Your horse will be sore for days (and there may be some bruised muscles contributing to her discomfort) and it may be a few weeks before large abrasions are sufficiently healed to get your horse back to the regular schedule. Hose the area with cool water for pain relief and to diminish swelling, and if your horse seems uncomfortable, you may want to get a prescription for an anti-inflammatory from your vet. After hosing, apply ointment made of Vitamin E or your favorite ointment to help the area heal and keep it protected from dirt. If you're worried about scarring, your vet may be able to treat the abrasion with laser light, which has been shown to prevent or reduce scarring.


Lacerations usually (but not always) need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent infection, so you'll probably contact your vet in all but the most trivial cases. In general (for humans and horses), antibiotics should not be used unless absolutely necessary to treat an existing infection. Common reactions and the possibilites of deveolping a resistance to antibiotics should be throughly discussed with your vet before giving any kind of medication to your horse. Any time there's a cut on your horse's leg, it's important to pay attention to the possibility of it causing problems with ligaments or tendons. If your horse suddenly goes lame, check for small lacerations you may not have noticed right away; sometimes even a cut that looks like a superficial skin wound can make your horse temporarily lame. Being alert to the possibility means you'll lessen your horse's chances of becoming permanently lame due to infection or tendon damage.

Put a standing wrap on your horse's other leg to help it support the additional weight when your horse favors the injured leg. Look at the wound while you pick up your horse's leg and flex it normally. You will able to see the depth of the wound better than when your horse is standing still. You might be able to see that a tendon or ligament has been cut, although the laceration looked simple when you started. Call the vet: your horse may need stitches, and will probably get a course of antibiotics. The tendon sheaths, even when the tendon hasn't been injured directly, are susceptible to bacteria, which causes pain and swelling. Omitting to treat with antibiotics can cause lameness even once the cut itself has healed. Your vet will decide about pain relief options and will advise you in how long to rest the horse in its stall and when and how to start exercising him again.

Lacerations involving flaps of skin
Horses sometimes have an amazing way of looking just awful—covered with blood, skin hanging from a huge cut—without being in real danger. If you find your horse with a large amount of skin torn partly off or down the face, side or hip, your first instinct is right: call the vet! Your horse will need stitches, and will probably require tranquilizing before even a professional can take a good hard look at the wound.

If your horse it taking it all in stride and won't knock your head off for trying to help, you may be able to flush the wound with sterile solution before the vet arrives. You'll be limiting the potential impact of bacteria and reducing your horse's chances of infection. Obviously, if your horse is really upset and doesn’t want to be touched, it's not worth trying to change his mind. Talk to him and be as comforting as you can until the vet comes.

Once the sutures are on, you may have to do little until the healing is done, or you may have to deal with weeping wounds and daily bandage changes. If the wound is dripping for awhile, you may want to protect the skin that's being dripped on with a layer of petroleum jelly. This is pretty much your vet's area: you should get full instructions for bandage and wound care from him or her.

Injury near a joint
If your horse suffers a wound over the knee or another joint, you can flush the wound with saline, but should contact your vet right away. The vet will determine whether the injury has affected the joint, and may use X-rays or other methods to check on the severity of the wound. Your horse may require sutures and will probably have a course of antibiotics to prevent the wound or the joint from becoming infected.

Your Horse's First Aid Kit

If your horse does any traveling, you should have two first aid kits: one in the stable and one in the trailer in case there's injury away from home.

  • Bath and hand towels for applying pressure to slow or stop heavy bleeding
  • Rolls of gauze bandage and gauze squares for dressings.
  • Surgical tape and duct tape (for keeping things where you put them)
  • Scissors
  • Wrapping bandages
  • Leg wraps
  • Spray bottle
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Ointment
  • Large syringe for wound flushing
  • Sterile saline solution
  • Betadine or other disinfectant
  • Tweezers
  • Q-tips

Read the next horse care article on Your Horse's Eyes.
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