Your Horse Care Starter Kit

For around $30, you can be prepared to handle most minor injuries that your horse may experience.
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For around $30, you can be prepared to handle most minor injuries that your horse may experience.
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The secret to stocking your barn to handle basic veterinary needs is to know what supplies are essential and how to determine what optional products are best suited to your situation.

You can't prepare for every emergency situation. Just when you think you've got it all covered, you can be sure your horse will come in with a surprise "ouch" that requires a product that needs to be overnighted from the supply house - or purchased only through your veterinarian. If you try to buy everything you might ever need, you'll waste a lot of money on products that expire before you use them.

Our chart on the next page lists items we feel no horse owner should be without. This combination will cover most of the basics. Taking a temperature is a basic, as it's the first thing you should do when you think a horse is ill. You'll also need to be prepared for basic wound care (gentle soap, clean bucket and sponge, triple antibiotic ointment), hoof abscesses (Vetrap, rolled cotton, duct tape, ichthammol), leg and body swellings (hose or ice), minor inflammations on skin, sheath or udder (aloe gel), galls from tack (petroleum jelly) and scratches/mud fever (diaper-rash cream).

You can purchase most of these supplies from your local discount department store or even a dollar store. There's no reason not to buy generic brands, as most are acceptably suitable. Be sure you check for expiration dates and store the products as directed. In a nutshell, that means keeping the products out of direct sunlight and out of freezing temperatures.

Supplies Worth Considering

Level 1

  • Alcohol - disinfect intact skin areas for infections.
  • Antifungal skin spray/cream - treat fungal skin injections.
  • Disposable plastic gloves - protect hands when applying topical products.
  • Epsom salts - soaking hoof abscesses.
  • Gall cream - for girth galls, halter rubs.
  • Liniment - body braces/baths for sore muscles, leg braces, leg sweats.
  • Mentholated rub, like Vicks - aids breathing.
  • Novasan/Betadine wash - cleansing wounds, especially larger, deeper wounds.
  • Paper towels - cleanup, patting dry wounds.
  • Peroxide - cleansing wounds.
  • Poultice/sole packing - sore legs, swellings, hoof abscesses.
  • Quilted cotton leg wraps and standing bandages - frequent bandaging, use over sweats/poultices.
  • Wound cream/spray, antibiotic/antimicrobial - equine preparations often come in larger jars than human triple-antibiotic tubes. Sprays are excellent for those hard-to-reach areas.

Level 2

  • Aspirin or devil's claw - over-the-counter pain and inflammation control. Get livestock-size aspirin boluses from a farm supply store, if you're going to use much aspirin. These can be ground into a fine powder in a coffee grinder.
  • Blanket - chilled horses, tying up.
  • Cell phone - allows you to call for help without leaving the horse/barn.
  • Cotton balls - rubbing injection site with alcohol, cleaning ears/eyes, muffling sound to help calm nervous horse.
  • Eye wash - cleansing debris from eye.
  • First-aid book - help get emergency situations under control while you wait for the vet.
  • Heavy towels/large clean rags - rubbing down cold/wet horse, control bleeding.
  • Large dosing syringe - medicating horse with oral liquid suspensions.
  • Mineral oil - chafing, sweats.
  • Spray bottle - applying liniments, liquid medications to skin.

Level 3

  • Cold pack - easier to use than ice cubes, less time-consuming than hosing.
  • Cough remedy/expectorant - unusual coughs due to airborne irritants; consult vet before using on a chronic cough.
  • Electrolyte paste syringe - to be used on the advice of a veterinarian.
  • Hoof testers - checking for hoof/sole pain.
  • Muzzle - restrict eating, stop bandage biting, self-mutilation.
  • Neoprene wraps (knee and hock) - warming arthritic joints, decreasing swelling.
  • Pill crusher - crush tablets before mixing in feed or into oral liquid suspension.
  • Sheath-cleaning solution - for sheaths.
  • Spider bandage - bandaging knees.
  • Tail wrap - keeping tail away from areas.

Using these products consists mostly of basic common sense: 1) Clean wounds/injuries with a gentle soap, remove all mud/dirt/seepage, rinse well, pat dry. 2) Apply product liberally. 3) Repeat daily. 4) Report any worsening problems to your veterinarian immediately. If the area/problem doesn't improve within two to three days, contact your veterinarian.

Optional Products
The more horses you have, the more likely you are to handle varied situations. We've divided additional products into three levels and listed their basic uses. Level 1 includes products that we'd consider essential if we didn't want to remain budget conscious. For example, if your horse gets a skin fungal infection, you'll likely initially need your veterinarian to diagnose it. After that, you'll recognize it and may want to stock the treatment the vet recommends, if your horse is prone to skin funguses.

You'll also find yourself picking and choosing between Levels 2 and 3. Level 2 truly is an intermediate level - nice to have but not necessities. Level 3 is geared mainly toward barns with many horses or horses involved in high-risk sports, where injuries/strains are more likely. Weigh the odds of you needing that product and place a checkmark next to the ones closest to your situation.

Horses prone to arthritic joints would likely benefit from the warming Neoprene wraps available for hocks and knees. Those who suffer from minor lung disorders, such as a very mild case of heaves, might find a mentholated rub (like Vicks) helps ease the work for breathing.

Veterinary Help
Horses, like kids, often endure minor bumps, bruises and scrapes that can be treated at home. However, if you're not certain about the injury or illness, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Minor lamenesses that don't improve within 24 hours should be reported to the veterinarian. A serious lameness - such as when the horse won't bear weight on one leg - needs immediate veterinary attention. Never attempt to remove a nail or other object embedded in your horse's hoof. Call the veterinarian immediately. Wounds that don't stop bleeding within five to 10 minutes or are bleeding in a "pulsing" manner require a veterinarian. All eye injuries - regardless of believed cause - should be examined by your vet.

Additional situations that call for immediate veterinary care include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lameness that seriously restricts movement (three-legged lame, walking on eggs, can't stride out normally at the walk)
  • Refusal to eat/drink
  • Unusual manure/urinary output
  • Strong odd behavior changes (depression, excitability, agitation, unexplained sweating)
  • Body temperature over 102°

Depending upon your experience and the veterinarian's knowledge of your situation, he or she may opt to leave some basic prescription medications in your barn for use only under his or her supervision. Prescription medications worth having on hand include acepromazine, Banamine, phenylbutazone (bute), epinephrine, and needles and syringes.

Ace and Banamine are expensive products, however, so if your veterinarian doesn't think you need to stock them, don't. Bute isn't expensive, although generic over-the-counter aspirin and herbal products that include devil's claw are also effective pain relievers. Neither aspirin nor bute should be used long term. Epinephrine is used for severe allergic reactions, although its benefit is closely related to the giver's speed and ability to administer it.

Bottom Line
Stocking up can easily be overdone. You need to weigh your horse's likelihood of injury/illness and keep on hand the products you're most likely to need frequently. Unused products that have to be tossed because they've expired are a waste of money. If you're not sure when a product expires, call or e-mail the manufacturer's customer-service department and ask for its shelf life. Then write that directly on the product label, using a permanent marker. Make it a habit to go through your supplies at least annually.

Finally, gathering all these products together won't do you a bit of good if you don't know how to properly use them and how to recognize the injuries/illnesses for which they're suited. Consult our back-issue archives, get a straightforward first-aid book and talk with your veterinarian to be sure you're as prepared as your medicine cabinet to deal with your horse's next injury.