Whether you ride away from the barn often or occasionally, you’re riding away from the items you will need in an accident or emergency situation. When you’re trailering, you need to be able to handle injuries along the way. And anything can happen at a competition. It’s smart to be prepared to handle a first-aid situation while you wait for the veterinarian.
When we evaluated ready-made first-aid kits (August 1996), we found it necessary to make substitutions for some of the items in every kit. We now recommend you skip the ready-made kits and devise your own. We’re also making suggestions for adapting your personal kit to your particular travel situation.
By putting your own first-aid kit together, you can keep the cost under control by focusing on what you really need. When purchasing, think ahead to restocking time. Even if you don’t use the kit, some items will become worn, damaged, or out of date. Those items that you can predict you may need the most can be cheaper if bought in quantity, but those that are dated will have to be purchased as needed.
Since riders face different situations and possess different wound-treating abilities, your kit should reflect your own anticipated needs. Any items that have multiple uses will save you space and weight, although they may not work quite as well as the single-function items. We’ve selected some trade names to help you identify items but don’t necessarily recommend these well-known brands over any others. Generics are usually less expensive than name brands and often work just as well.
Where you ride will make a difference. Some riders frequent back roads and are never far from a house. Others are never anywhere near a house, let alone other people. Some trail country is littered with old fencing, while other areas are full of gopher holes. If you ride beside the road you’ll encounter a wide variety of trash.
Your abilities and comfort level also dictate the contents. Even if you pale at the thought of handling a deep, bloody wound, you’re going to have to do what you have to do. Learn to use items you may need. Practice bandaging before you actually need to do it.
If you’re planning a particularly long, difficult, or remote ride, discuss your plans with your vet for specific needs. If your horse had problems in the past or has recurring problems (tying up, dehydration, sole bruises), consult with your vet and/or farrier for suggestions on long-term solutions so that these don’t become issues on the ride.
Weight And Bulk
The ideal first-aid kit is as lightweight and compact as possible while still holding the items you might need. Where and how you attach the kit to your saddle, and whether you ride English or Western, will influence how you pack the kit contents and what you carry them in. While accessibility is necessary, more important is that the kit stay stable. It’s also necessary that the weight be distributed appropriately across the horse’s back. Along with other items you carry, balance the weight from side to side and between loins and withers. (See saddlebags August 1999, July 2000.)
It makes sense to carry some items on you, rather than attach them to the saddle. For example, if you part company with your horse, you’ll still need your cell phone. Cell phones and multi-use tools often have pouches with loops that attach easily and securely to your belt. Always carry these near the side of your body. If you carry them near your back and fall on your back, the device could injure your spine.
When returning home after using any items from the kit, restock before putting the kit away. This will seem like less of a job if you have a store of items in the barn ready to restock, such as a dozen rolls of stretch wrap and a box of Band-Aids bandages, which you’ll need one day anyway.
Check the kit periodically - the beginning of the season is a good reminder - for items that may have become worn, damaged, or have expiration dates necessitating their replacement. Storage conditions other than those listed on the labels (like a hot trailer or a freezing tack box), or changes in color or consistency of medications, may prompt replacement.
Building Your Own Kit
Our chart includes many items we think you could need but that you might not automatically consider. This isn’t necessarily a carry-it-all suggestion, nor do we consider it comprehensive. If you think you might need something that's not on our list, you should carry it.
We designed this list to help you decide what you may need, and we based it on one horse for a short day. You need to adjust for more horses and longer stays. The list doesn’t include basics like grooming supplies and tack, feed and mucking equipment or individual medications for specific horses. It is not designed as a human first-aid kit.
After you’ve checked off what you want to include from our list, take a moment to determine what your own horse and situation might call for as well. Think about what you do for your horse routinely. In addition, we’ve designed a first-aid kit, not a long-term barn-type medicine chest. We’ve concentrated only on what you may need in an emergency situation away from home.
The items at the start of our list aren’t heavy, don’t take up much space, and can be packed in a cantle or pommel bag. This collection assumes you are assessing the situation and simply keeping out further contamination until you can get home.
We’ve also included additional items that may be helpful. Compare their weight and the space required with the chance that you’ll need them. Take into account your route, location, how far away from help you will be, and whether you are going to be out overnight.
Most of the items on the list will be useful for overnight trips. Some might be required in sets or larger quantities. The length of time you’ll be away from home and number of horses will influence what you take. Some of these items are for problems that develop over time and therefore probably aren’t needed for shorter trips.
Remember to take items you are likely to use when the horse is traveling or worked hard (liniments, stall wraps, leg sweats, sweat sheets, blankets). Take any needed feed-related products (electrolytes, bran for mash).
Be certain to note the regulations on medications for your particular competition and observe withdrawal times. Competitions that prohibit medications usually are also those that have a veterinarian on the grounds. Avoid packing regulated medications with you. That alone could be a violation.
Post lists in your barn or inside the lid of your trunk to jog your memory when restocking, to help you recall what the kit contains, and remind you or your helpers of the multiple uses of some items. Cross off any perso nal-preference exclusions, and note any additional items you need for your horse.
We also recommend Dr. Kellon’s Guide To First Aid for Horses, by our veterinary editor, Dr. Eleanor Kellon (Breakthrough Publications 800/824-5000 www.booksonhorses.com). This compact book includes quick-read notes on how to handle a variety of emergency situations.