It's difficult enough to keep your wits about you when dealing with an emergency or injury. It's all but impossible if you're frantically searching for supplies or-worse yet-you don't have what you need on hand. Devoting a little time to stocking and organizing your first aid kit is well worth the effort.
In addition to medical supplies, you should also have spares of anything you might need to catch, restrain, or free a trapped horse. This would include:
• Ropes and towels for padding legs under ropes
• Wire cutters
• Hand saw
• Pocket knife
• Flashlight and extra batteries
• Extra halters and lead shanks
• Blindfold (a large towel will do)
• Horse blanket-a woolen cooler is the most versatile here
• Extra blanket clips to fasten the cooler tightly around the horse
First Aid Supplies
You don't have to go overboard and spend hundreds of dollars on a kit with 1,001 items. Stick to the basic supplies you'll need to handle the most common problems. Small trunks or inexpensive plastic storage containers with lids work well for keeping your supplies in one place. Store items likely to be opened but not completely used at any one time (like paper sleeves of gauze sponges and cotton) inside a zip-type plastic bag so you can save what's left over and keep it clean.
If you don't already have one, consider investing in a refrigerator for the barn so that you can keep frozen ice packs on hand and have a place to store any drugs the vet might dispense that need refrigeration.
Keep all your materials for cleaning wounds inside a bucket marked on the handle or bucket with a brightly colored tape that identifies it for "first aid use only." Other supplies can be stored all in one place, or separate the items used for wounds, feet, and eyes into their own storage containers marked by a label or color-coded tape for quick identification.
• List of contact numbers for vet, veterinary hospital or school, owners if you board, insurance companies of insured horses, and any allergies/drug sensitivities of the horses.
• How-to first aid book
• Inexpensive stethoscope (for taking heart rate and listening to gut or lung sounds)
• Sterile solution for cleansing
• Spiral notebook and pen (tie the pen to the spirals) for recording vital signs, dates, times, and details of injuries and illnesses. This information is invaluable to your vet. Don't trust your memory.
Puncture wounds, bruises, abscesses, or laminitis are likely to cross your path at some time or another. You will need:
• One or two hoof boots, to protect the foot and hold packing/poultice material in place. To get the correct size, make a tracing of your horse's foot, or his shoe if he's shod.
• Hoof pick (keep with your first aid supplies and mark it with colored tape in case you borrow it when you can't find your other one)
• Epsom salts for soaking
• Low pans (calf-feeding dishes work well) or soaking boots
• Poultice material
• Heavyweight plastic bags, food-storage size, for poultices and hoof boot storage
As any horse owner knows, wounds are also very common! (See our complete wound care story in the April 2007 issue.) You need to be prepared to stop the bleeding and clean, dress, and bandage wounds when appropriate.
• Box of disposable gloves for cleaning/handling wounds (drugstore)
• Hydrogen peroxide, for loosening heavy crust on old wounds
• Povidone iodine, Nolvasan or chlorhexidine-based surgical scrub (make sure you get scrub, not solution-the scrubs lather)
• Matching povidone iodine or Nolvasan-based solution or cream
• Sterile 4" X 4" sponges for cleaning wounds. Lint-free towels can be used for this, too, like the ones sold for cleaning windshields. Never use bulk cotton to clean an open wound. It leaves irritating fibers behind.
• Several clean, thick, lint-free towels (or several layers of rolled up lint-free paper towels) to use to stop bleeding. Feminine sanitary napkins are good for this too if the wound isn't too large, and they make excellent bandages on most open wounds, while providing a protective cushion.
• Sterile, non-stick gauze pads to apply directly over cleaned wounds
• Four to 6 rolls of stretchable self-adhesive bandage such as Vetrap or reuseable Ace bandages
• Extra set of leg cottons and polos, or set of all-in-one type stable bandages with Velcro closures if you're not confident about your leg wrapping skills.
• Surface wound dressings-spray on for superficial scrapes and minor cuts; liquid or ointment for under gauze dressings, for example antibiotic cream or iodine/Nolvasan-based.
Human First-Aid Kit
People get hurt too! Be sure your barn is equipped with a human first aid kit that includes wound supplies. Also keep a list of who to contact in case of an emergency and post it in a prominent place in the barn, preferably next to the phone.
Sprains, Strains, & Puffy Joints
• Four to six ice packs (best anti-inflammatory and analgesic), frozen and ready to use
• Ace wraps or stretchy polo bandages to hold ice packs in place
• Phenylbutazone (bute) paste (clear use with your vet first)
If you are in a remote area, or your vet is overworked and not able to take emergencies rapidly, schedule an appointment to discuss other supplies he or she might think you should have on hand, such as antibiotic eye creams. Also discuss any specific medical or lameness problems any horses in your barn have and what you should have on hand for those. Topical steroid or anesthetic creams, available at human drug stores, are great for stings, bug bites, and painful or itchy skin conditions until your vet can make a diagnosis and recommend specific treatment.