Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. When dealing with creatures that find infinitely creative ways to injure themselves, I like to be as over-prepared as possible when stocking my first aid kit. Initially a small bag in my tack trunk, my first aid kit has morphed into taking over my mare’s old SmartPak drawer, and is reaching the point that we need to expand again.
Here are some of the things I have found essential to keep in my first aid kit.
1. Digital thermometer and stethoscope
2 of the biggest tools you can have in your first aid kit are a thermometer and a stethoscope – temperature and heart rate can be helpful indicators of pain, especially in a stoic horse. You can get digital thermometers in just about any chain grocery store, drug store, etc. Each horse should have their own thermometer dedicated just for them. While stethoscopes are not necessary to take a heart rate, it may be easier than trying to feel a mandibular pulse (along the bottom of the jaw), especially if you have a fractious or head-shy horse.
Learn how to use these tools properly, what the normal ranges of a horse’s TPR (Temperature: 99-101F, Pulse: 28-44 beats per minute (bpm), Respiration: 10-16 breaths per minute (bpm)) is, and then what is normal for your horse. For instance, I know my mare’s resting temperature is usually just under 99F, and her resting respiration is on the high end of normal.
I keep a whole box of gloves in my first aid kit. After you spend enough time around horses, getting your hands dirty isn’t really something you think about every second that you are in the barn. But if you’re going to clean out a wound, look at an eye or apply medication, doing it with mud, shavings, feed and who-knows-what-else on your hands probably isn’t the best way to do it. If I am every in doubt, I slap on a pair of gloves.
3. Bute and Banamine
2 of the most commonly utilized drugs in the equine world, and for good reason. Bute and banamine are the first lines of defense for many ailments, and it’s easier to have them on hand in an emergency than having to wait for a vet to administer them while your 4-legged friend is in pain.
If you are unfamiliar with administering or using these drugs, talk to your vet about how and when to use them if you want to add them to your first aid kit – you’ll have to purchase them through your vet, anyways.
4. Wraps and bandages
Whether this is quilts, cottons or No-Bows, or a big thing of roll cotton, bandages are an important tool to have to mitigate swelling, apply medications/liniments/poultices, and cover wounds.
5. Bandage scissors
For all the reasons why you need to put a bandage on, you need a way to take aforementioned bandage back off – having a good pair of bandage scissors (that you do NOT use for anything else besides bandages/bandage material cutting) is essential to quick and hassle-free bandaging.
6. Gauze pads
I keep both sterile and non-sterile gauze pads in my first aid kit, mainly for cleaning and covering wounds. These aren’t equine-specific, I just get mine at the drug store.
7. Athletic tape
Another essential that doesn’t need to be equine-specific (always). Elasticon is that amazing stuff vets use when bandaging up whole limbs; but for less extreme fixes, your run-of-the-mill athletic tape is functional, and a considerably nicer option for your bank account.
8. Triple antibiotic ointment
Again, another essential that does not have to be equine specific. I keep a tube of triple antibiotic ointment (NOT the stuff with the pain relief, just the regular triple antibiotic ointment), and love it for small cuts, scrapes and abrasions.
NOTE: DO NOT use this in your horse’s eye. It’s not formulated for ophthalmic use – it literally says it on the label warnings…and if your horse has an eye issue that you are considering putting something in it, I would be calling my vet out to look at it first – eyes are a veterinary emergency and should not be taken lightly!
9. Alushield/Aluminum or Silver Spray
I love, love LOVE my aluminum spray. Anywhere that is too hard to cover and bandage? Aluminum spray. It allows the wound to breathe, creates a water-proof shield, and does a great job keeping bugs out. I’ve used it on hock sores, bite marks, shoulder scrapes, heel abrasions, ear lacerations, grazing muzzle rubs…it is my one of my go-to favorites.
I don’t use poultice often, but I always keep it on hand for unexplained swelling or after a very hard ride. I use brown paper grocery shopping bags as poultice paper – you can cut it to whatever size you need, and they’re free!
I also recently was introduced to a product call Cool Cast, which is a poultice, but it is a fine mesh wrap encased in poultice, so rather than slapping poultice on your horse and creating a huge mess, Cool Cast allows you to just wrap the leg as you would with a normal wrap – it results in less mess and more even pressure and application. 10/10 would recommend.
Whether it’s wicked hot, or your horse has decided the water at your horse show isn’t up to snuff, electrolytes are a great item to have on hand. There’s a lot of brands and forms (most paste or powder) on the market to choose from as well.
13. Hemablock or Wonderdust
Lacerations and scrapes can often look way worse than they really are, just because the dang things won’t stop bleeding, and trying to wash it off only irritates the wound to bleed more. Or maybe it’s in a really high motion area and just won’t stop spewing blood. Hemablock and Wonderdust are both products designed to stop bleeding, fast, which can be crucial in evaluating the extent of the wound.
14. Duct tape
If it can’t be fixed with duct tape, it can’t be fixed.
But seriously, duct tape is an important tool in a first aid kit, especially for wrapping feet if you are packing a hoof or trying to draw out an abscess.
15. Diapers and Epsom salts
Diapers are the perfect shape for horse hooves; you can keep hoof packing in, or use it to hold Epsom-salt-soaked packing in the hoof to help with hoof soreness or hoof abscesses.
16. Vet wrap
So many uses for such an inconspicuous product. Essential for wrapping legs, feet, covering wounds, wrapping tails out of the way…there are endless possibilities (and color combinations).
I keep a giant bottle of betadine in my first aid kit. Any open wound that my horse comes in with, or scurf or other skin abnormality gets cleaned out with betadine. It’s an antiseptic, and knowing I’ve cleaned out the wound/laceration/scrape/burn/dermatitis makes me feel more at ease.
18. Hoof pick
Keep a hoof pick in your first aid kit, separate from the one you use every day. I keep this hoof pick for when my mare gets a little thrush-y, so that way I am not contaminating my daily-use hoof pick over and over.
19. Oral syringes
If you have to administer any medication per os (by mouth), a big, 60cc oral syringe is the easiest tool to use, and just like having a separate thermometer and hoof pick, having an oral syringe specific to your horse is just good biosecurity.
20. Clean towels
I keep a stack of clean rags in my first aid kit – you never know when you need to wipe up, mop up, put pressure on, or otherwise clean off something, and chances are you will want a clean towel to do that.
While all the above are amazing tools and products, the biggest tool in your first aid kit is yourself.
Know what your horse’s normals are – their normal TPR, normal attitude, normal stall behavior (drinking and eating habits, how neat (or not) they keep their stall, even what their manure looks like and how much they usually produce in a day). When you groom, make note of any cuts or scrapes, swellings, heat, pain, lameness, etc.
If something seems off, trust your gut – it’s not bad to be cautious. Get a second opinion. Think there’s some heat in your horse’s leg you aren’t sure if you’re making up? Ask a barn friend to come feel their leg. Have a question about how to address a wound? Ask your barn manager or call your vet for advice.
Preparing your first aid kit well can save you time and money in the long run, and keep your equine partner happy and healthy! What are your first aid kid must-haves?
Disclaimer: By having a stocked first aid kit, it is more likely you will have what you need in the immediate moment to help your horse, but if it is something you don’t think you can handle, or is an eye injury, a wound that won’t stop bleeding, colic, choke, etc., get on the phone with your vet as soon as possible.