Guest writer Nicole Lootsma understands the importance of having a thorough, well put together first aid kit for your special equine friend. You never know when you’re going to need something for a bump, scrape, cut, or something more serious (though we hope that we never do need those things). If you own a horse, these are must haves for your equine first aid kit. You’ll be glad you invested the money and time into making one, and you could save yourself money in the long run!
Looking for that needle in a haystack? No problem, ask your horse.
If you’ve been around horses for even a short time, you’ll know that they possess an uncanny ability to locate the one nail that may be sticking out of a 10-acre fence line. As a horse owner, the odds are good that you’ve gone out to the field to get your horse ready for a lesson only to find him battered, bruised, or bleeding (but hopefully not all three) after an altercation with a grumpy pasture-mate or a sharp piece of something that he somehow discovered.
While some horses are certainly more accident-prone than others, it’s important for all horse owners to be prepared for an emergency by having a well-stocked first aid kit.
Your kit should contain everything required to stabilize your horse in the event of an emergency and help you to cope with any serious injuries until the vet arrives. It should also contain everything needed to treat common problems and minor nicks and cuts that you can address by yourself.
Before you get started, make the distinction between your first aid kit and your regular stock of lotions & potions. You want your first aid kit to focus on the items you really need and don’t want to worry about rummaging through bottles and bottles of miscellaneous goop in an emergency situation. I keep things I use regularly (like zinc cream, MTG, and SWAT) in my grooming kit so I’m not always rifling through my first aid kit and making it cluttered.
Many tack shops offer pre-packaged first-aid kits which are a great option. Or, you can gather up items from your local pharmacy, hardware store, and tack shop and assemble one yourself. Whichever option you choose, ensure your kit is stored in a clean, airtight, waterproof container so that the contents stay sterile and ready for use. A portable tool box or fishing tackle box from your hardware store could work well, or you can simply use a regular tight-sealing plastic container.
A first aid kit doesn’t necessarily need to be elaborate, but there are a few essential items that every horse owner should have handy at all times.
Antiseptic wound cleaner: Something like Betadine or Nolvasan is great for washing out wounds.
Antiseptic wound cream or ointment: There are many brands available. Look for a good ointment that won’t slow the healing process as most wounds heal best in a moist environment. My favourite go-to treatment for 99% of Riley’s minor scrapes is Derma Gel. It has been recommended to me by my vet on multiple occasions, and I love it because it “ensures a moist environment and has a soothing effect to help the healing process. It helps create a protective layer to keep the wound clean and healing fast.” It doesn’t sting at all so Riley never objects to the application and the best part is that it is “lick-safe,” so I feel comfortable applying it to wounds around his face without having to worry about him getting sick if he ingests it.
Antiseptic spray: A spray like Vetericyn can be helpful when treating hard to reach areas.
Self sticking bandages: Something like Vet Wrap can be extremely helpful for keeping wound dressings in place.
Gauze (non-stick) and other absorbent padding: I keep a number of different sized gauze pads and rolls (from the pharmacy) on hand. I also keep larger rolls of absorbent cotton padding in the event of a more severe laceration. Diapers or feminine napkins are also handy to have on hand as they are super absorbent and can also be easily applied to a hoof in the event of an abscess. A diaper can also be soaked in water and popped in the freezer for an impromptu ice pack.
Clean stable wraps: Most equestrians have several sets of cottons and standing/stable wraps. I would recommend keeping a separate clean set of cotton bandages and wraps in your kit which are to be designated for emergencies only. If you only have one set and use it for general purposes, it may not be clean or accessible when you need it most.
Epsom salts: These are great for drawing out infections such as a hoof abscess. They can also be used in soaks for hoof bruises.
Scissors: These will come in handy whether you need to cut a bandage or open a package.
Flashlight (with extra batteries)
Duct tape: It’s water resistant, durable, and can be used for any number of things
Saline solution: This can be used to irrigate a wound and is safe and gentle enough to be used to flush out eyes. I use a bottle of contact solution from my pharmacy.
Clean buckets: You should have a couple designated only for first-aid use (keep them clean and don’t be tempted to use them for feed).
Clean towels: Towels serve a multitude of purposes at the barn, and you can never have too many on hand. Keep a few clean towels in your kit to dry your horse, act as a cold compress, or just to keep your own hands clean and dry while you’re providing treatment.
Alcohol swabs or pads: These can be used to sterilize any needles or injection sites.
Oral syringes: These are used to administer oral medication or to be used to irrigate a wound.
Poultice: This is a pre-packaged dressing, such as Animalintex, that is easy to store and can be used hot or cold.
Hoof pick: You may have dozens already but keep one specifically in your kit so that it’s easily accessible in an emergency.
Twitch: Horses can panic when they are hurt or uncomfortable so a twitch may be necessary to keep them still while treating them. If you are able to give injections, you may also be able to have some type of tranquilizer on hand that you can administer yourself; however, you should only do this if you are experienced at giving injections and at the advice of your veterinarian.
Insect Repellent (SWAT): SWAT, though messy, is a helpful fly repellent ointment that can be applied directly to a wound and keeps the bugs off.
Wonder Dust or blood-stop powder: This is used to stop bleeding, promote drying, and to treat proud flesh
Zinc oxide cream: This is also known as diaper rash cream and can be purchased from your local pharmacy. It is great for treating sunburnt noses or greasy-heel in horses. You can also use it as a preventative for sunburn on horses that have sun-sensitive skin.
Stethoscope & Equine Thermometer (and Vaseline or other lubricant): Being able to check your horse’s vital signs and recognize when they’re abnormal is critical when it comes to determining whether your horse has a medical problem that requires further attention from a vet. Take the time to practice checking your horse’s vital signs and make yourself familiar with his resting vitals BEFORE an emergency occurs. Each horse is different, and it’s important to establish a baseline of what is normal for your horse so that you can quickly and easily recognize when something is out of the ordinary. Check you horse’s vital signs regularly and keep a record of his normal resting vitals in your first aid kit for quick reference in an emergency. Typically when you call a vet for an emergency, they will ask for your horse’s vitals, so it is imperative that you can give these readings to your vet.
The below is an idea of what a horse’s ideal vitals should be. Again, every horse is different, and taking the time to get to know your horse’s vitals is imperative.
- Normal resting heart rate (adult): 28-44 beats per minute
- Resting temperature (adult): 99.5-101.4 F
- Resting respiration rate (adult): 8-16 breaths per minute
- Mucous membranes (gum color): moist, light pink
Equine first aid booklet or phone app. I’ve downloaded the “MP Equine” app on my phone as a quick reference for equine first aid. This app was created by McKee-Pownall Equine Services which is a veterinary clinic based in Ontario. It’s an app for horse owners as a resource for information on equine health care and veterinary medicine. There is also a handy book that you can keep in your car or tack trunk that covers almost every type of wound and what you should do if you encounter it called Dr. Kellon’s Guide to First Aid for Horses. It is super helpful and gives step-by-step instructions that even the inexperienced horse owner can follow (though you should always call the vet when you don’t know what you’re doing. This book can be used as a handy guide of what to do before the vet arrives if you are inexperienced. Additionally, if you truly are uneducated as to how to treat an ailment, it is sometimes better to do nothing, or you could make the problem worse).
Emergency phone numbers: Keep a card with emergency contacts for your vet, farrier, barn owner, and other trusted professionals in your kit. Don’t rely on the contact list in your cell phone as you may find the battery to be dead when you need it the most. If your barn has a phone, make sure you know where it is located. Never be afraid to ask for help if you are unsure of anything! It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Although is an equine first aid kit, it’s never a bad idea to keep a few human first-aid items on hand as well. While some items in your horse’s kit can serve double duty, you should also keep some triple antibiotic ointment, hand sanitizer, Band-Aids, and Aspirin in the kit for yourself.
Once you’ve assembled your first-aid kit, make sure you keep track of the items and remember to replace things as you use them. Check the medications for expiration dates and check the packaging on any sterilized items to ensure they stay sealed. If you live in a cold climate it’s also important to keep a close eye on your kit in the winter. Living in Canada, there have been a few times when I have reached for a bottle only to find the contents were frozen and unusable. If your tack room isn’t insulated and is prone to freezing, talk to your barn owner to see if there is another area in the barn that is insulated and ask if it’s okay to store your kit there. If your kit is portable, make sure you bring it with you in your truck or trailer when travelling to shows. Better yet, make a secondary kit with both equine and human items to be stored in your vehicle.
If you board your horse, check with your barn manager to see if they have a large first aid kit for the barn. Oftentimes a boarding stable will have a more robust first-aid kit that may contain a stock of injectable or oral medications such a Bute or Banamine. Unless you are very experienced, it’s not necessary to keep these medications on hand in your own personal kit. Talk to your barn manager and make sure you are familiar with the location of the barn’s kit as well as its contents.
Please note that I am not a veterinarian or equine health professional. This list is meant to act as guidance only. Even the best-equipped first-aid kit is intended only to help you deal with minor injuries and health problems. You should not expect it to cover major medical crises. Any situation you can’t quickly and confidently treat, consult your veterinarian immediately.
What other items do you have in your equine first aid kit? Comment below!