It’s is normal and even expected that at some point your horse will get bit, scratched, cut or bruised during its life. Horses run, play around and roll in their pastures, get caught on twigs or fence rails, or scrape themselves on gates or stall walls. Most often these minor wounds heal quickly with no further problem. It is important to know the difference between a minor knick, cut, bruise or scrape and one that needs the attention of a veterinarian. With a basic first aid kit however, you will be able to treat most minor injuries yourself. It is also important that your horse has an annual tetanus shot.
It’s easy to panic when you see a cut in your horse’s otherwise perfect coat, or blood trickling down a leg. But keeping a cool head will help you assess whether you have an emergency or a situation you can deal with the injury yourself.
If your horse is eating, moving and otherwise acting normal, and is acting normal, chances are all will be well. If the horse appears to be in pain, the bleeding does not stop after a reasonable time or any other abnormal behavior worries you, your veterinarian is your best advisor. Always keep your vet’s number handy.
While you are waiting for the vet, either safely tie or stable your horse, and try to keep it and yourself calm. Remember, however, that if your horse is acting in a manner that may injure you, you must keep yourself safe first.
The most common pasture injuries are scrapes. Scrapes occur for many reasons and result in the shearing off of the hair and a bit of skin. Sometimes just the hair will be missing, or the scrape may go a bit deeper, leaving a red inflamed bald area. These scrapes usually heal easily on their own without leaving scars. Because they only affect the surface of the skin, they are unlikely to become infected.
First-aid for scrapes will be to clean the area and pat on a bit of ointment.You usually can safely leave them alone, because often ointment will trap dirt, and it may be better to let them heal naturally. If a scrape with redness and/or swelling is under the saddle, girth or harness area, it may be best to let the area heal a bit before using the horse.(See also girth or harness galls.)
Cuts can be more serious. A minor cut will only open the very top layer of skin, and will stop bleeding quickly (within approximately 45 minutes) and will heal without scarring. Again, this type of wound can be washed out and treated with an ointment or salve. Deeper cuts may need dressing, although it can be difficult to keep a bandage in place on some areas of the horse’s body. On legs, a self-adhesive bandage is useful, as are leg wraps. Animal Lintex or a piece of disposable diaper makes a soft, clean padding under a bandage or wrap. Keeping a bandage over a flat area such as your horse’s barrel or flank may require adhesive bandage from your veterinarian.
Check cuts frequently for any signs of swelling that may indicate infection. Cuts and lacerations may need stitching to keep them closed while they heal. If the cut results in a loose flap of skin stitches will be needed. If you can, clean the area of any dirt, and wait for the veterinarian. Again, consider your own safety first. If the horse won’t tolerate you touching the area, the vet will administer drugs to keep the horse calm while treatment takes place.
Most wounds heal without problem. Once you have had the vet out or administered first aid, check your pastures and fences for anything that may have caused the injury. Sometimes horses have to be separated if they are fighting to the point of hurting each other. This way you can prevent future injuries.
Your horse should always have its tetanus shot as part of routine yearly vaccinations.