It’s inevitable that your horse will get bit, scratched, cut or bruised at some point during its life. 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.
Assessing the Wound
It’s easy to panic when you see a ding in you’re 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 yourself. If you horse is eating, moving and otherwise acting normal, and TPRs are normal, chances are all will be well. If the horse appears to be in pain, bleeding does not stop after a reasonable time or any other abnormal behavior worries you, your veterinarian is your best adviser. 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.
The most common pasture injuries are scrapes. Scrapes occur for many reasons and result in the shearing off 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. I sometimes leave them alone, because often ointment will trap dirt, and it may be better to let it 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, will stop bleeding quickly (within approximately 45 minutes) and 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 legs, self adhesive bandage is useful, as are leg wraps. Animal Lintex or a piece of disposable diaper makes a soft, clean lining under a bandage or wrap.
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.
Larger, deeper cuts may require veterinarian treatment. Wire or splintered fence rails, kicks from other horses, branches and other sharp objects can cause cuts. If the cut continues to bleed even though you’ve held a compress on it or bleeds profusely, the skin is pulled back from the center of the cut, is on an eyelid or nostril or anything else about the cut is making you nervous, call your veterinarian for treatment advice. Stitching and antibiotics may be necessary. Deep cuts can develop proud flesh, (equine exuberant granuloma) a granular growth of skin that with proper treatment can be prevented, or if already started, shrunk.
Sometimes puncture wounds can look small and harmless, but because of their depth, cause serious problems. Punctures can occur anywhere on the body, including the sole of the hoof and cornet band along the top of the hoof. Because they are hard to clean out harmful bacteria can cause infection. If you can not easily flush the wound out with saline solution and insert antibacterial ointment, call the vet. Punctures in the chest, belly area or that are bleeding profusely can be very serious. Punctures that still have a foreign object in them like a nail, splinter or wire are best treated by a veterinarian. Because puncture wounds need to heal from the inside out, proper treatment is required to prevent the outside of the puncture from healing over, possibly trapping bacteria within.
Bruising or swelling under the skin, can be caused when a horse bumps into a solid object like a fence post or stall door, or get kicked by another horse. Most bruises heal on their own. A cold (not freezing) compress may help ease any pain the horse may feel. Stone bruising on the soles of the hooves may indicate a change in hoof trimming/shoeing methods is required.
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.