First aid can have an important influence on the eventual outcome of an injury, if timeously and correctly adminstered. Basically what you do, and how quickly you do it, can have  a dramatic impact on healing time.

Immediate First Aid

Regardless of the type of injury , rapid attention will make a big difference. Cold therapy (ice packs or hosing) is most effective if applied immediately following an injury , whether it be a knock or strain or even a wound. The sooner a wound is cleaned the better the prognosis, because despite a wound not looking contaminated, it will normally become infected after six to eight hours. Steps taken to minimise inflammation (cold therapy) can significantly assist the healing process.

Minor Wounds

Minor wounds will usually stop bleeding within a few minutes and should not cause undue concern if treated appropriately and quickly. When the skin is damaged as a result of a laceration or other injury, the horse loses its first line of defence against infection. Even a small cut can become badly infected if not cleaned and covered properly.

  • Clean the wound gently by hosing the wound using very low water pressure (high water pressure may drive debris and infection deeper into the wound)  and then by swabbing or rinsing with Saline solution or Ringer Lactate solution ( Strong antiseptics may damage the tissue, especially in larger or deeper wounds). If the wound is small, an antiseptic such as  Equiscrub or Surgiscrub may be used to clean and disinfect, rinsing well afterwards.
  • Carefully clip or shave around the wound to prevent hair and excessive dirt from contaminating the wound. Repeat the cleaning and disinfection process above.
  • Apply a sterile dressing and bandage in place. A wound should always be covered with a dressing or a bandage to keep  it clean and assist in the healing process. Many people still believe that a wound should be allowed to ‘air’ and ‘dry out’, but in fact the opposite is true and provides the following advantages:

Faster Healing – Wounds heal more quickly in a moisture controlled environment. The new epithelial cells can move around more easily, allowing the damaged tissue to repair more quickly.

Less Scarring – The likelihood of scarring is reduced because there is no scab formation.

Reduced Pain – In open wounds, the nerve endings may be exposed, causing pain. With a moist environment, the nerve endings are cushioned and protected by the moisture, thereby relieving pain.

  • If the wound is fairly deep or you suspect that it is infected,  use a poultice such as Animalintex or Glycerine Icthammol to draw out dirt and/or infection.

More serious Wounds

More serious arterial or venous bleeding will require emergency attention and should be controlled by the application of pressure. (Don’t worry about whether it is arterial or venous bleeding – the technique is the same).

  • Hold a pad of Veterinary Gamgee over the wound, applying pressure for at least 10 minutes, to allow the blood to clot. If  blood seeps through the dressing, place another pad on top (so as not to disrupt clot formation). Once the bleeding has slowed, bandage the pads firmly in place, perhaps even placing a rolled bandage on top of the wound to apply more pressure. This extra pressure should be released every 15 minutes so as to avoid excessive pressure.

This type of wound will most probably require the attention of your vet.

Puncture Wounds

Puncture wounds should be flushed with Saline or Ringers before covering the affected area. Use a poultice to draw out pus and change dressing twice daily. A puncture wound will require a Tetanus injection.

EMERGENCY SIGNPOSTS – Call your vet if:

  • The wound has penetrated your horse’s chest or abdomen .Vital organs could be damaged.
  • The wound is located over a joint. You may see clear/yellowish joint fluid (Synovial fluid) leaking from the wound.
  • You see exposed bone or tendon.
  • Skin edges are gaping . Sutures may be required.
  • The wound is on a leg that is buckling or non-weight- bearing . Nerves or supporting structures (bone,tendon or ligament) may be damaged.
  • The wound is bleeding profusely and there are obvious signs that your horse has lost a large volume of blood (such as a puddle of blood at the accident site).
  • The cut is accompanied by cellulitis (marked swelling of the limb with ‘pitting oedema’).
  • If your horse appears anxious or dazed and the mucous membranes are pale, he may be suffering from shock, especially following blood loss. Keep the horse quiet and offer water.
  • The wound is located on an eye or eyelid. It may need immediate help to minimize scarring and damage to the eye itself.
  • You see a defect or puncture wound on the sole of the foot or on the coronary band. Vital structures could be damaged.
  • You see a foreign object in the wound (wooden splinter or metal). If possible, leave the object in place so that depth, direction and vital structures in its path can be determined to enable it to be removed without causing additional damage.
  • If you suspect a fracture – the less movement the better.
  • Your horse will need a tetanus injection.


  • Bandage to keep dressings in place and to keep the wound clean. It will also provide support and insulation and as an aid to reduce or prevent inflammation and swelling.
  • Bandage with an even pressure and a 50% overlap, taking care not to over-stretch the bandage.
  • Bandage with a lot of padding (Gamgee is ideal) so as to avoid circulation restriction, as this is detrimental to the healing process and could cause serious damage in itself.
  • Ensure that the bandage does not restrict movement Eg: at the hock or knee.
  • Bandage from the top and from the front to back of leg.

Wound –Care Don’ts

  • Don’t give the horse any pain killers or anti-inflammatories without the vet’s approval – certain anti-inflammatories may cause increased bleeding.
  • Don’t give the horse a sedative or tranquiliser if he is frightened or excited or has just exercised, as this could depress his heart and/or respiratory system.
  • Don’t apply topical medication to a wound that will need veterinary attention, as this could compromise the repair and debridement of the wound. The wound should just be thoroughly cleaned and protected.

Healing Problems

You might have been treating your horse for a wound that initially seemed minor- but it is not healing as expected. If you observe any of the following developments, call the vet.

  • Your horse becomes lame on the injured limb which previously was sound. He may have a more extensive injury than  expected or an infection may have developed in the wound.
  • Your horse develops a fever (temperature greater than  38.9 degrees C) which could indicate an infection.
  • The wound itself shows signs of infection, such as increased amounts of drainage or swelling and the area is painful or hot to the touch.
  • Your horse becomes depressed or listless or goes off his feed.
First aid has an important
influence on the eventual
outcome of an injury.