Do You Have a Medical Emergency Plan?
Every horse owner should have some basic knowledge of equine first aid principles and how to respond in an emergency situation. I thought I was prepared for such an event until my horse recently attempted to jump a 5 1/2 ft metal gate from a standstill and didn't make it. What was even more horrifying was that I witnessed the entire incident. As horse owners know, this is very unusual. We never see how they injure themselves, we just find them wounded and are left to wonder how they managed to do it. In my case, I was going out to catch my horse. I was approaching the gate and he was just standing there next to his buddy, grooming him. All of a sudden, his buddy spooked and took off galloping up along the stone wall. For some reason, my horse spun around and headed for the gate. It's a bit rocky and muddy near the gate and he sort of scrambled down the little slope. I thought he would just slip into the gate and stop but instead he paused for a moment and then launched himself over the gate from a standstill. He didn’t quite make it and some how climbed over the top instead. I thought he was going to finish upside down. Even though I saw it for myself, I still don’t really know how he managed to get over it. Once on the other side he got himself up and started limping around. I could see that his left front leg was injured.
I made sure that the gate was safe enough to contain the horses that were still in the paddock while catching my horse. I led him to a common grooming area that was clean and safe. As I keep my horse at a livery stable (boarding stable), it seemed that everyone came out to see what had happened and wanted to help. People were handing me powders and creams to apply and offering friendly advice.
One cut along the pastern was quite deep and I could actually see what I thought was bone. The other one looked like someone had unrolled the skin right down the front of the leg and I could see the tendon clearly. I think I knew immediately that this was going to be a job for the vet.
While the cuts were significant, blood was not gushing out so I had opted to leave the injury alone until the vet arrived. This turned out to be a wise decision. The vet later told me that the worst thing that most owners do is sprinkle wound powder into open cuts. This makes it significantly more difficult for the vet to clean the injury properly. When cleaning a wound, the vet recommended using either plain water or saline solution.
As the vet prepared to clean the cuts, we realized that we did not have any clean towels handy. We scrambled to find something in the stable block but in the end the vet just shook his hands dry. The stable block is well lit, but the light was still too dim for the work that the vet had to do. He had his own flashlight but that soon ran out of battery power. Luckily, I had another one handy in my truck.
The vet spent a lot of time cleaning the wound and did a fine job of stitching the leg up. Me, I made a note to myself to re-assess my first aid kit and its contents as well as my emergency action plan.
Perhaps the most important lesson that I learned from this experience is to be prepared and have a well-stocked first-aid kit close at hand. I didn’t have basic items available such as a clean bucket or towel for the vet to use and I’ll be adding a flashlight with extra batteries to my kit as well as a pair of sharp bandage scissors (there is nothing worse than trying to cut cotton wool dressing with dull scissors!) There are many variations of what should be included in a first aid kit but here is what I have included in mine:
- Clean towel in a zip lock bag
- Iodine solution diluted
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Saline solution (A bottle of contact lens saline solution works great. Just make sure it is 100% saline.)
- Sterile gauze pads (I now have assorted sizes readily available.)
- Sterile gauze roll
- Self-adhesive tape
- Self-adhesive bandage (such as vet wrap)
- Blunt-tipped bandage scissors
- Rectal thermometer (with string and clip attached)
- Latex gloves
- Lubricant jelly (to aid thermometer insertion)
- Twitch (only to be used in extreme situations)
- Duct tape
- Flashlight (plus spare batteries)
- Cotton balls
- Hand sanitizing towelettes and hand sanitizer
- Gamgee (cotton wool dressing)
- Topical ointment for minor cuts (I use an aloe vera based ointment).
I also learned that the initial actions taken to respond to a medical emergency such as this can either help or impede the healing process. Here are a few guidelines that I think will help me through any future situations:
1. Catch the horse and keep the horse as calm as possible.
2. Take the horse to a safe area in order to prevent further injury.
3. Calmly assess the injury or illness.
4. Administer appropriate first aid to the horse.
5. If required, seek professional help.
I have also made sure that the vet’s phone number is readily available at all times. I have posted it by my horse’s stall, have it near the phone at home and I have entered the number into my mobile phone.
It has been just over a month now since my horse’s accident. By some miracle he has managed to avoid any permanent damage to his tendon or ligaments. He is on his way to a full recovery and his injuries have healed up amazingly well with minimal scarring. While I can’t say that this was a “good” experience, it did highlight some weak areas in my medical emergency action plan. Don’t wait for an emergency situation to happen to find out how unprepared you are! Prepare now and hope you never have to open your first aid kit. If you do need to spring into action, remember to stay calm, think clearly and be confident in your decisions.