You’re walking out to your horse’s paddock, looking forward to a relaxing ride on a beautiful spring day. But when you get there you quickly realize something’s not right-- your horse is wounded. Whether your horse is gushing blood from a puncture or has a wide open cut, you’ve suddenly found yourself in a scary situation. Take a deep breath and follow this horse wound care guide.
Take some time to evaluate the situation before approaching an injured horse. Is the equine panicked? Is it safe to approach? Are they standing up or lying down?
Assessing the situation before approaching can tell you a lot about the horse wound care protocol you should follow. If your horse is laying down, tangled in a fence, or struggling to rise, then you’ll probably have to call your vet. But if your horse is behaving normally, still eating and drinking, then you can probably handle the situation on your own-- depending on your level of experience.
First, bring your horse into a safe and dry area where the wound won’t become dirty or contaminated. Stop any bleeding by applying pressure to the area. Note the location of the wound. If it’s near a joint or eye, then call your vet. Joint and eye infections are serious issues that require immediate intervention.
Verify the depth and size of the wound. If the area is particularly dirty, this may be difficult until after step four. A severe wound could look like a large flap of skin, profuse bleeding, or an open pocket. A mild wound will have minimal bleeding with no skin flaps or damaged tissue.
Generally, there are four types of wounds. A puncture can look small from the outside, but have extensive damage underneath the surface. Incised wounds look like a clean slice and are usually repaired with sutures. Lacerations have jagged edges that may require debridement. Often lacerations have an increased risk of soft tissue damage and infection. Lastly, abrasions are mild injuries that need minimal veterinary intervention, but you should still follow the best horse wound care protocol.
If you aren’t sure if the wound is serious, call your veterinarian before you do anything else. They can offer advice and may even come to your barn to provide care for your horse’s wound immediately.
Even if the situation is not serious, it’s still helpful to have a second pair of hands nearby. Remember, that a normally well-behaved horse could be stressed, nervous, and difficult to handle when injured. Take a moment to call a friend or family member to help with your horse’s wound care before continuing. Safety first!
It’s important to be both gentle and thorough when cleaning an injury. You don’t want to damage the tissue further, but you need to remove all dirt and debris to avoid infection.
The cleaning agent used needs to be an effective antimicrobial without damaging the surrounding tissue. It’s recommended to rinse the area with a gentle saline solution and clean with a diluted povidone iodine or chlorhexidine solution. It might be tempting to reach for commercial cleaning solutions, but be careful to avoid any sort of wound care shampoos or scrubs. These can be cytotoxic to healthy tissue.
After cleaning the wound, keep the area protected and moisturized for optimal healing. Walk through the aisles of any tack store and you’ll find a variety of colorful powders and sprays that claim to do just that. But be wary of these topical aerosols! Many of them actually dry out the wound which inhibits the healing process.
A barrier cream keeps dirt and bacteria from entering the wound and provides moisture to hasten healing. If you have a competition horse, look for one that is steroid and antibiotic-free, like Zarasyl. The best barrier cream will contain orthosilicic acid to promote healthy connective tissue growth.
To bandage, or not to bandage? It may be tempting to wrap every wound that your horse sustains. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of bandaging prior to reaching for the standing wraps. In one study, all bandaged wounds developed proud flesh, but also had significantly less bacteria present. All unbandaged wounds did not develop proud flesh, and therefore healed faster, but had a higher risk of infection due to the increased presence of bacteria.
If a wound is at high risk for developing infection, consider wrapping the area. However, if your horse is prone to proud flesh, it might be better to leave the area open.
Horse wound care can be stressful. It’s easy to second guess yourself. Building a good relationship with your veterinarian and having all of your first aid supplies ready to go are important to successful low-stress management of an injured horse. While we can’t help you find a great vet, we can help you stock your first aid kit with what you need!