Assessing injuries after a horse fight

If you know there’s been a dustup, check over the horses involved just to be sure everyone is OK.

A fight in the pasture between herdmates is usually a loud and dramatic affair. The good news is that most skirmishes don’t result in serious injury. However, if you know there’s been a dustup it’s wise to check over the horses just to be sure everyone is OK.

Two horses fighting, with a black one biting the neck of a white one.
The most common injuries found in the aftermath of a pasture scuffle are small skin abrasions where the top layer of skin has been scraped away by the teeth of the aggressor.

The most common injuries found in the aftermath of a pasture scuffle are small skin abrasions, where hair and the top layer of skin have been scraped away by the teeth of the aggressor. These wounds are long, narrow and typically found along the rump, flanks and topline of the victim.

It’s important to inspect each of these wounds to ensure that none of them include a puncture deeper into the skin. The puncture isn’t made by a pointy tooth, but rather the shearing action of teeth dragged along the surface of the skin. That force can pull tissues apart in small areas, which close back up almost immediately. Bacteria thrive in these types of wounds, which means serious infections can develop.

If you’ve determined the bite marks are just superficial, they don’t require much attention aside from a quick cleaning and perhaps a protective layer of ointment. There may be some bruising associated with the wounds but usually not enough call for ice or other therapy.

Suspected puncture wounds, no matter how small, are best examined by a veterinarian who can give you guidance on cleaning techniques that will keep infection at bay without interfering with healing. Of course, obvious lameness, large wounds or other signs of physical distress are also cause for a call to your veterinarian.

You’ll also want to give each horse another inspection the day after the fight. That’s when swelling or soreness can arise from an injury you missed or mistakenly decided was minor. Consult with your veterinarian before using bute or other medications to manage such developments.

Finally, consider what changes you can make in your herd dynamics to minimize the chance of recurring altercations. Adding or removing just one horse can affect all the relationships in a herd, and sometimes the situation never settles back down. Relocating a bully or a perpetual victim might not be logistically easy, but safety and harmony in your pasture is worth the effort.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #467

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