The Boy Scouts have a motto that I am sure you are all familiar with00″Be Prepared.” This motto stands very well in many aspects of life and never more so than around horses. In a previous article I mentioned Murphy’s Law (you know the one–“Anything thing that can go wrong, will go wrong.”) and how checking your tack on a regular basis can help you discover potential disasters before they occur. Well, in the same spirit, having a well thought-out First Aid Kit will ensure that you have essential items close at hand, without your having to dig around to find what you need.
The kit should be kept in an airtight container that will keep out dirt and moisture. “Biscuit” tins are popular in England, but the plastic airtight food containers that are now available nowadays are available in a variety of sizes and will not rust when subjected to damp air. Plastic zipper bags are invaluable for keeping small items clean and in one place.
First Aid Supplies Here is a list of basic first aid supplies that will be useful in most cases of injury:
Disinfectant: For cleaning wounds. Always dilute with clean water, according to manufacturer’s instructions.nn Apply to wound using cotton wool, always wiping from the center of the wound out towards the surrounding skin.
Antiseptic Swabs and Scrubs: These enable to wound to be cleaned even without access to a water supply.
Wound Powder/Ointment: To prevent new infection from entering the wound. Ointments have some water resistance but are less easily absorbed than creams. Powders avoid the need to touch a wound, but are only absorbed by broken skin. Following cleaning, no preparation should be used on a wound that has yet to be seen by your veterinarian.
Antibiotic Aerosol: For treatment of wounds to prevent infection without damaging tissue. Often colored (eg: blue or violet) to help with targetting. Take care to spray gently from the recommended distance.
Fly Repellent: To keep flies away from healing wounds.
Wound Dressings: To cover wounds without sticking to them and to promote healing. Come pre-packed for sterility.
Bandages: You need to keep a supply, but two would be a bare minimum. They should be 3 to 4 inches wide and stretchy–Vetrap is excellent for this as it sticks to itself and not to the horse. If you choose to use ordinary crepe bandages, they can be washed and re-used. Any bandage should be applied over either “gamgee”–see below for the definition of this English term, cotton wool wrapped around the leg, or a padded leg wrap, carefully applied to prevent pressure points. Avoid open-weave or felt bandages with no “give” in them.
Elastoplast/Bandaids/Insulating tape or safety pins: For fastening bandages.
Gamgee/Field Wrap: Cotton wool sandwiched between two layers of gauze. Comes in rolls. Cut to shape for padding beneath bandages; also can be used as a pressure pad to stop bleeding. You can get this from your vet, or from an equine supply store. Padded leg wraps may be used, as long as they are well-fitting and do not bunch under the bandage and cause pressure points.
Cotton wool: Include several large rolls. Useful for cleaning wounds if no swabs are available, mopping up and dabbing on powders. Not suitable for applying dry directly to wounds or for use as padding underneath bandages as it will stick to the wound. Take care to keep clean.
Epsom Salts: For soaking abcessed feet.
Scissors: Must have rounded ends and should be kept sharp.
Tweezers/forceps: To remove splinters etc.
Thermometer: Modern digital thermometers are easiest to read. Attach a string with a clip and make sure you don’t lose the thermometer by attaching it to the horse’s tail.
Vaseline/petroleum jelly: To help insert the thermometer. Also protects soft tissues from soreness and chafing.
Some Things to Remember Remember that a first aid kit is only useful in an emergency if it is right where you need it. You might want to put together more than one kit–one for the barn, one for the trailer and a small kit containing non-stick gauze and a crepe bandage, to take with you on the trails.
Write down your veterinarian’s phone number on all first aid kits.
First aid kits are intended only for immediate, emergency action or for dealing with small cuts and scrapes, not for dealing with major injuries or illnesses. When in doubt, call your veterinarian.