Your clients have been training all winter and the horses have shed their winter coats. Everything looks great. But are you prepared for those moments on the road this summer, when the unexpected happens and things go wrong?
Emergency preparedness is the key to dealing with the unexpected, beginning with immunizations. Joe B. Stricklin, DVM, assistant professor, Equine Field Service, Equine Sports Medicine at The Equine Hospital, Colorado State University, advises, “The horse’s age and geographic area are factors, but for younger horses two years or less, an intranasal strangles and intranasal influenza vaccine at six-month intervals is important.” After age two, he says, “continue with the intranasal influenza every six months.”
Rhinopneumonitis vaccine is not recommended by all vets, “but it probably is a good idea if horses are going continuously,” Stricklin says. Give this muscle shot every three months, since “rhino protection is short-lived.” West Nile virus vaccinations were formerly advised for specific areas, but now every locale can harbor this disease, so why take a chance?
Bottom line on vaccinations: Consult your local veterinarian to be sure.
Once the shots are up-to-date and you’re ready to go, know that accidents can still happen. In an emergency, always call a veterinarian immediately, recommends Stricklin. Even if you’re “anti cell phone,” consider carrying one for emergencies. If you’re competent in first aid, you can stabilize many situations correctly until veterinary help is available, but don’t make the mistake of treating injuries without professional follow-up, as serious problems can develop later.
When it comes to assessing your situation, Stricklin’s “ABCDs” of first aid provide a simple checklist you can use on the scene to provide pertinent information to your veterinarian later.
Airway: Is it disrupted or cut off by trauma, such as crushed nasal bones or trachea? “The air supply can be disrupted by foreign objects, or swelling caused by strangles, an abscess in the throat or a snake bite to the face. Horses may need a small hose placed in their nostril to keep it open.” (Note: Discuss this with your veterinarian for further specific advice.)
Breathing: “Check to see if the horse’s breathing is distressed. A very slow respiration is normal; horses usually take 10 to 30 breaths per minute. Occasionally, horses will pant to cool themselves, taking up to 110 breaths per minute. If you suspect that the horse is heat stressed, move it into the shade and run a cold hose over its back. If the horse’s breathing is distressed in spite of the airway being clear, check for wounds to its chest. You can also consider giving the horse oxygen if it is available, by placing an air hose in or near its nostril.”
Circulation: “Next, check for profuse bleeding. If the horse has a laceration, stop the bleeding with clean materials such as gauze, shirts, towels or sheets, and by applying pressure. If the wound is extremely dirty, clean it with running water before applying the bandage. Do not apply ointments to the wound without a veterinarian’s approval; ointments may cause further complications. Avoid a tourniquet unless necessary. Have a veterinarian assess the wounds as soon as possible; some lacerations can lead to life-threatening infections or disabilities.
“If flaps of skin are torn from the body, wrap the area in a clean sheet to hold the skin in place.”
“Even if you’re ‘anti-cell phone,’ consider carrying one for emergencies.”
Disability: “Injuries such as fractures or intestinal or neurological concerns fall into the classification of a ‘disability.’ If the horse may have a bone fracture, keep the horse still. Allowing the horse to walk on a fracture may further damage the bone, making it irreparable. Control any bleeding as above. Your veterinarian will give recommendations for moving the horse if it must be transported and for supporting the broken limb or other broken bones.”
Want to know more? Look into equine first aid training through your veterinarian or state agriculture departments. Colleges and universities may also provide this affordable service.
First Things First in Your First Aid Kit
Dr. Stricklin suggests building your own multitasking first aid kit with these basic components:
Triple antibiotic ointment, Telfa (nonstick absorbent) pads, Betadine scrub, gauze (4x4’s) to clean with, some type of elastic wrap (Ace bandage or Elastikon), bandage scissors, phenylbutazone paste, 60cc syringe, some 18-gauge needles.
“The syringe and the needle can be used to irrigate a wound with enough pressure to force out debris. It works well,” says the veterinarian.
Other good items include a cotton roll and pliers and wire cutters, which are invaluable for extricating foreign bodies or cutting fences or leather. Want to be really prepped? Add a stethoscope and thermometer, eye wash and ointment, and a plastic Easyboot. It’s a good idea to mentally line up veterinarians at your destination. Remember that drugs in your kit can be affected by temperature variations. —SS