This story was originally printed in the Las Cruces Bulletin on October 17, 2014.
Because horses are large prey animals, they can often panic if they feel trapped or confined and injuries can result.
Because they have heavy bodies on slender legs that are essentially digits (with the same bones as a human finger), their soundness can be threatened by accidents and overwork. To prevent injuries, we can keep fences smooth, highly visible and in good repair. We can work horses by warming them up properly and cooling them down after a ride.
We should check that doorways and gate openings are wide enough to get through easily and that roofs/ceilings are high enough to clear the horse’s head.
We should tie horses to sturdy posts or objects that will not move with quick release knots and cotton ropes that would break in an emergency.
If a halter must be left on a horse’s head when he is loose, it should be of leather, which would break if the horse became caught by it. A nylon halter could become a death trap. Look around the stable yard for protruding objects, holes in the ground, nails, wire, strings or trash that could catch a hoof. Be sure that gates fasten without large gaps that could trap a leg or a head.
When a horse sustains an injury, your first task is to decide if you need to call a veterinarian. No matter if you see profuse bleeding from something has puncturing a hoof or body cavity, an eye is injured from a blow to the head or the horse cannot put weight on a hoof/leg, call the vet right away.
If an injury is not life threatening, you can do first aid yourself. Start by applying cold to reduce damage and inflammation. Cold, running water from a hose can have a profound healing effect. If there is bleeding from a leg, rinse the wound well with pure water and apply a pad and bandage. Do not treat wounds with medications if you are waiting for the vet. You want her to see the damage clearly.
Bleeding from a minor skin wound can be rinsed with water and some pressure applied with a clean towel until the bleeding stops. Healing and disinfecting balms can be applied after the wound is clean and the blood no longer flows. We use soothing ointments of herbs such as comfrey, calendula, goldenseal or sage on body wounds and covered leg wounds. For an injury on the lower leg, we use powdered rosemary herb to act as an antiseptic “scab.” When a leg is swollen, running water can reduce swelling. For bruises and muscle injuries, arnica gel or spray is very useful. If an injury is older, try heat in the form of liniments or poultices. A “leg sweat” can pull old inflammation and toxins from the area. I apply vegetable glycerin or healing bees wax balms to the area; cover it with Saran type plastic wrap (never pulling anything too tightly); wrap leg cotton or a piece of wool blanket around the area and then wrap it well with a leg bandage. The sweat stays on for 12 hours, after which the leg is hosed well with cold water. Preventing injuries is the best plan, but having items on hand to address an accident is a necessary part of horse care. Katharine Chrisley is a lifelong horsewoman, equine specialist, instructor and trainer. For more information, visit www.dharamahorse.com