Travel Safety and First Aid
Show and Trail Ride season is just around the corner, and we just wanted to go over some basic travel and trailer safety with all of you. As you know, very trailer should be taken to a mechanic yearly. They need to check the brakes, electric wiring and tire condition. The integrity of the walls and floors should be inspected yearly as well. Wash out the inside, pull up any mats and make sure that the floor is not rusting. Every time you hook up your trailer your trailer you should check the breaks and electrical before loading any horses.
The most common trailer related injuries we see occur during loading and unloading. Some quick preventative measures can help with this. When tieing in a trailer, use a quick release snap. Always have your horse untied ANYTIME the butt bar is unfastened. When loading an unfamiliar horse, make sure the area around the trailer is free of debris and keep the trailer open and airy. Take your time and do not try to muscle the horse on the trailer. If you are unsure about how to load a problem horse, make sure you have experienced help that you trust and don’t be pressured by other bystanders to do anything you don’t want to do. To help prevent the most common cuts and scrapes, have your horse wear a head bumper to protect the top of his head, and leg wraps. For under $100, you can purchase easy to get on and off shipping boots that will protect from the heels up to the knees and hocks. The second most common problem during trailering involves the horse’s respiratory system. Tieing a horse’s head up can prevent them from clearing debris from their nose and throat that they would normally be able to easily blow out. This can compromise their lungs, causing coughing, upper respiratory disease, and in long hauling cases, even pneumonia. The best way to prevent this is to allow your horse to bring his nose to chest level. If traveling for more than four to five hours, take a break and allow your horse to remain untied in the trailer for fifteen minutes . This would be a great time to offer water, too. Also, make sure any hay that is in the trailer is fresh and not too dusty.
And because anything can happen while hauling – Never leave without some safety equipment:
1. Spare tire and jack
2. Tire iron
3. Emergency triangles(3) and flares
6. Electrical and duct tape
7. Knife for cutting ropes
8. Water, buckets and sponge
9. Spare halter and lead rope
10. Spare bulbs and fuses
11. Fire extinguisher
13. Broom, shovel, pitch fork
14. Insect spray
15. For the towing vehicle – cell phone, map, jumper cables, tool kit etc.
16. If leaving the state – a current Health Certificate and negative Coggins
Also, you will need a horse first aid kit:
1. Bandaging supplies
2. Emergency vet contact and insurance contact
3. Bungees and double ended snaps
4. Duct tape, knife, bug spray
5. Neosporin or other skin ointment
6. Betadine or chlorhexidine solution to rinse out wounds
7. Betadine or Chlorhexidine scrub to clean wounds (DO NOT use Hydrogen Peroxide!)
8. Thermometer (digital is easiest)
10. Phenylbutazone for pain/ swelling
11. Banamine for colic/ fever
12. Triple antibiotic ophthalmic ointment for any irritation to the eyes.
13. Any medications specific to your horse’s needs.
Definition: Esophageal Obstruction is the technical term for choke, and it is one of the most common emergencies we see at GMES. Many horse owners do not understand the difference between horse choke and human choke. When humans choke, there is something lodged in the trachea blocking the airway. When horses choke, there is something lodged in the esophagus, blocking the pathway of food and water to the stomach. Horses can still breathe when their esophagus is blocked.
Causes of Choke: Most of the chokes we see are a result of grain lodged in the esophagus. Different horses may choke on different types of grain. A horse may also choke on grain it has eaten for years due to a slight change in the formulation by the feed company. Horses can also choke on hay, bedding, and grass. Dental abnormalities that do not allow proper chewing may predispose horses to choke. Young horses sometime choke when they are getting permanent teeth in, and old horses sometime choke when their teeth no longer grind food properly. Eating too fast or gulping food is thought to contribute to chokes. Mild dehydration or weakness can also cause choke. Horses that have choked in the past are more likely to choke again due to inflammation and scarring in the esophagus.
How do you know if your horse is choking? Choke most often occurs during ot immediately after feeding. A choking horse usually acts very uncomfortable and can exhibit signs similar to colic such as lying down or pawing. They often stretch out their necks or hold their head in a strange position. Choking horses can also make a gagging or retching noise. They may cough repeatedly and there may be grain or frothy mucous coming out of the horse’s nose. There may also be a bulge in the horse’s neck at the location of the choke.
What to do if your horse is choking: CALL YOUR VET. Most chokes resolve on their own within 30 to 45 minutes. Administration of Xylazine and Acepropmazine can help relax the esophagus so food can pass more easily. If the choke does not resolve with medication, it will have to be removed manually. The veterinarian passes a nasogastric tube as far into the esophagus as possible. Water is added to the tube and the area is lavaged until the choke breaks down and the tube passes all the way to the stomach. Rarely, a choke requires the use of an endoscope to visualize the obstruction. Administration of IV fluids may be necessary if the choke goes unresolved for a long period of time. Even more rarely, surgery is the only way to relieve the obstruction.
Aftercare: Horses may breathe in some of the feed material that comes up their nose possibly leading to pneumonia. Bad chokes may be put on a course of antibiotics to prevent infection of the lungs. Horses may also be dehydrated after a choke, depending on how long their esophagus was blocked. Electrolytes and water administered at the time of passing the nasogastric tube are usually enough to rehydrate the horse. Rarely, IV fluids may be necessary to get the horse rehydrated. Horses are kept on anti-inflammatory drugs such as Phenylbutazone or Banamine after a choke to help decrease inflammation in the esophagus. Horses have to be fed back slowly after a choke. Fresh green grass and small amounts of wet down pellets are the best foods for the first 48-72 hours following a choke. Some horses that choke on grain will have to be fed a wet down pelleted feed for the rest of their lives. When wetting down feed, be sure to let it sit long enough for the pellets to actually become mushy before feeding. If bolting down food is a factor, placing several bricks in your horse’s feed bucket may slow them down while eating.
Be prepared. While this is the motto of the Boy Scouts, every horse owner should feel the same way. To start with, regular visits by your veterinarian for vaccinations, nutrition counseling, and general wellness will help keep your horse healthy. Knowing what is normal for your horse will help you recognize abnormal. Planning ahead will help make emergency situations easier. Make sure that you have emergency phone numbers listed, a first aid kit on hand, a trailer lined up, and an exit route and housing lined up for hurricanes or flooding. Having someone reliable to help you is also a good plan.
First aid kits can vary depending on your comfort with different procedures. A basic kit should include:
Diagnostics- Thermometer—digitals work great
Stethoscope—cheap nurses one will do
Flashlight with spare batteries
Wound Care- Surgical scrub and antiseptic solution
Gauze squares and gauze wraps
Sheet cotton or leg quilts
Vet wrap or adhesive wrap
Miscellaneous- Hoof pick
Pen or marker
Sterile eye wash
Large baby Diaper
Knowing when to use your first aid kit and when to call the vet is the next step. One way to help make the decision is being able to evaluate your own horse. Common signs of distress include the following:
Lying down for longer than usual
Single animal off by itself
Squinting, tearing or holding eye closed
Being able to perform a quick exam yourself can help your vet determine what is going on. The following is a list of normal exam findings.
Temperature: 99.0 to 101.5 degrees F (taken rectally)
Pulse: 28 to 44 beats per minute in a resting horse (listen with stethoscope under the armpit of the left front leg)
Respiration: 8 to 16 breathes per minute in a resting horse
Mucous Membranes: Pink and moist (gum color)
Capillary refill time: Less than 2 seconds (how quickly does color return to gums when you press them with your finger)
Hydration status: Pinch skin on neck—No skin tent = good hydrated
Gut sounds: Are they present in all 4 quadrants (locate the whirl just in front of hind legs. With stethoscope listen above and below the whirl on both sides)
Manure and urine: Normal color, consistency and volume
Normal behavior: Do you know how your horse acts normally?
The most common emergencies are: colic, lacerations or wounds, eye injuries, allergic reactions, chokes, acute lameness and foal related issues.
Lacerations, or wounds, can range from superficial, not through the skin, or ones down to the bone. Smaller wounds not through the skin need a cleaning with a scrub or solution and then either a wound ointment ro spray to keep it clean. If it’s a little larger or on a leg, you might want to bandage it. Lacerations through the skin will probably benefit from being sutured closed. The sooner you can close it up, the better results you will have. After 24 hours, the wound can be too dirty or too swollen to suture. Then antibiotics will need to be given, as well as daily cleansing and bandage care, depending on the location. Also, since horses are the most sensitive to tetanus, it’s a good idea to make sure your horse has had a booster within the last 6 months. If they haven’t , it is a good idea to booster them again, especially for deeper wounds. If tendons have been cut, or the wound is down to the bone, intensive care will be necessary and the prognosis may not be as good. If there is a bleeder, you will need to try to stop the bleeding by applying pressure with a clean gauze or bandage material. Keep the horse quiet until the veterinarian arrives.