Equine Emergencies – What every horse owner should know

So What exactly is “Normal”?

In order to recognize when there is a problem, it helps to know what the normal physiologic values are for the adult horse.  A deviation from normal can indicate a problem which requires attention.

Here are the normal values for an adult horse:

Heart rate: 30 – 42 beats per minute 

Respiratory rate: 12 – 20 breaths per minute 

Temperature: 99.5˚F to 101.5˚F 

Capillary refill time: 2 seconds 

Gum color: light pink 

Some signs that there is a possible problem:

  • Signs of distress, discomfort or anxiety
  • Lethargy or depression
  • “Off feed” (not eating)
  • Stiffness or paralysis
  • Incoordination
  • Absence of gut sounds, or excessive gut sounds
  • Not passing manure, or straining to defecate
  • Local swelling, bleeding or pain
  • Abnormal gum color (dark red, blue-purple, pallid)
  • Reluctant to move, abnormal stance, head bobbing, or unable to rise

When there is an emergency your veterinarian should be your first call.  They will be able to properly assess your horse and provide appropriate care.  There are far too many types of equine emergencies to cover them all adequately in this document.

The equine first aid kit:

A first aid kit will provide you with the necessary tools to deal with a problem until the veterinarian arrives.  A basic first aid kit should include:

Your veterinarian’s telephone number Stethoscope
Thermometer Flashlight
Scissors Latex gloves
Hemostats Wire cutters
Pliers Surgical scrub (povidone or chlorhexidine)
Permanent marking pen Leg Wrap
Cotton roll Telfa pads
Gauze roll Vet wrap
Adhesive tape Easy boot
Saline solution


  • Safety first, for both you and your horse.
  • It is always preferable to seek veterinary care for a wound as soon as possible.
  • If hemorrhage is severe, apply direct pressure to the wound to control bleeding.
  • If the wound involves an eye, do not attempt to treat it on your own.  Wait for the veterinarian to arrive.
  • A fresh wound (less than eight hours old) usually has less contamination, and may be repaired by suturing.
  • Avoid the use of caustic powders, such as copper sulfate, to control bleeding.  These products produce a remarkable amount of tissue damage.  Suturing is usually not possible after these products have been applied.
  • Sterile saline may be used to flush the wound, if necessary.
  • Avoid the use of hydrogen peroxide, strong iodine or alcohol on a wound.  These products are very damaging to tissue.
  • If possible, apply a bandage to cover the area until the veterinarian arrives.
  • A tetanus booster vaccination should be administered.

Applying a Leg Bandage: 


  • Telfa pad
  • Quilt bandage or cotton roll
  • Gauze roll
  • Vetwrap
  • Elasticon tape
  • Topical wound ointment, if indicated


A properly applied leg bandage will be tight and smooth.  It is of paramount importance that there be no points of pressure or constriction caused by improper application.  The bandage should be applied as follows:

  1. Apply telfa pad to the wound.  A topical wound ointment may also be applied at this time, if indicated.
  2. Wrap quilt or roll cotton over the area, centering the bandage on the wound.  This wrap should be applied smoothly, with as few folds or wrinkles as possible.
  3. Beginning at the top of the bandage, firmly  wrap the bandage with gauze roll, overlapping by 50%.  It is very important that the gauze wrap not extend all the way to the ends of the underlying bandage.  Leave a 1/2 inch strip of exposed wrap at the top and bottom of the bandage.  The gauze roll should be applied smoothly.
  4. Next, apply the Vetwrap in a similar manner, stretching it as it is applied, and taking care to apply it smoothly.  The last 8 inches of vetwrap should not be stretched, but simply wrapped over the underlying material.  This will reduce the tendency to unravel.
  5. At this point, it should be possible to insert a finger between the top of the bandage and the underlying leg.
  6. Elasticon may be applied to the top and bottom of the bandage, extending approximately 4 inches above and below the rest of the bandage, to exclude debris from the bandage and help prevent slipping.  It is important not to stretch the Elasticon as it is applied.
  7. If the horse has a tendency to chew the bandage, bitter apple spray or a similar product may be applied to the bandage to discourage this tendency.

It is essential that a leg bandage be properly applied to prevent discomfort or injury.  An incorrectly constructed bandage may tend to fall off, and also may result in restriction of blood flow, tendon injury, pain or tissue damage.

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