Horse First Aid Basics You Need to Know

You love your horse and want the very best for them. Along with paying attention to their hoof and coat health, staying on top of their nutrition and hydration, you also need to be ready for any surprise injuries, accidents, and wounds.

Having a horse first aid kit and understanding the basics of horse health is the best first step in ensuring your horse remains in good health.

Please remember that a horse first aid kit is not a replacement for professional veterinarian care and advice. Always contact your veterinarian whenever your horse is ill or injured. A horse first aid kit is helpful in providing immediate care and treatment for injuries and wounds – but please ensure you follow-up with your veterinarian.

How to Set Up Your Horse First Aid Kit

The following is a list of the basics you need to include in your horse first aid kit.

Keep in mind these are the basic supplies, your horse may have specialized needs, requiring different medical supplies. The next time your veterinarian comes out for a visit, show them your horse first aid kit – and discuss when and how to use your first aid kit.

  • Rectal thermometer
  • Vaseline (to lubricate the thermometer)
  • Latex gloves
  • Bandage scissors
  • Large gauze squares
  • Self-sticking bandage wraps
  • Cotton
  • Betadine
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Saline solution
  • Thrush medicine
  • Phenylbutazone (Bute)
  • Stethoscope

It’s also helpful to have a first aid booklet on hand so you can quickly refer to it in the event of a horse health emergency. Remember to include phone numbers for your veterinarian and farrier, and any other key contact people – keep these on a piece of paper that is easily visible and accessible in your first aid kit.  

6 Helpful Horse First Aid Kit Extras

It isn’t necessary to purchase items strictly made for horses when it comes to equine first aid. Instead, you can include several things in your first aid kit that you may have handy in your house.

  1. Diapers: You can use them as extra padding around a wound or for wrapping a hoof.
  2. Tampons: Helpful for stopping a puncture wound from bleeding.
  3. Duct tape: Adherent for bandages, especially if you’re wrapping a hoof.
  4. Rubbing alcohol: Sterilizes items like thermometers and scissors.
  5. Wire cutters: Can cut a horse from a fence or another item they get wrapped up in.
  6. Flashlight: Helps you see a wound more clearly, especially if you’re in a darkly lit stall.

Be Ready for Horse Health Emergencies

Unfortunately, there are times when home horse health care isn’t enough. As part of your horse first aid kit and horse health plan, you should create an emergency transportation plan.

Central to your emergency plan is knowing how you’ll get your horse to your veterinarian – regardless of the time of day or night.

Above all else, don’t make assumptions when creating your emergency plan. Make sure you have up-to-date answers to these questions:

  • If I don’t own a trailer, whose trailer can I borrow?
  • Do I own a vehicle that can pull a trailer? If not, who does and will lend it to me?
  • Am I comfortable driving a trailer? If not, who can I hire to do so?

Include the names and contact information of the people who you can rely on to help you transport your horse in the event of an emergency. Hint: it’s useful to have a back-up should your primary support person not be available.

Remember, if you do travel without your horse, it’s critical you make the details of your emergency transportation plan and veterinarian and farrier contact information available to whoever is looking after your horse.

Understanding Horse Vital Signs

Every horse owner needs to know how to check their horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR) rate. These vital signs are indicators of your horse’s health and well-being.

Having a baseline for your horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration rate helps you more easily and quickly catch health concerns. For example, an elevated heart rate or low temperature might indicate your horse is stressed or unwell.

Remember these ranges for horse temperature, pulse, and respiration rate:

Horse rectal temperature ranges

  • Adult horse: 99.5 to 101.5oF (37.5 to 38.6oC)
  • Foals less than 1 month of age: 100.0 to 102.0oF (37.7 to 38.8oC)
    Please remember this information on newborn foal temperatures from Extension Horses: Newborn foals can easily suffer from hypothermia (low body temperature), so if the foal’s temperature is below 98.0oF (36.6oC), call your veterinarian. In the meantime, rub the foal with towels or blankets to stimulate blood flow and/or dry its coat.

Horse pulse rate ranges

  • Adult horse: 32 to 36 beats per minute
  • Newborn foals: 80 to 100 beats per minute
  • Foals: 60 to 80 beats per minute

Horse respiration rate ranges

  • Adult horse: 8 to 12 breaths per minute
  • Newborn foal: 60 to 80 breaths per minute
  • Older foal: 20 to 40 breaths per minute

Contact your veterinarian with any questions or concerns about your horse’s TPR rate.

Making Horse Health a Constant Priority

Your horse relies on you for all aspects of their health. As part of your regular horse care routine, remember to monitor your horse’s teeth, eyes, and hooves for signs of concern, wear-and-tear, and potential issues.

  • Dental health
    Horse teeth are unique in that they wear down as they eat, but they often do so unevenly. Because of this, your veterinarian should float (file down) your horse’s teeth periodically to keep them from growing unevenly. Otherwise, your horse could have painful hooks on their teeth, causing lacerations on their tongue and cheeks.

    Read more about horse dental care in Nick’s blog: 5 Things You Need to Know About Your Horse’s Teeth.
  • Eye health
    Several eye issues can occur in horses, such as uveitis, ulcers, and sarcoids. Because the eyes are such a delicate area, it’s best to let your veterinarian diagnose and treat all eye health and vision concerns.
  • Hoof health
    You should proactively care for your horse’s hoof health with regular farrier visits, monitoring the ground surface your horse is standing and walking on, ensuring your horse gets regular exercise, and feeding your horse the nutrients they need to support strong and durable hooves.

    Read Horse Hoof Care: What You Need to Know to learn more about the basics of horse hoof care and common horse hoof problems.

How to Learn More About Horse Health Care

To learn more about horse health care, take advantage of these Grand Meadows resources:

by Nick Hartog

In 1994, Nick Hartog became an owner and President of Grand Meadows Equine Supplements bringing his talents and extensive background in domestic and international equine sales and manufacturing. He has a reputation for plain speaking of the truth. In 1997, when the US horse supplement market was something akin to the Wild West with a complete lack of standards, Nick personally tested 32 different horse joint supplements to see if they matched the label. Unsurprisingly, to him at least, only 2 products matched the label claim. Read more...