First-aid for horse and rider

This article will cover the basics of first-aid for the equine enthusiast.

I recently sat down with Michigan 4-H volunteer, Bill (Bear) Nelson to chat about the topic of trail safety.  Bear and his wife Cricket are long time Michigan 4-H volunteers and members of the State 4-H Trail Ride planning committee.  They are well-versed in trail riding safety and both are past Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT).  The focus of our conversation was the all-important first-aid kit.  The Nelsons are committed to both 4-H and to safe trail riding practices. If you have ever met one of these two, you have certainly noticed their vibrant passion for the Michigan 4-H Horse program!This article will cover the basics of first-aid for the equine enthusiast.

Taylor Fabus (TF):  When is it necessary to have a first-aid kit with you?

Bear Nelson (BN): If you're going on a camping trip, always equip yourself with a first-aid kit. Minor bumps and scrapes, a bee sting or just a simple old-fashioned headache can happen anywhere, so it pays to be prepared.

TF: What type of first-aid kit do you recommend?

BN: Most beginners tend to opt for a pre-assembled kit as a matter of convenience rather than building their own. It's an easy way of ensuring that you have not forgotten any of the basics. Most of these types of kit are compact, water-resistant pouches that can be refilled and reused. If, however, you're going on a longer, more demanding trip, you may need to consider additional items.

TF: what do you consider some of those essentials to be?

BN: Before you decide to purchase or to make up your own first-aid kit, you need to carry the supplies that match your trip plans so think about the number of people participating, how long the trip is for, the difficulty of the trip and any potential dangers that you might encounter along your route and the distance you'd need to travel if you had to seek medical assistance.

However, as a general rule of thumb, every first-aid kit should include:

  • An easy to follow first-aid instruction manual
  • Basic bandages - Different sizes of adhesive plasters, bandages and tape
  • Basic drugs/lotions - Paracetamol, antiseptic, indigestion tablets, any prescription medication and calamine lotion to treat insect bites
  • Basic first-aid tools - Mirror, tweezers, razor blade, scissors or penknife
  • Miscellaneous items - Bee/wasp sting kit, handy wipes, plastic gloves and eye pads
  • For longer trips, you may wish to take additional bandages, gauze pads, a sling, burn ointment, splint, forceps, instant ice pack and a thermometer, but you should adapt your kit to suit your specific trip.

TF: Do you suggest any training before using the first-aid kit?

BN: The best first-aid kit in the world will be useless unless you know how to use the supplies within it. You should read up on basic first-aid at home first. There are also a number of specialist books on wilderness first-aid. Anyone practicing first-aid must decide what the priority of treatment is.  Doing a bit of research ahead of time will help someone make these important decisions if the need arises.

TF: If someone is injured on the trail should everyone head back to camp right away? 

BN: First, avoid moving a person with unknown injuries unless there is a greater danger in leaving them where they are.  Don't move anyone whom you suspect has possible neck or spinal injuries unless they're experiencing breathing difficulties. Make sure that their airway is open and that they are breathing. If not, start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation immediately.

TF: What if someone is bleeding?

BN: All types of external bleeding are treated in the same way and the crucial thing is to try to stem the flow of blood. To do this, squeeze the sides of the wound together and apply direct pressure to it with your finger using a sterile dressing. Do not raise the wounded area above the level of their heart to slow the bleeding.  The National Safety Council now says this is not a method for controlling bleeding! Simple direct pressure is the method of choice now.

If you suspect an injury may have caused internal bleeding, immediate medical attention must be sought if this happens, wherever possible.

TF: Any last words-of-wisdom you would like to leave us with?

BN: Don't forget a first-aid kit is only as useful as the person using it so reading a few first-aid books is a good idea and, better still; consider enrolling on a first-aid course. You never know, you could save a life.

 Thanks again to Bear Nelson for helping with this article!

For more information visit Michigan State University Extension's Horses page.

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