Karl Hoopes, DVM


Summer brings great conditions and more opportunities to get out on the trail on a horse. However, injuries do happen on trail rides and often can be serious. Riders should carry a first aid kit that includes shoeing tools, bandaging material, wound antiseptic, eye lavage (use water if solution is not available) and the address and contact information for veterinarians nearest to your ride destination.

A key point to remember is horses may become agitated when experiencing pain. Remain calm and do not escalate the situation. Basic horsemanship skills cannot be forgotten and must be used while treating any type of horse injury or sickness to protect those rendering first aid.

Hoof Injuries

Injuries to a horse’s hooves can be a bruise to the bottom of the hoof, losing a shoe and breaking the hoof on sharp stones, or even a puncture wound to the bottom of the hoof. If there is not a puncture to the bottom part of the hoof, then all the horse needs is time to heal.

If the sole of the hoof is punctured and the object that punctures the hoof can be left in without causing more damage, leave it in place and transport the horse to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If the horse cannot walk with the object in place without causing more damage, remove the object, wrap the hoof with bandage material to prevent further contamination, and get the horse to a veterinarian for treatment.


Lacerations — cuts or scratches that range from small scrapes to large deep wounds — are particularly common on horses’ lower legs. If the horse is bleeding, try to stop the bleeding by applying pressure and bandaging. First, apply a clean wound dressing directly to the wound and hold in place, adding more bandages until bleeding has stopped soaking through. Leave the bandage in place when the bleeding stops.

Once the bleeding has stopped, the horse must be transported to a veterinarian for treatment. Horses are susceptible to tetanus infection, so current recommendations are to give a tetanus booster if a wound occurs and it has been more than six months since the last tetanus immunization.

Fractured Legs

Fractured or broken legs do occur, and they can happen as a result of stepping in a hole, catching a leg between two logs, getting kicked by another horse, falling any distance, or simply stumbling and coming down hard on a leg. These types of injuries can be catastrophic. A fracture is usually only visible via X-ray. If a trailer can reach the horse, bandage and splint the injured limb and transport to a veterinarian.


Colic is a general term for abdominal pain and it can occur at any time. Signs include but are not limited to: sweating, agitation, wanting to roll, kicking at their belly, lying down or abdominal swelling. Do not allow the horse to roll around on the ground as this can lead to further abdominal problems.

Taking 30 minutes to cool a horse down and get them back on full water can prevent colic. If a horse has become hot and dehydrated, do not allow them to drink several gallons of cold water at once since rapidly consuming large amounts of cold water can cause abdominal pain in itself. If the horse shows signs of colic, have a veterinarian examine the animal as soon as possible.

Muscle cramping

Horses have large muscle groups and can often experience severe cramping leading to pain and fatigue — also known as exertional rhabdomyolysis. Signs include a stiff gait, reluctance or refusal to move, excessive sweating, dark urine, and painful back and gluteal muscles. At the onset of signs, exercise should be stopped, and the horse should be allowed to cool down with access to fresh water. After the horse has cooled down, proceed to a veterinarian for further evaluation.

Eye injury

Branches, twigs, other horse’s tails, and rocks can all injure a horse’s eye. Injuries range from simple scratches to the cornea to a rupture of the globe itself. Signs may include excessive tearing, closed eye, and reluctance to open an eye due to pain.

The eye should be examined closely — including under the eyelid — to ensure that a foreign body is not still present causing further damage. If dirt or debris is present in the eye, gently lavage the eye with eyewash or water to clean it out. All eye injuries should be examined by a veterinarian. Even the simplest of scratches can cause lasting problems if not cared for properly.

For more detailed information, go to http://tinyurl.com/HoopesHorseFirstAid or send emails to karl.hoopes@usu.edu.