How to cope with equine emergencies

In this latest veterinary feature, Dr Chris Baldwin BVetMed(hons) MRCVS of  Sussex Equine Hospital, based at Ashington, discusses how to cope with equine emergencies

Dr Chris Baldwin   BVetMed(hons) MRCVS  of Sussex Equine Hospital based at Ashington

Equine emergencies come in all different shapes and sizes but there are a few things you can do if you are faced with an equine emergency that will help both you and your horse in that potentially difficult time.

Regardless of the emergency it is imperative you consider your own safety first. If your horse is colicing and violently thrashing in either the field or stable do not endanger yourself trying to stop your horse rolling. It must be remembered that contrary to old thoughts a horse rolling will not twist its gut in the process of rolling. Phone your vet for advice and so your vet can start travelling to you and once you have done that then phone anyone else you feel should be involved or could be of help. Once your vet arrives they will take charge of the situation. Most of the time emergencies can be quickly resolved but getting veterinary advice sooner rather than later is key.

Occasionally your vet may need the owner to give consent to either a procedure, referral or euthanasia. Therefore, if you are with a horse that requires emergency veterinary care and you are not able to make any of those decisions it is advantageous to contact the owner or decision maker prior to the vet arriving. This allows you to inform the owner of the situation so if your vet requires owner consent then that consent can be quickly obtained thus speeding up the process of treating the horse.

Sometimes emergency situations require a greater level of diagnostics or treatments than can be provided at the stables. If the horse does have to be referred then prior to the vet arriving it is sensible to get together anything you may need for the journey and make transport arrangements if you don’t have reliable transport yourself. A small bag packed ready with your horse’s passport, travel boots and bandages, rugs and head collar is a quick way to be organised ready for any transport needs. It is also sensible to have anything you may need in this bag.

Time is usually of the essence in an emergency situation. Therefore, if you feel your horse may require veterinary attention then it is advisable to phone your vet early. Your vet may have some practical advice for you that can resolve the issue without a call out, equally if your vet feels it is an emergency that requires veterinary intervention then they can start to make their way to you and start treating your horse.

Emergencies can be a scary and stressful time, whether your horse is colicing, bleeding from a wound, very lame or suffering another ailment. The best piece of advice is to keep calm, things always appear far worse than they usually are, but if you are worried then call for advise sooner rather than later. If your horse has a wound and it is bleeding profusely then wrapping a clean bandage around the wound will slow the bleeding. Wounds can be tricky, small cuts can require surgery where large fleshy wounds may only require a stitch up or just bandaging. Taking a picture of the wound to send to your vet and then call them for advice will allow your vet to give you advise on what to do next. Most wounds, even those that look horrendous are not life threatening. Your vet may advise you to hose the wound, this helps clean the wound before your vet arrives to assess the injury, cleaning the wound early helps reduce the risk of infection later on. If your horse is lame and unable to move, again call your vet, don’t try to move your horse until they have been properly assessed.

The recurrent theme throughout this article is to keep calm and call for advice. Most of us are lucky enough to have mobile phones but sometimes we are hacking out or we stable our horses in an area with terrible reception. If you are riding alone or going to be out of signal then let people around you know where you are going and what time you will be back. Most of us are lucky enough to have a network of friends and family to help us in an emergency, even if it is just to put the kettle on, make a cup of tea and take a few deep breaths. Vets are here to help 24/7 if you need us, think you need us or you’re not sure, so call us and we can help you.

Dr. C. Baldwin, BVetMed, MRCVS

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