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Traveling With Horses: Equine First Aid Kits


By: Brad Harter
In last month’s Mid-South Horse Review I covered some of the basic issues to consider when planning a trip with your horses. One very important thing everyone should add to their list is a traveling equine first aid kit. Most everyone with horses has accumulated a supply of emergency veterinary products at their home, but many people forget to have those supplies with them when traveling. My suggestion is to create a second first aid kit that is ready to put in your trailer whenever you plan to travel. I recommend buying a medium sized, sturdy tool box and keeping it fully stocked with meds and emergency supplies that will not require refrigeration. In the event you have meds that require cool storage, put a note on the box reminding you to add those meds prior to traveling. Emergency travel kits are available commercially, but I recommend you contact your veterinarian to assist you in putting your kit together. What you choose to have on hand will vary with how comfortable you are administering certain drugs.

 Two very important drugs you might want to have on hand are Banamine & Bute (Phenylbutazone). Both are non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs are available in many forms including injectable, powder, paste and tablets. Unless a veterinarian will be administering either of these drugs, I do not suggest having the injectable form. Paste forms are much safer for non-veterinarian administering. The biggest drawback to paste is that they may take 15 or 20 minutes longer to perform. When administered properly, both of these drugs can not only reduce pain, but also swelling and fever. As with any drug there are side effects you need to be aware of. Whenever possible a veterinarian should be contacted before administering any drug, especially if continued use of either drug is under consideration.

While both of these drugs can be used to treat similar symptoms, knowing their differences and what might work best in certain cases is very important. Your veterinarian can advise you on the basic differences.  An example would be to understand that Bute, while effective for general muscular pain and lameness, is not as effective as Banamine for abdominal pain caused by colic. Having both drugs on hand and knowing their proper uses and dosage is imperative.

While Banamine is best known for its use in horses experiencing abdominal pain related to colic, it is important to understand this drug may also mask those colic symptoms for 6 to 8 hours. Don’t be misled into thinking the colic condition is over just because your horse is not currently showing symptoms. 

Besides the drugs already mentioned, you should have on hand a stethoscope for accurately getting the pulse rate, a means of taking temperature, a sterile eye wash solution, and wound treatments that have been recommended by your veterinarian. In the case of severe blood loss, the use of vet wrap, sterile pads and pressure may be your best course of action.

It is very possible a veterinarian may be on site in an emergency situation and not have the necessary equipment needed to administer treatment. For this reason I carry a stomach tube and lube. A stomach tube can have many uses in an emergency situation, but should only be used by someone trained in the proper procedures to insert a stomach tube. Needles, syringes, sutures or a surgical staple gun can be included in your supplies even if you are not comfortable or trained in using these instruments. You may consider including a nose twitch to restrain your horse if you are comfortable using such a tool.

The most common emergencies you should be prepared to handle while traveling with horses are colic, choking, azoturia, more commonly referred to as tying-up, and wounds. Rapid blood loss has already been addressed. Choking can be very serious and life threatening and will require immediate attention by someone trained in that situation. If colic is suspected, suspend travel, keep your horse standing, although walking is not necessary, and control pain with the use of drugs like Banamine. Tying-up is complex and often difficult to determine. Often related to poor conditioning and strenuous use, all travel should be suspended and the horse should not be encouraged to walk. Take the time to read and learn about this complex condition and how this condition should best be treated. Treatment options vary and a veterinarian should be contacted as soon as possible. 

Knowing the different signs of both colic and tying-up before treating your horse can be very important. Being prepared, not only with supplies, but also with knowledge about what to do in equine emergencies should be high on your priority list. Keep your home veterinarian’s contact information with you at all times. Access to large animal veterinarians is getting more difficult every day.

Stopping often, giving your horse time to stand in a trailer that is not moving and not in direct sun, and keeping your horses well hydrated is most important. Normal urinary functions should be monitored. Many horses, especially mares, do not like urinating in trailers. Keeping bedding underneath your horse may help with urination. Whenever it can be done safely, getting horses off the trailer and walking them briefly may help encourage urination. When this can’t be done, I have found that standing next to your horse and slowly pouring water from a bottle near the side of the horse can stimulate urination.

Plan ahead; be prepared and travel safely – your horse depends on you!

Author’s note: Having just completed more than 4,000 miles traveling with 16 head of horses and mules, having the Hyndsight Vision System installed to monitor those horses while underway was an eye-opening experience. What was especially rewarding was to view just how comfortable the horses traveled the great majority of the time; but it was also nice to know immediately when a horse required attention. Without reservation I can recommend installing a wireless vision system like Hyndsight before you take your next trip with horses.

Editor’s note: The U.S. Pony Club has a detailed list of required equipment for an Equine First Aid Kit on their website:

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