Being Prepared for Emergencies (Book Excerpt)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Understanding Equine First Aid by Michael A. Ball, DVM. This book is available from

The best way to prepare for emergencies is to try to prevent them. Perhaps the best approach to first aid is to minimize the risk of accidents, injuries, and disease. Sometimes we do foolish things with, and to, our horses. It's a wonder they don't have more disasters.

I once turned out a yearling in a paddock that another horse owner had used for many of his horses. I just assumed it must be safe for mine. Was that assumption lazy? Stupid? Costly? Yes! The yearling ran straight to the center of the field, pawed twice at an exposed drainage pipe, and severely lacerated a leg on the sharp edges of the pipe.

In my practice, I often see horses with lacerated eyelids and nostrils. Such injuries come from the nails you didn't check for before you put your horses in their stalls at the show grounds.

What's the point? Always be aware of your horse's surroundings. The game is to find out how your horse can get injured before it actually happens. Leave no stone unturned and no danger undiscovered around your barn, paddocks, and horse trailer. Make a habit of routinely checking everything, then remove or repair anything that looks dangerous.

Prior to an actual emergency, it is a good idea to discuss with your veterinarian the horse-related emergency situations described in this book. Every vet has his or her own preferences for handling such emergencies. Also make provisions for contacting a second veterinarian if yours is unavailable when an emergency occurs.

If your horse has a severe injury or illness and needs to be transported to a referral center, or hospital, you should know where you are going and how you are going to get the horse there. Two a.m. is not the time to organize transportation! I can think of numerous situations where the transport of horses requiring critical care was delayed significantly (sometimes fatally) due to poor planning.

If you do not have a horse trailer, you should inquire about local commercial transportation or the use of a friend's trailer. Again, you should always have several backup transportation options ready, even if you have your own truck and trailer (they seem to break down when you least expect it).

Another aspect of preparing for emergencies is knowing where you are going before you need to make the trip. I can think of times when hopelessly lost drivers hauled their severely ill or injured horses several extra miles, unnecessarily prolonging those difficult trips. Find out from your veterinarian where he or she would send your horse should a referral be necessary, then plan the route ahead of time. Mark it on a map and add detailed driving directions. Keep all the appropriate phone numbers for your veterinarian and the referral veterinarian or clinic with the map.

About the Author

Michael Ball, DVM

Michael A. Ball, DVM, completed an internship in medicine and surgery and an internship in anesthesia at the University of Georgia in 1994, a residency in internal medicine, and graduate work in pharmacology at Cornell University in 1997, and was on staff at Cornell before starting Early Winter Equine Medicine & Surgery located in Ithaca, N.Y. He is also an FEI veterinarian and works internationally with the United States Equestrian Team.

Ball authored Understanding The Equine Eye, Understanding Basic Horse Care, and Understanding Equine First Aid, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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