The Essential First Aid Kit

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

The preparation of a horse first aid kit for your stable is easy to make and--in an emergency--can be of great importance. Once you have assembled such a kit, make sure everyone knows this golden rule: its contents are for emergency use only. When things are used, they must be restocked immediately. When you have to apply a pressure bandage to a profusely bleeding wound, it is not a good time to discover that someone took the last elastic bandage out of the kit and used it for a non-emergency: to protect the horse's neatly braided tail!

The most basic of first aid kits should include material for bandaging, splinting, and general wound cleansing. A variety of bandaging material should be in the kit, including some sterile pads to place over wounds after they have been cleansed (large non-stick Telfa pads work well, as do the kind of disposable diapers that come in plastic packages). 

For most of the bandages applied to lacerations or under splints, you will need an ample supply of wrapping material. It is a good idea to put an entire "bundle" of clean sheet cotton and at least five packages of rolled cotton in the kit. There are a variety of commercially available elastic support bandages that can be used to apply pressure.

Occasionally, you can find large bundles of military surplus "field bandages" at an Army-Navy surplus store. They work well for a variety of equine bandaging needs. Add adhesive tape, both the medical cloth variety as well as duct tape, and small scissors to cut it. We will discuss bandaging and splinting techniques in detail in the next chapter.

In addition to bandaging material, the kit should include alcohol prep pads, sterile four-inch gauze pads, or sterile sponges for cleansing wounds. A syringe (without the needle) can be used to flush sterile water into the wound.

You can keep your first aid supplies in a sturdy container with a lid. Be sure to put in a flashlight with strong, fresh batteries, a bottle of clean, sterile or distilled water, latex gloves, a clean towel, and a twitch you can use single-handed.

Pick out a humane twitch. The best kind to get is made of tubing hinged at the center so that it may be closed over the horse's lip, then held closed by wrapping a cotton tie around the two handles and clipping the swivel snap to the horse's halter ring. Such a device will quiet down the horse and will leave your hands free to cope with the emergency. 

It is a good idea to consult with your regular veterinarian about assembling a first aid kit. Many horse owners ask me what drugs they should keep on hand for emergencies. It is my personal opinion that any drugs kept on hand should be used only on the advice of a veterinarian and only used after significant instruction. Depending on the circumstances, the indiscriminate use of pain medications such as phenylbutazone, Banamine, or any of the antibiotics can have severely negative consequences.

A second version of the stable first aid kit should be assembled for you to take on the road. The cellular phone is obviously a great tool when in need of emergency assistance or directions. It's become almost a necessity when traveling with horses.  I also like to make sure I have flares or reflectors.

Before each trip, I make sure that the trailer is in order. It is best to double-check the hitching mechanisms, lights, turn signals, floor, doors, and tires. Be sure to carry a spare tire, tire iron, and jacks for both the truck and trailer. Make sure that there are a significant number of lights or reflectors on the back of the trailer. More on emergency transportation later.

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.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners