When Your Horse Visits the Hospital: 12 Tips

Taking your horse to the equine hospital can be confusing and emotionally taxing. As the owner, you will be asked to assist the treatment team, and also to make decisions for your horse.

Here are tips to prepare you from three top hospitals, Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (Sarah Dukti, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, clinical assistant professor in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care), University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center (Louise Southwood, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, Dipl. ACVECC, assistant professor Emergency and Critical Care), and Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, Lexington, Ky.

  • Referral preferred but not required. Emergency care from your vet can save a horse's life, so always call your vet first for fractures, colic, and deep lacerations. If you bring the horse without a referral from your vet, you must call ahead and provide all pertinent information.
  • Ask your veterinarian to call the hospital and give the full history to the appropriate staff veterinarian.
  • Give and take. When you call, be prepared to describe the horse's major problem, how long it has been sick or injured, the condition of the horse, any medications it is on, and any chronic problems. Ask for directions to the hospital, and where to unload the horse.
  • Notify your insurance company as soon as possible, and always before surgery or euthanasia.
  • Have a plan. If you don't have a trailer, make sure you have a plan in place to transport your horse in the event of an emergency. If the horse is boarded, make sure the barn manager knows what to do. He or she might not be able to reach you, and the care of a sick or injured horse often is a big commitment. Surgery for colic or a fracture repair often will cost upwards of $5,000; let your barn manager know your financial restrictions.
  • Call a friend. If possible, bring your trainer, barn manager, or a horse-savvy friend to help you load and transport the horse, and sort through information and treatment options.
  • Stabilize the horse for transport. Your vet should help with this, as a sick horse might require IV fluids; a horse with a fracture will need a properly-applied splint. Sedation might be helpful, but ask your vet or the vet at the hospital before giving any medications.
  • Bring your cell phone. You might need to call for last-minute directions, or to get advice if the horse's condition deteriorates. If your arrival is delayed or if you decide not to bring the horse in, be sure to notify the hospital.
  • Find out who's who. You will most likely be greeted by a large group of veterinarians, students, and nurses. Always mention any behavior that might be a danger to handlers (including kicking, biting, or violent reaction to procedures like injections). Find out who you will be communicating with during diagnosis and treatment. Then you should stand back and let the professionals care for your horse.
  • Be available. Provide the appropriate person with all your contact numbers, and perhaps those of the person who accompanied you. If possible, stay through the initial work-up so you can make critical decisions. Give the name of your vet to contact for aftercare.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes the treating vet thinks you understand, but you don't, as you may be in shock. If you think of questions when the vet isn't available, write them down.
  • Visit during treatment and recovery. If the horse is in isolation, you won't be allowed to visit. If visitation is permitted, it's usually encouraged. Find out the visiting policies, ask if you can give treats or take your horse for a walk.

"It's important to think about an emergency before it occurs, when you are not upset," noted Dukti. "It helps to know what to expect; having a plan and writing it down is the best preparation."

About the Author

Judith Lee

Judith Lee is a freelance health care writer who has written for a number of medical and health care journals and health care companies. As a long-time equestrian and horse owner, she has a particular interest in equine health care. She also operates an equestrian education program, Riding for Fun, geared toward adult beginners and returning riders.

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