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What you can do before veterinarian arrives

Published: 2023-05-23 11:58:31 Categories: Guides Rss feed , Horse health Rss feed

What you can do before veterinarian arrives background source:

Horse is the apple of every rider's eye. Unfortunately, regardless of how much we try to take care of him and protect him, sometimes things that are hard to predict happen, and there is nothing we can do about it. When something threatens our pet's health, even his life, before the veterinarian arrives - WE should administer the first aid.

Horses, unfortunately, do not communicate their discomfort by crying out loud. However, if we closely observe our horse, we should not miss his unusual behaviour: anxiousness, apathy, unwillingness to move, or just a sad look, and it is obvious, that you can see everything in your horse's eyes. What to do when we see alarming signals? You will find answers in this article.

Check the basic parameters 

Heart rate

Best (and most conveniently) is to measure it while standing on the left side of the horse and press the index and middle fingers against his facial artery, which is on the inner side of jawbone. By pressing it lightly, we should feel the pulse. If our horse cannot stand still and keep moving his head - it is good to measure the bits only for 10-15 seconds, and multiply the result by 4 or 5. Such measurement is of course less reliable, but it is better than nothing :) Another good spot for measuring the pulse is the metatarsal artery, which runs through the hinder surface of fetlock joint, near the fetlock sesamoid bones. Here you should measure for 15 seconds.

Another way for measuring the heart rate is with the use of stethoscope or another pulse gauge, by putting the earphones or emitter to the horse's abdomen behind his front leg, a bit over the elbow.

We measure the heart rate, remembering that the number of heartbeats of an adult horse during one minute at steady state should be in between 30 44 beats/min.

Of course, there are various deviations from the aforementioned norm, which is why it is worth to measure the horse's heart rate a few times when he is in a good shape in order to get to know his natural pulse at steady state. Remember that it should be done in a stall, where the horse feels safe and where there are as little exciting impulses as possible (especially when we deal with stallion). Excitement, work, or illness increase the number of heartbeats even up to 200 beats/minute. Colts that are a few-days-old have higher resting heart rate, and it is as high as 80-120 beats per minute. A half-year-old coal has two times quicker pulse than an adult horse, and that is 60 - 80 beats/min.

measuring horse's heart rate Heart rate measuring, source:

Resting heart rate at an adult horse over 60 beats per minute is disturbing, and more than 80 beats is alarming. We can observe increased heart rate during fevers, severe pain, sunstroke, heart issues, colic (the faster it is, the more severe is the case). Slower pulse appears in situation when the animal have undergone an exhausting disease, poisoning, or when his organism is cooled or there are problems with his heart. Irregular heart rate is observable during circulatory insufficiency. 


Norm for an adult horse is from 10 to 12 breaths per minute at steady state (some sources name 12-20 breaths per hour). Just like the heart rate, it is good to measure our horse's breath when we know that he is healthy, so we would know what is his normal number of breaths. 

During hard work, the number of breaths might increase up to 180 per minute. Some animals breathe faster, but more shallow during hot weather, which is why fast breath does not always signify an illness.

If you want to count your horse's breaths you should, preferably, do it by pressing your hand or a stethoscope against his flank - in a pit behind the horse's ribs before the point of hip. You can also put the stethoscope to the neck's front, approximately 15 cm below throat.

Another way is to watch the nostrils or placing your palm in front of them, so you can feel the horse's breaths. However, this measurement is inadequate, as the animal might start sniffing our hand instead of breathing "normally".

Faster breath can occur during fever, infection, pain, sunstroke, or if the electrolytes are disturbed. Remember also that heat and increased humidity substitute to increased number of breaths per minute. Slower breath might be observed during cooling of the organism, collapse, or as a reaction to administered medicaments.

Measuring horse's breaths on his flack Measuring horse's breaths on his flack, source:


Temperature of a healthy horse is 37,7ºC 38,5ºC (some sources give 38,9ºC as the upper limit), so it is way higher than the human temperature. Remember that temperature of the horse's body vary accordingly to time of day and weather. Heat, excitement, and exhausting training might increase the temperature even Celsius degrees. 

How to measure the temperature? You can use a special thermometer that you put in the horse's anus. Before taking the temperature, you should put a thin layer of vaseline on disinfected end of thermometer. Then put the thermometer gently in the horse's anus 5 cm deep. It might be helpful to ask another person to hold and comfort the horse in case he fidgets during the measurement.

Temperature over 39ºC should alarm us, as it might be a symptom for example of infection or fester. Temperature below 37ºC might be caused by excessive blood loss, starvation, or collapse.

horse-therm Horse thermometer, source:


Disturbing symptoms

Feces and urine

Feces of a healthy horse can have different colours from brown-green to brown-yellow (accordingly to the proportion of consumed greens to other fodders). Feces should be wet and easily brittle during contact with the ground. Urine should be slightly cloudy, of colours from yellow clay to yellow-brown. Daily amount of excreted urine is approximately 10l.

Feces that is too hard of soft, of poor smell and bright yellow, or dark brown colour, and urine of bright yellow colour - they occur when the horse's diet is too rich with protein. In such case and when in the horse's feces (both) you can see blood, we should take samples and examine them. It will surely help find the reasons of aberration.


Healthy horse eats his fodder frequently but in small portions. A normal sight is seeing the horse looking for food right after he comes back to his stall. Horses should eat as long as they have to - grasping food is a result of being stressed by present people or other horses.

horse eating hay source:

Poorness of appetite might be a symptom of disease - unwillingness to consume meals or not eating the nutritious fodder, for example oats. It might be a result of teeth problems, wounds of oral cavity or digestive system illnesses.


Some horses are very sensitive to the fodder's quality and the way it is served. Poor quality or contamination in a crib might contribute to poorness of appetite. Lack of access to water, or its insufficiency also contributes to poorness of appetite.


Gums of a healthy animal should be of colours from bright pink to white-grey. White gums point to anaemia, blue or brown-grey to poisoning.

You can check the blood supply by momentary pressing the upper or lower gum with your thumb. In the place of pressure white spot appears that should disappear after two seconds. If it remains longer than five seconds, it points to critical ischaemia, and that might lead to collapse.

Examination of horse's gums blood supply Examination of horse's gums blood supply during Endurance competition, source:

Other symptoms

It is obvious that all deviations, such as:

behaviour - heightened anxiousness, or reversely - lethargy

eyes - lacrimation, swelling or closing eyelids, redness, photophobia

nostrils - various non-transparent liquids and discharge

muzzle - abrasions, wounds, poor teeth condition

breath - disrupted with cough, suffocation resulting with widened nostrils

skin - sensitive to touch, damaged, with apparent lesions

hooves - one warmer than others, discolouration, or dark spots on soil

tendons - deformations, sensitive to touch, increased temperature

movement - lameness, unwillingness to move, unwillingness to stand up

... and other unusual behaviors and symptoms should alert us. Do not ever hesitate if you should call a veterinarian. Sometimes it is better to be "overprotective" and react to every disturbing change in our animal's behaviour. But we should never administer any treatment on our own - the horse's state may not only remain the same, but even worsen.


Colic is the real "bind" that horrifies all the horse's owners. This name does not concern only one affliction, but a whole group. One-way food transport (which makes the horse unable to vomit), long oesophagus, equally long and moving bowels contribute to horse's digestive problems. Intestinal obstruction might concert every piece and happen any time. Eventually, the obstruction and lack of possibility of removing gas produced in the bowels are causes of pain.


The usual horse's reaction to pain is apathy, poorness of appetite, hoofing with front limbs that is followed by frequent muscles stretching, as if the horse is trying to pee or moaning. Trying to deal with the pain, they usually try to lay down. While lying they try to turn from one side to the other, or turn their head and touch the abdomen with their head, and even pinch it. During especially severe cases, the animals start to intensely sweat.

colic symptoms First symptoms of colic are: prolonged lying, unwillingness to stand up, biting and sniffing his abdomen, source:

What can we do 

First: call veterinarian as soon as possible! You should also tell him a concise description of the occurring symptoms and the horse's heart rate (you can always ask somebody to measure it while you call the doctor). 

Second: you should try to relief the pain. At this opportunity we would like to puncture some myths how to deal with a horse that has colic. If a man has colic, we try to draw in, take the so-called embryonic position, also often lie down to unburden the abdominal wall. Then, you should allow your horse to lie down calmly on a pasture or in his stall, if he is big enough, putting there a thick layer of fresh litter beforehand. But you cannot allow your horse to roll over, because that might lead to volvulus or looping the bowels.

Thus, it makes no sense to force the suffering horse to trot until the pain goes away or until the veterinarian arrives. Forcing suffering animal to physical effort only weakens them (they are already tired fighting the pain!). Calmly walking them in such cases is a much better option.

What is more, you can give an injection from a very well-known diastolic medication - NoSpa.

How to give an intravenous injection?

If our skills allow us to do so, we can administer the medication intravenously. We give intravenous injections only when the medications are aqueous solution or iso-osmotic fluids (suspensions and oil solutions are not an option!), so in this case it is really advisable. Medication administered intravenously will work quicker.

intravenous injection for horse Giving an intravenous injection, source:

First, it is good to disinfect the injection site (preferably on the neck, as on the above pictures) and its area, using a gauze soaked with alcohol (spirit) or disinfectant. Next you should find the vein in which you have to inject. To do so, press two fingers (index and middle) against visible pit that goes along the neck and wait until the vein shows above the point of pressure. After it shows, put a needle at an angle of 20-30 degrees. It is crucial, because if the angle is bigger, especially by putting the needle horizontally (at an angle of 90 degrees) you can pierce the vein trough and administer the medicine outside. After puncturing, you should add a syringe and make the so-called aspiration, so pull the plunger up to 2-3 cm. If there is blood, you can be sure that you did everything right. In such case, you can administer the medicine intravenously with the blood that was sucked into the syringe, slowly by steadily pressing the plunger. After the syringe is empty, you should press your thumb against the place above puncturing and slowly take the needle out. Eventually you can press the injection site with a sterile bysma to constrain bleeding.


How to give an intramuscular injection? 

Medicine administered intramuscularly will work slower than the one administered intravenously, but people with less experience will find it easier to give. Intramuscular injection is made by puncturing big and well supplied with blood, but poorly nervate muscles. Thus, the perfect place would be the horse's neck (the so-called "cervical region" - trapezius), or the croup (natal muscles), if the horses does not kick. However, you should keep in mind that those are places rich with blood vessels and pretty nervate. You can administer iso-osmotic, water, oil solutions and suspensions with this method.

Intramuscular injection for horse Intramuscular injection, source:

To give an intramuscular injection in the croup you should stand in a "safe place", that means collaterally to the horse, with your head pointing the horse's tail, near his point of hip to be outside his legs reach. From this place, you can safe give an injection. Like during the intravenous injection - the injection site and its area should be disinfected. Then, we do the puncturing. It is good to pat the horse on his croup a couple of times while holding a ready syringe, so by a particular pat you will quickly and decidedly put it perpendicularly into the muscle. After putting the needle in, you have to check if you have not puncture the blood vessels by the aforementioned aspiration. If there would be blood in the syringe, you should take the needle out and repeat your actions. If the blood will not appear, you can slowly and systematically inject the medication, and then slowly take the syringe out. When everything is done, you can press the injection site with a sterile bysma.

If you want to give the injection in the neck, the situation looks similarly. However, it is good to catch a piece of skin right before puncturing to distract the horse.

where to give the horse an intramuscular injection Intramuscular injection - the most convenient areas to make it on the neck and croup. Source:

Spasmolytic will reduce the pain and won't distort the disease picture during veterinarian's examination. What is more, the vet wouldn't have to lose his time on unbending the horse and would be able to immediately look for the cause of the problem.

A huge mistake during colic is administering a painkiller. Unfortunately, it could disable the veterinarian to properly assess the horse's health state and advancement of his ailment, thus deciding whether an operation would be necessary. 


Horses, as it is commonly known, have a strong needs for spending time outside, grazing and connecting with the herd. Unfortunately, those needs raise our fears, because horses (it does not matter how well we would secure the ground and fence) will always find an element that we missed and that will hurt them. It is also obvious that any conflicts with another herd's members are solved with the use of force - with hooves or teeth, as that determine hierarchy in the group. All those "endangerments" make the horse's owners scared to let their horse on a pasture while starts, and period of high expectations, is approaching.

Sight of a bleeding horse is not pleasant, however if such situation happens, we have to know how to react, so we won't lose our common sense and get to work.

How to dress wounds

First: you have to take a close look at the wound and assess whether you should take care of it yourself - if it is only a superficial scrape of a piece of skin heavily supplied with blood, or if you should call a veterinarian.

Harmless skin wounds

If we are dealing with the first case (not demanding a veterinarian visit), first you should stop the bleeding, if it appears. Remember not to rub the wound while dressing it and stopping the bleeding. If there are any foreign bodies in the wound (like sand grains) they will additionally irritate it, increase the bleeding and thus causing more pain. Instead of rubbing the wound, you should sensitively drain the blood which pours on the wounded area. You should do this by pressing a sterile dressing to the wound and keep it for approximately 5 minutes. It is good to use a saline or boiled water. Next, the wounded place should be disinfected with for example Rivanol. After disinfection, you should leave the wound "alone", do not apply any ointments because it prolongs the process of healing. Alternatively, you can apply various dry products that stimulate crusts making.

horse's wound source:

Serious, deep wounds

If the wound is much serious, deep and requires stitching, we should not touch it at all, also limiting all the external threats (during summer - do not let flies land on it, do not allow the horse to scratch or touch the wound etc.) When waiting for the doctor lasts too long, then you can apply a sterile bysma to the wound soaked with saline, and put an astringent dressing that would pull the wound walls together, eventually stopping the bleeding.

Pressure dressing

The best way to stop bleeding is the aforementioned application of pressure dressing. It should be applied directly on the wound. It consists of several layers of sterile bysmas - depending on the wound's size and bleeding heaviness, which should be covered with lignin (additional layer absorbing the blood). Then it all should be reinforced with elastic bandage. Thanks to such dressing, it will be possible to stitch the horse up even 12 hours after hurting.

If the blood soaks through the dressing - you cannot take it off, because that will fester the wound. In such situation, you should apply another layers of pressure dressing without removing the previous ones.

pressure dressing for horse 1 source:
pressure dressing for horse 2 source:

Wounds with foreign body

What to do in a situation when the wound was caused by a foreign body that is still inside (for example a stick, wire)? You definitely cannot take it out yourself as you may enlarge the wound and cause a haemorrhage. What is more, while taking the foreign body out and doing this inaccurately, unconsciously leaving slight pieces inside, which will be extremely difficult to remove.


You cannot administer any anti-inflammatory medications in case of wounds. Contrary to appearances, it would not secure our beloved one from spreading the infection in his organism.


Lameness, namely the horse's reaction to pain connected with problems concerning some of his movement organs.

We differentiate three degrees of lameness:

  1. Showing only at trot.
  2. Showing at walk with accompanying head movements (the horse raises his head while leaning on his sore leg, and lowers the head while stepping the limb on the ground).
  3. The horse does not lean on his sore leg at all, jumping on the remaining ones.

In theory, the division is very clear, but in practice differentiating between particular degrees is not that easy. Depending on the kind of ground on which the horse is being examined, his structure and temperament - assessment of lameness degree might cause quite a problem. The same applies to assessing which limb is sore - usually it is a tough task even for an experienced veterinarian.

While observing our horse, it is good to ask another person to run with him in a straight line, at first running away from us and then turning around and running straight. Preferably, the task should be performed on both soft and pretty hard and relatively even surface.

You should know that during walk your horse will put the sore leg way further than his healthy one. It is caused by one simple fact - the horse wants to postpone the moment of putting the leg down and at the same time shorten the time of leaning on the sore limb. If the animal has problem with his front legs, it would reflect in stronger neck work during movement. So while stepping the sore limb, the horse will raise his head up. When one of his hinder legs is sore, you can recognize it by observing his point of hips. The point of hip that is stronger pointing towards the centre is on the side that causes pain.

Call veterinarian

While talking to veterinarian, you should not only describe the type of lameness you are dealing with and which leg is painful, but also answer the following questions:

  • was the horse recently shoed or trimmed?
  • was the horse hot-shoed or cold-shoed?
  • are there any swellings, changes, deformations and places of increased temperature?
  • is it a "fresh" lameness or does it last since few days?

If we are dealing with a fresh damage, which happened for example during riding, after jumping over an obstacle (the horse hit a pole) you should stop the ride and after trotting out without the rider, cool the hurting leg with water. If the leg starts to swallow and change its shape, you should apply stronger and longer cooling.


In such case, it would be wrong to rub any cooling ointments or applying wrappers, because that would only make the swelling and injury worse, and at the same time - pain too. Since the veterinarian comes, our main goal should be to constrict blood vessels and maximally carry the produced heat out. Thus we should cool the hurting leg with a cold spurt of water. If you do not know which limb is "damaged", cool all four.

After such actions on the day of the injury, during the next three days we should continue cooling, regardless if the veterinarian has visited us or not. In such case (starting on the day after fresh injury appeared) you should start applying clay or cooling ointment.

Use new technologies

During telling the problem to the veterinarian, it is worth to use the available technological possibilities. For example, before you dress the fresh wound, take a photo and send it to the doctor. Along with your verbal relation, it will surely help him make a more precise diagnosis. Maybe, if there is such need, he or she will decide to shift the less urgent jobs and will come straight to your stable. Additionally, the veterinarian would be able to predict what to take for this particular case and there will be no shortage in medicines or items necessary (however, usually the veterinarian ambulances are like wells without bottoms and you can find pretty much everything there).

Let's not forget that verbal relation and pictures send via phone will not provide full picture of the disease, affliction or injury. It is only a hint for the veterinarian to know what kind of case awaits his or her help. Live consultation will be absolutely necessary for making the right diagnosis!

What can you do before veterinarian comes

1. Check the horse's basic physical parameters: heart rate, number of breaths and body temperature. 2. Contact veterinarian, giving him the measured parameters and disturbing symptoms. If you are able to, send him photos. 3. If the horse has colic, you cannot allow him to roll. Slowly walk with him. Give him an intravenous injection, or if you do not feel sure - intramuscular with a spasmolytic medicine. 4. Harmless skin wounds - clean with saline and disinfect. At the very end you can use a dry medicine that will stimulate the process of crust formation. 5. Heavy wounds leave untouched until the vet comes. If you are waiting too long or the wound bleeds excessively, you can apply a sterile bysma soaked with saline to the wound and put a pressure dressing on it.

What can you do before veterinarian comes background source:

If our horse's health or life is endangered, you cannot act hastily. If you cannot manage with the situation, do not be ashamed to ask another riders for help. But remember that treating the horse on our own can only make the situation worse. Act only preventively and turn to the veterinarian for the ultimate diagnosis and treatment plan - it is our beloved pet's health we are talking about :)