Pony Zara at Burford rehoming centre

First aid for horses

It’s important to be able to recognise injuries on your horse, give them correct first aid treatment and know when to call the vet. If in doubt, always contact your vet for advice.

All horses should be checked thoroughly for signs of injury as part of their daily health check routine.

First aid kit for horses

A simple first aid kit, kept in the tack room or stable yard, is a necessity for every horse keeper. Your first aid kit should include a few essential items in a clean, dry box, labelled clearly with the contact details of your horse's vet.

Items that are useful in your horse's first aid kit include:

  • a clean towel
  • a clean bowl
  • disposable gloves
  • a thermometer and petroleum jelly, so you can take your horse's temperature
  • a pair of tweezers
  • a head torch, so you can see wounds clearly when it's dark
  • ready to use poultice
  • salt to make a saline solution
  • sterile saline solution, in case you do not have access to clean water
  • a roll of cotton wool
  • scissors for clipping hair around wounds
  • stable bandages
  • elasticated bandages or vet wrap
  • syringes of different sizes for flushing wounds
  • sterile gauze swabs
  • wound powder

Remember to replace any used or expired items as soon as possible.


It's a good idea to have a travel first aid kit in your horse box for shows or while travelling.

Types of wounds

Getting to know the different types of wounds can help you understand the severity of your horse's injury.

Clean-cut (incised cut)

Clean-cut wounds are caused by something sharp. This can be serious, as it often causes a lot of bleeding.

If your horse has a clean-cut wound, the edges of the wound will appear clean and straight. The wound may also be a lot deeper than it first appears.

Torn (lacerated cut)

Lacerated wounds are often caused by something hard but blunt.

The edges of the wound are irregular and jagged, although bleeding is not usually as severe as it is for clean-cut wounds. There may also be swelling, and there's a risk of foreign objects entering the wound.

Puncture wound

Puncture wounds are caused by a piercing object, such as a nail or a thorn.

These wounds can look small from the surface, but they're often deeper than they look. Because of this, they pose a serious risk of infection, meaning it's crucial to keep the wound clean.

Due to their small size, puncture wounds are often overlooked. Always contact your vet if you think your horse has a puncture wound.

Grazes (abrasions)

Grazes are usually minor, but they are still at high risk of infection. There is often bruising alongside a graze, and they can take a long time to heal.

Overreach injuries

Overreach injuries happen when your horse’s back foot hits the heal of their front foot, causing an injury. These injuries can look like small cuts on your horse’s heel, but they can also cause more serious deep lacerations or open wounds.

Some horses are more prone to overreach injuries than others. The wounds can be very painful for your horse, but they can be prevented with overreach boots.

Bruises, lumps, swellings and inflammation

If you find a bruise, lump, swelling or inflammation on your horse, it can be evidence of an underlying injury. Always contact your vet in this instance, so you can find the cause.

First aid for your horse's wound

If you find a wound on your horse, the main aims of first aid are to:

  • stop any bleeding and to assess your horse's wound for foreign objects, such as dirt, gravel, glass or splinters
  • assess if you need to call the vet
  • clean the wound to help prevent infection
  • promote healing as quickly and effectively as possible

Cuts and grazes are the most common injuries that are likely to need first aid attention. It's important to assess any wounds quickly and to contact your vet if you have any concerns.


If your horse has a wound or injury, but they are not vaccinated against tetanus, contact your vet immediately.

How to stop a wound from bleeding

In order to treat your horse’s wound, it’s important to first stop it from bleeding. This can be done in different ways depending on the type of wound you are treating.

Bleeding from an artery

Bleeding from an artery is an emergency. You will know if your horse’s wound has affected their artery, as the blood will be bright red and it will spurt out of the wound with great pressure.

If your horse is bleeding from their artery, call your vet immediately and apply pressure to the wound while you wait for your vet’s assistance. This can be done by placing your hand over the wound with a clean dressing if available.

You can also apply a bandage to the wound for pressure. If blood comes through the bandage, do not remove it – just apply more bandage over the top while you wait for your vet.


Do not to attempt to apply a tourniquet to stop bleeding, as they can cause damage to your horse’s nerves and may affect the blood supply to other areas of your horse’s body.

Bleeding from a vein

If your horse is bleeding from a vein, the blood will be dark red and it will flow steadily from the wound. This type of bleeding is very serious as large amounts of blood can be lost. Contact your vet immediately if your horse is bleeding from a vein.

While waiting for your vet, you will need to apply pressure to the wound. You can do this with your hand, or with a bandage – this will help to stop the bleeding.

Bleeding capillaries (blood vessels)

Bleeding from blood vessels is a less severe type of bleeding, and most common with cuts and grazes. Capillary bleeding causes the blood to ooze slowly out of the wound, making it much easier to treat. Often, the bleeding will have already stopped by time you find the wound.

This type of bleeding can usually be stopped by cold hosing your horse’s wound.

How to clean your horse’s wound

After stopping the wound from bleeding, you will need to clean your horse’s wound, unless you are waiting for the assistance of your vet. Depending on the type of wound, this can be done in different ways.


Bathing is a common way to gently clean the wound and prevent it from getting infected.

  1. Take an unused sterile gauze swab or cotton wool and soak it in clean, warm salty water (or saline solution) – if you do not have access to clean water, you can use a sterile saline solution
  2. Gently bathe the wound with the gauze, focusing on the outer areas of the wound. You should always wipe outwards from the wound, rather than rubbing it.
  3. Only use each gauze once – use several swabs if required and discard any that have been used

Cold hosing

Cold hosing is usually used if your horse has an injury on their leg and if your horse is used to the process. It’s a good way to stop any bleeding, clean a wound and reduce any swelling. It involves using a steady stream of cold water, such as a hose, to wash out the wound.

  1. Hold your horse in a safe area
  2. Stand to the side of your horse and turn your hose on at a slow rate
  3. Start by holding the hose over your horse’s hooves to allow them to get used to the sensation
  4. Gradually move the running water up your horse’s legs and just above the wound so the water runs over it
  5. If your horse is able to tolerate it, hold the running water over your horse wound for up to 15 minutes


Your horse will be more likely to tolerate cold hosing if they are used to it. You can practice gently getting your horse used to the hose in case it’s ever necessary.

What to do if there’s a foreign object in your horse’s wound

If your horse is wounded, it’s important to check whether there is anything in the wound, such as dirt, gravel, glass or splinters.

If your horse has a large, penetrating object in their wound, do not try to remove it – doing so can cause more harm. It’s also important not to remove any objects causing a puncture wound, such as a nail. Contact your vet and follow their advice. Your vet will often need to remove the object themselves.

If you spot dirt in your horse’s wound, the best way to remove it is by gently bathing the wound or by cold hosing.

Dressing your horse’s wound

Once you have cleaned your horse’s wound, you can then dress it to help it heal. For smaller wounds, simply applying wound powder or cream may be enough to keep the wound clean and protected. For larger injuries you will need to:  

  1. place a dressing pad over the wound and wrap with a soft bandage to hold this in place – this can be an adhesive or elasticated bandage
  2. wrap a layer of cotton wool or clean gamgee to protect your horse’s wound. This can be held in place with a stable bandage.
  3. place a stable bandage on the opposite leg to provide support

If you’re not sure how to dress your horse’s wound, ask your vet to show you how – applying a wound incorrectly can make your horse’s wound worse.

You can also poultice your horse’s wound to draw out infection and aid treatment. This involves using poultice dressings, and it can be applied either hot or cold.

Read more about poulticing your horse’s wound.

How to recognise a horse emergency

It’s important to be able to recognise a horse health emergency, so you know when to call your vet.

You should always call your vet if your horse is:

  • bleeding severely from their artery or vein
  • not bearing weight on a foot
  • suffering from laminitis
  • unable to get up
  • has a very high temperature or respiration rate (TPR)
  • suffering from colic
  • suffering from choke
  • having problems with foaling

Always call your vet if you're in doubt or lack experience to assess and treat minor wounds.

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• 17 November 2023

Next review

• 17 November 2026

Approved by
Ruth Court

Horse Welfare Manager