Treating Minor Horse Wounds

Full Length Of Young Woman Applying Bandage To Injured Pony On Field

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It’s inevitable that your horse will get scratched, cut, or bruised at some point. Horses squabble in their pastures, get caught on twigs or fence rails, or may scrape themselves on gates or stall walls. Most often, these minor wounds heal quickly with no further problem. It is important, however, to know the difference between a minor nick, cut, bruise, or scrape, and a wound that needs the attention of a veterinarian. With a basic first aid kit, you will be able to treat most minor injuries yourself. It is also important that your horse has an annual tetanus shot.

  • 01 of 07

    Assessing the Wound

    Medical bandage for horse
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    It’s easy to panic when you see a cut in your horse’s otherwise perfect coat, or blood trickling down a leg. But keeping a cool head will help you assess whether you have an emergency or a situation you can deal with yourself.

    If your horse is eating, moving, and otherwise acting normally, and TPR (temperature, pulse, and respiration) values are normal, chances are good that all will be well. If the horse appears to be in pain, or the bleeding does not stop after a reasonable time, or any other abnormal behavior worries you, your veterinarian is your best advisor. Always keep your vet's number handy. 

    While you are waiting for the vet, either safely tie or stable your horse, and ensure that both of you remain calm. Remember, however, that if your horse is acting in a manner that may injure you, you must keep yourself safe first.

  • 02 of 07


    Horses wild biting each other
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    The most common pasture injuries are scrapes. Scrapes occur for many reasons and can result in the shearing off of the hair and a bit of skin. Sometimes, just the hair will be missing, or the scrape may go a bit deeper, leaving a red inflamed bald area. These scrapes usually heal easily on their own without considerable scarring. When they only affect the topmost layer of the skin, they are unlikely to become infected.

    First-aid for minor scrapes entails cleaning the area with clean water. A good rinse from the hose does a good job of washing off any excess dirt and grit. An antibiotic ointment usually isn't necessary for a superficial wound, as this may trap dirt at the site. Frequently, it's best to allow very superficial, minor skin scrapes to heal naturally. If a scrape with redness and/or swelling is under the saddle or girth area, it may be best to let the area heal a bit before riding the horse.

  • 03 of 07

    Minor Cuts

    Veterinarian bandaging leg of a horse
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    Cuts can be more serious. Their severity depends on their location, how contaminated they are when you find them, and how deep they go into the tissue. If the cut is small and shallow, it can be flushed out with saline or clean water. Ask your vet though, before applying any ointments or salves to an open wound. If you're not careful, some ointments actually delay the healing process. Deeper cuts may need dressing to keep the tissue clean during the first week or so of healing, although it can be difficult to keep a bandage in place on some areas of the horse's body. On legs, a gauze dressing kept on with a regularly changed leg wrap usually works nicely.

    Check cuts twice daily for any signs of swelling or foul discharge, as these signs can indicate infection. Depending on the length and depth of the cut, it may have to be stitched by a veterinarian. Stitches will decrease overall healing time and reduce scarring. If you can, clean the area of any dirt, and wait for the veterinarian. Again, consider your own safety first. If the horse won’t tolerate you touching the area, the vet may need to administer a sedative to keep the horse calm during treatment. A horse with a deeper cut would also benefit from a tetanus booster.

  • 04 of 07

    Deep Cuts

    Sweden, Stitching horse leg cut.
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    Larger, deeper cuts will require veterinary treatment. Wire or splintered fence rails, firm branches, and other sharp objects can cause deep cuts. Situations for which a veterinarian should be called immediately involve any large wound, a wound with excessive bleeding or bleeding that will not stop, wounds involving a joint or eye, or a wound that is resulting in visible pain or lameness in your horse. Additionally, if any other situation involving a break in your horse's skin causes you to worry, there's no harm in calling your vet for medical advice.

    Some large lacerations may develop a complication while healing called proud flesh. Also called equine exuberant granulation tissue, proud flesh is excessive tissue that can impair normal healing of the wound, and which can be unsightly. Proper wound management (including bandaging) can help to reduce the development of proud flesh, and if it does develop, your veterinarian can help to reduce its growth.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Puncture Wounds

    Close up of the flank of a horse in Costa Rica that has been bitten by a vampire bat at night, showing the dried blood.
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    Puncture wounds can look small and seem harmless, but because of their depth and the potential for life-threatening infection, they should always be considered seriously. Punctures can occur anywhere on the body, including the sole of the hoof and coronet band along the top of the hoof. Because they are hard to clean out, harmful bacteria can grow deep within the tissue and cause infection. If you suspect a puncture wound on your horse, call your veterinarian. Because puncture wounds need to heal from the inside out, proper treatment is required to prevent the outside of the puncture from healing over, and possibly trapping bacteria within. A tetanus booster should be given to any horse that has had a puncture wound.

  • 06 of 07


    Young horses playing
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    Bruising or swelling under the skin can be caused when a horse bumps into a solid object like a fence post or stall door, or is kicked by another horse. Most bruises heal on their own. Cold water hosing of the affected area a few times of day can help to ease the horse's discomfort. Stone bruising on the soles of the hooves may indicate that a change in hoof trimming/shoeing methods is required.

  • 07 of 07


    Horse eating hay in stall.

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    Once you have had the vet out or administered first aid, check your pastures and fences for anything that could have caused the injury. Sometimes horses have to be separated if they are fighting, to the point of hurting each other. This way you may be able to prevent future injuries.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.