Your horse suddenly getting ill is a very distressing thing. You might notice small signs, like discharge from the eyes or nostrils, a dull coat or hanging the head and not responding to food.
Or you might walk into the stables one day and find your horse is bleeding, having a seizure or is lying down in his stall barely breathing and have your heart jump from your chest into your throat.
To be able to assess the situation you need to remain calm and think clearly. This article will guide you through how to be prepared for an emergency with your horse because it’s not a question of if, but when it’ll happen.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with major issues (may all your problems be small ?) but even if your horse is that unicorn that never has any issues, there will be a day when it’s time to let her move on, and it’ll all be so much easier if you’ve prepared ahead of time.
Not every ailment requires a call to the vet. Some problems you can deal with on your own, and at the very least, you can observe your horse before calling the vet.
Make sure that you know how to take the vital signs of your horse and understand what is normal for your horse. That way you’ll get an idea of how serious it is and have an exact description of symptoms for the vet when you do call.
First: isolate and observe
One of the first things you should do is isolate the horse from other horses in case it is a contagious disease like encephalitis, tetanus or strangles.
Have a halter and lead rope ready for when the vet comes, because the vet will request you to put them on for the examination.
Make sure there is someone calm present to hold the horse for the duration of the exam and treatment if you are too upset.
If you’re monitoring less severe symptoms, it’s a good idea to keep notes. Write down things like when you first noticed something different and as your horse’s condition changes.
Writing down time and date with your observations will make it easier for everyone, the vet included, to understand what’s going on.
Keep a log of important information, such as:
- Breath rate & any signs of irregular or troubled breathing
- Colour of the gums & capillary refill time
- What your horse has had to eat & drink (also write it down if your horse hasn’t had food or water and when she last ate or drank anything and how much)
- Has your horse been standing up or lying down, does some area seem to bother your horse especially much or is she avoiding using some area
- Is there any part of the body that feels warm, hot or swollen
- If there is bleeding or any other type of discharge
- Has your horse been defecating & the quality of the poo (e.g. very dry or diarrhoea)
- Anything unusual or out of the ordinary
It’s very upsetting when your horse suddenly gets sick, and especially if things take a turn for the worse. Writing down things as they happen, ensures that you don’t forget to tell the vet something critical.
If you don’t have a stall or paddock where you can isolate your horse, picketing him somewhere secluded can also work as a temporary solution until the vet can come and assess the situation.
Stay with your horse
When you call the vet it’s a good idea to stay by your horse if possible. If the vet asks you to check for symptoms or describe the horse, you can do it immediately.
If you feel like you’re getting too many instructions and you can’t keep up, or if you’re not by your horse and able to do them immediately, write down the things your vet is asking you to do so that you can get off the phone, do the requested tasks and call the vet back as soon as you’ve finished.
If you need to wait for the vet to arrive you should stay close by your horse. If you cannot stay or be there yourself, make sure that someone else is available to stay with your horse and monitor the condition in case the situation should change.
If you’re unsure of what to do or you can’t figure out what’s going on with your horse, it’s a good idea to call the vet regardless.
Simply by talking to the vet or animal nurse on the phone might help you find out what the problem is and whether it requires a veterinary checkup or not. You’ll feel better for being able to describe what’s happening and get instructions for what to do next.
You might also get some good advice if you’re up against a problem you don’t know how to solve.
Searching online can also help, but keep in mind that your horse is an individual and generalised symptoms don’t necessarily always apply to your particular situation.
When you suspect something serious, always have the vet come and examine your horse and make a diagnosis for your specific situation.
Talk about what to do before anything happens
If you’re keeping your horse at a livery yard, you should have a standing agreement with the yard owner about what to do in emergencies.
Most stables or barns will have you fill out a contact form that can also list what can and cannot be done to your horse without getting in touch with your first.
Make sure your contact information is always up to date at the livery yard and that they know of any special wishes you may have, such as if you want to use a specific veterinarian and what should they do if they can’t get a hold of that particular vet.
Do you wish the owner/staff to call the police if the horse goes missing or do you want to do it yourself etc.? What policies does the stable have for emergencies?
The best kind of livery for your horse is the kind where you trust your yard owner to make the right decisions regarding your horse.
I prefer to have the yard owner contact me in case of an emergency so that at least I am up to date about what has happened and what the situation is. But I also make sure to have instructions for such a time as there is an urgent issue and I can’t be reached.
If you have good communication with your yard owner, or whoever is taking care of your horse, you should feel like you are in control of your horses at all times.
Dare to speak up
Don’t be afraid to bring up subjects that you might feel uncomfortable talking about with your livery yard. Ask what kind of policies they have regarding emergencies and ask for written copies that you can study in peace and keep in case of emergency.
The more you talk about it the better your horse will be taken care of in an emergency. If you don’t bring up these subjects, you risk injury or even death for your horse.
Discuss who is responsible for what and talk about what should be done if:
- a horse receives a fatal injury
- you or anyone else listed as contacts cannot be reached
- what happens to the body in case of death and who is responsible for managing it
- what kind of insurance you have and what it covers
Also, discuss what kind of insurance policy the livery yard has, and what your insurance covers and compare the two.
Especially, if you’re not the only one using your horse, e.g. if you rent out your horse, make a clear plan of action with both your livery yard and your renters.
Free printable emergency info sheet
Download and print this emergency information sheet and keep it with your livery yard staff so that they know what to do in case of an emergency, either with you, one of your family members, renters or your horse.