Are You Prepared for an Emergency?

Last fall I took the Equine Health & Disease Prevention course offered online through the University of Guelph. I highly recommend this course for anybody who has or plans to adopt a horse. It covers everything from the daily health check and how to effectively communicate with your veterinarian, to biosecurity awareness and an array of equine health conditions. The knowledge and resources I have acquired will prove to be invaluable in the future. In this post, I have compiled some of the key information related to emergency preparedness.

Having pertinent details, such as the horse’s medical information, normal vital signs, and the veterinarian’s phone number is essential when an emergency occurs. One must be able to clearly and calmly assess the situation, calm the distressed horse, and implement any emergency measures (i.e. stop excessive bleeding) and determine whether or not an immediate call to the vet is necessary. If it is, the call should be made as soon as possible to relay vital information, all while keeping the horse calm and administering any first-aid interventions the vet advises.


When an emergency occurs, SWIPER is a simple and effective acronym to remember the steps to follow in an emergency scenario. Post it in a central location and tuck a copy into the first-aid kit.

Scan the horse and environment.
What is wrong?
Immediate needs…prioritize.
Reassess and repeat.

Reviewing SWIPER with everyone in the barn and running through a few scenarios together from time-to-time will serve as an effective tool in preparing everyone responsible for the day-to-day care of the horses for an emergency if and when one does occur, including borders, lessees, and students. Focus on a variety of equine emergencies and compile a record of hypothetical and real-life experiences for educational purposes.

This post on the l’écurie equine virtual farm covers 9 specific equine emergencies in detail, including observable signs, the degree of urgency, and first-aid steps. The emergencies covered are Choke · Colic · Ocular Trauma · Grain Overload · Heat Stroke · Hoof Puncture · Lacerations and Puncture Wounds · Sudden Onset Sever Lameness · Acute Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (tying-up).

Horse Information Sheets

To facilitate communication and proper care of each horse, a brief description of the horse and relevant contact information should be posted on each stall, or, in the case of group-housed horses, in a central common area. Place copies of each horse’s Contact Sheet in a binder in the tack or feed room and in the office. Keep backup files on a hard drive and update as needed.

List the phone numbers of the owner, veterinarian, farrier, and perhaps a lessee or other person in case the owner is unavailable. Indicate whether the stable manager is authorized to make decisions regarding medical interventions on behalf of the owner, and include any medical history or extra care/caution that should be exercised when handling the horse.


HORSE Henry  
Birthdate: June 21, 2007 Age: 10

Colour: black/white  Breed: Shire/Paint/Warmblood  Sex: M
Distinguishing Markings: 17h black & white paint. He's hard to miss!

Comments: diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis (roaring) in May 2015

Normal Vital Signs:
Temperature:          Pulse:          Respiration:

OWNER   Natalie Ethier  Work #:           Cell #:  
Alternate Contact: Marsha Farmer,  Cell #: 

VETERINARIAN  Albert Horseford 
Office Phone #: 
Emergency/ After Hours #: 
FARRIER  Jane Barn, phone # 

Equestrian Insurance Brokers, phone # 
Horse Policy, policy #


First Aid Kits

Purchase or assemble a first-aid kit for the barn, as well as a copy of The Complete Equine Emergency Bible by Karen Coumbe.  It is wise to assemble at least two First-Aid kits; a fully stocked one for the barn, a smaller one to carry on trails for minor incidents that may occur while away from the barn, and if applicable, a third to keep in the trailer.

Kentucky Horse Council recommends using a bucket for a DIY portable First-Aid kit. This would be a suitable option for the barn and trailer. If using a bucket, make sure to store it in a cupboard or box where it will be protected from dust and dirt. A tool or tack box may be a better option.

The trail kit should contain a hoof pick & knife, at least 1 bandage, antiseptic spray, bailing twine, emergency contact phone numbers, and band-aids for personal use. Store this in a waterproof bag to tuck into a saddle bag or backpack.

Being prepared for an emergency will increase the likelihood of a positive outcome for your horse!



Virtual Farm: A Resource for Equine Health & Disease Prevention

The end of another term is fast approaching! The past few months have been filled with a wealth of information from my instructors and peers. One of the assignments for Equine Health & Disease Prevention was to create a virtual farm with action points for each unit. I’ve even included a few horses, a mule, and a couple of barn cats – Henry, Mabel, Marvin, Fellini, Mr. Mustard, Lucy, and George. The farm will serve as an invaluable tool as I continue through these courses and particularly when I adopt a horse of my own. I hope other people will find it helpful too!

The categories are as follows:

  1. Advocating for Your Horse’s Health
  2. Monitoring Your Horse’s Health
  3. Role of Biosecurity in Equine Wellness
  4. Effective Approaches in Emergencies
  5. Hoof Health & Conditions
  6. Lameness – Diagnostic Process
  7. Lameness – Understanding Conditions
  8. Dental Care & Parasite Control
  9. Owner Impact on Colic
  10. Overview of Medical Conditions
  11. Respiratory & Cardiovascular Health
  12. Pre-Purchase Examination
  13. Toxins


Curious About Colic?

There are many types of colic a horse can suffer from and in the majority of cases, a specific cause may not be identifiable. These cases are referred to as idiopathic and include mild colic, impaction, gas/spasmodic colic. The most common types of non-idiopathic colic (cause known) are enteritis, displacement, torsion, and sand colic.

Impaction – This is an obstruction in the horse’s colon resulting from an accumulation of sand, dirt, feed, or some other indigestible material, including enteroliths [1] and sand colic [2]. In most cases, dehydration or poor quality feed result in impactions.  

Spasmodic/gas – This can be caused by a buildup of excess gases or fluids in the colon, or could simply be an involuntary contraction or spasm. Improper fermentation of food, inflammation, poor parasite management, colonic or gastric ulcers, and stress can also cause spasmodic colic.

Enteritis – Quite simply, enteritis is an inflammation of the intestine caused by infection, bacteria, and virus.

Displacement and Torsion –  The suspension of the small intestine from the mesentery and the unfixed nature of most of the large intestine make it very susceptible to displacement and torsions. When displacement occurs, a portion of the intestine has moved into an unnatural position in the abdomen and a twist in the intestines is the most insidious form of colic. These types of colic result in a complete blockage in the intestine and require immediate surgery.  

Management Techniques

Establishing and maintaining a healthy diet and feeding routine for your horse is the most important and effective prevention tool for colic.  Feed several small meals throughout the day consisting primarily of roughage in the form of grass and hay, limit grain where possible, allow for foraging, and provide a constant supply of fresh water.

Other factors to consider are parasite management and exercise. A regular deworming schedule is required to minimize the parasite load in the horse’s gut. Tapeworms attach near the junction of the small intestine and cecum, damaging the intestinal mucosa and causing nerve degeneration. A large concentration of tapeworms (or other parasites) can obstruct the bowel. Even smaller populations of tapeworms can cause ileal impaction, spasmodic colic, and even intussusception and rupture.  

Exercise also has a preventative role. Horses are not meant to spend extended periods of time standing in stalls, and research has shown that even light physical activity like walking stimulates g.i. motility and increases the digestibility of fiber by up to 20%.


If your horse is exhibiting symptoms of colic, the first thing you should do is call your vet. If the horse is lying quietly, it is best to let it rest rather than walk, potentially causing more discomfort and draining its energy. On the other hand, if the horse is rolling, pawing or thrashing about in response to the pain, then getting it to walk quietly is a good course of action because not only could the horse injure itself by getting a leg or foot caught in a fence or under a stall door, it could also go into shock from overexertion.

Banamine can be administered in instances of spasmodic (stress-induced) colic, where there is no impaction suspected. The problem with owner-administered Banamine is that owners may not be aware of the potential side-effects and correct dosing. Also, if there is an impaction, the Banamine could ease the discomfort enough to mask the symptoms, leading to further complications.

The best-case scenario any horse owner can hope for where colic is involved is that it is caught early and is a result of a) stress (spasmodic) which will most likely pass with minimal treatment – Banamine may be administered to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, or b) a blockage, which, if minimal, can be remedied by a dose of mineral oil.

Worst-case scenario, the horse has a twisted intestine (torsion) and will require surgery. While surgery has a high success rate if the colic is caught early enough, it is quite costly and puts the owner in the difficult position of choosing between surgery and euthanasia.

Bottom line, calling the vet at the first sign of colic is of the utmost importance to increase the chances of a successful outcome.


[1] An enterolith is a stone-like formation of minerals that forms around a foreign object that a horse has ingested, similar to a gall stone in humans. While an enterolith can grow to a significant size, reaching a weight of up to 15 pounds, they will sometimes pass completely through the horse’s system and seldom completely block the passage of food through the g.i. tract. They can, however, cause mild bouts of impaction colic if they migrate to an area where food can’t pass.

[2] Horses in sandy regions are susceptible to impaction colic when large amounts of sand (upwards of 30 pounds) collects in the g.i. tract. Preventative measures include supplements and elevating hay and grain off of the ground.


Brown, J. (2012). “Banamine.” Horse & Pony, February 2012.

Lenz, T. (2012). “Horse Health: Tapeworms.” American Association of Equine Practitioners, April 2012.

Loving, N. (2006). “ Impaction Colic: Blocking the Way.” The Horse, May 2006.

Sellnow, L. (1999). “Colic: To Walk or Not to Walk.” The Horse, September 1999.

The Equine Research Centre. (2016). “The Colic Fact Sheet.” Accessed 20 Sept. 2016

Unknown. (2016). “Understanding Enteroliths.” Equus Magazine. Accessed 21 Sept. 2016.