In this month’s article, we look at first aid skills every horse owner and rider should know. Taking us through soft tissue injuries, ankle injuries and how to deal with broken bones is Cory Jones, Director at Medi-K and First Aid Training Co-operative. In this blog he considers treatment for minor injuries and non-life-threatening injuries around the yard.
Horse rider first aid - soft tissue injuries
A simple slip, trip or fall can result in a sprain or strain. Who hasn't sprained a wrist, banged and twisted an elbow or shoulder, or twisted an ankle? It's one injury everyone can put on their list. Equestrians will often just muddle through the pain, the horse still needs feeding and the stable needs mucking out right? But what is the best way to treat these injuries to ensure a swift recovery?
Most people have heard of RICE for soft tissue injuries. Whether it's a twisted ankle or strained wrist or shoulder RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) is the best way to treat the injury.
- REST – The more you use the injured area the worse the damage will become. With a twisted ankle if you continue to walk or run on it immediately after the injury it will become more damaged and the swelling around the injury site will increase.
- ICE – Cool the injury site. A cold compress (wet towel) will do as an immediate fix. Many coaches use sports cold packs for this which is ideal. If you are using ice remember not to freeze the skin, just cool it! Wrap the ice in a light towel before applying it. Cool the injury site for 10 - 15 minutes and take off the ice pack for 45 minutes, then repeat. For more suggestions about when to ice injuries, click here.
- COMPRESS – Light compression will help to reduce swelling. A ‘comfortable’ bandage can be applied, vet wrap makes a great compression bandage. Compression bandages should be put on for a couple of hours at a time and then taken off for an hour or so. They should not be used overnight.
- ELEVATE – Lifting the injury will also help prevent swelling by gravity. Make sure the elevation does not cause more pain.
Keep the injured area protected and make sure you’re getting appropriate rest for the first 24 - 72 hours after the injury. This would be the time to ask friends to help out at the yard!
How do I deal with bleeding wounds?
If someone at the yard suffers a nasty cut, you need to stem the bleeding and clean the wound, but you also need to be aware that the injured person could go into shock. If the casualty is bleeding heavily, cover the wound with a dressing and bandage – some bandages come with dressing inside and are easier to apply. To deal with large bleeding wounds another bandage may be required on top if blood is seeping through.
If there is an impaled object in the wound, it is important that you do not remove it from the wound.
How do I spot the signs of shock?
If you see signs of shock (pale, clammy and cold skin, fast shallow breathing, the casualty feels anxious) then keep the casualty warm with a blanket, and lie them down to improve blood flow to the vital organs. The site of blood might make them worse so encourage them to focus on something other than the injury.
A casualty that’s walking and talking can be taken to casualty – they may even be OK to get there under their own steam. But if the bleeding is extensive, it would be sensible to call 999.
Getting kicked by a horse
Minor bruising caused by a horse kick requires a cold compress as mentioned above. However, all horse kicks are serious, they can cause internal injuries and major bruising (haematoma). Grooms or riders kicked by a horse in the stomach area can have internal bleeding which is difficult to spot. If you observe signs of shock it would be best to call NHS 111 for advice. Other warning signs would be the casualty becoming confused, blood in urine, or hardness of the abdomen where the casualty was kicked.
Getting bitten by a horse
Any animal bite is nasty as it can carry infection. Clean the bite and cover it with a dressing. The rider should seek medical advice if the bite has caused the surface of the skin to break. Infections are rarely serious if they are treated early.
How to deal with small broken bones including open wounds and closed breaks
Fractures can be open closed or complicated (involving nerves or blood vessels). Your aim is to immobilise the injury. Sometimes it is hard to determine if an injury is a fracture a sprain or a dislocation, therefore it is safest to assume a fracture.
Arm and collar bone injuries caused by falling from a horse with arms outstretched will require a sling to stabilise or immobilise them. You can see a video of how to do DIY arm slings here. If the bone is exposed control the bleeding with a dressing. Regularly check for circulation and sensation in the fingers. If the casualty loses circulation or sensation call the emergency services.
Lower leg fractures will often be deformed and show obvious damage. It is advisable to immobilise the injured leg, a simple way to do this is by trying it to the good leg which can act as a splint, vet wrap comes in handy again here and broom handles make good splints. Again if the bone is exposed control the blood loss but don’t apply pressure directly to the bone. For ankle and lower leg injuries, it is important to remove the rider's boot to assess the end of the limb for colour (blood flow to the end of the limb) and sensation (nerves damage). You might have to cut the boot with sharp scissors to see this, as looking for the zip or undoing the laces could cause you to move the leg. These casualties should be taken to the hospital as soon as possible by the emergency services.
About First Aid Training Co-operative and Medi-K
They work together to run highly respected equestrian specific first aid courses. Cory has been running first aid courses for outdoor workers for over 20 years and along with the training team at Medi-K, Cory has developed an equestrian first aid manual that can be downloaded to your phone or tablet. To obtain a free copy of the manual follow this link.