14 May Common Horse Injuries and How to Treat Them
There are some common horse injuries that every horse owner is bound to come across at some point. Some injuries can be easy to treat and will resolve themselves quickly while other injuries will take persistence and thoroughness in order to see the results you want.
What are some common horse injuries? These injuries would include:
- Cuts & Abrasions
- Puncture Wounds
- Sore Muscles
- Stocked Up Legs
- Corneal Ulcers
I’ve dealt with each and every one of these injuries and I understand that having the knowledge on how to treat them can leave you with peace of mind. Keep reading to see what materials and medical supplies you can use to treat these injuries as well as the steps to treat them and how to avoid them in the first place.
I’d also like to remind readers that I am not a veterinarian. The tips I’ve shared are the things that I’ve found work for me and my horses personally. That being said, you should never overlook a skilled professional’s insight into your horse’s health.
Cuts & Abrasions
What Causes Cuts & Abrasions
Horses can get cuts and abrasions a number of ways: running into things, falling down, getting kicked by another horse, running through a fence, kicking a fence board, and the list goes on and on. Due to their wild nature and herd mentality, it isn’t rare to bring your horse in from the field to find a few bites marks or cuts over his body.
On the other hand, you may have a horse that likes to push its luck when it comes to safety. I had one horse that seemed to lack all sense of self-preservation. For whatever reason, she was always coming up with some pretty serious lacerations and abrasions. Her nemesis was usually the four-board fence around her pasture. If she was spooked out in the field, she would just plow through the fence. Needless to say, she managed to rough herself up quite a few times.
What You Need to Treat Cuts & Abrasions
Cuts and abrasions are fairly easy to treat. The biggest thing is making sure the wound stays clean and doesn’t get infected. Here’s what you’ll need to treat it:
- baby soap
- fly repellent oil
Unless your horse needs stitches from the vet, then you can usually treat cuts yourself via natural remedies. If you’re interested in knowing some of the simple but effective natural remedies that I use on my horses, check out Natural Remedies For Horses That Actually Work.
How You Treat Cuts & Abrasions
To treat a cut or an abrasion, first, start by cleaning the wound. You can mix baby soap into a bucket of water and use a rag to clean the cut. Baby soap is great to use on horses because it won’t cause the wound to sting. Make sure you try and wipe out any dirt that has gotten in the cut not only to keep out infection, but also you can determine the severity of the wound.
Once you can get a proper visual of the cut, determine whether or not the horse may need stitches. The horse will need stitches if the cut is more than 1/4th inch deep, it doesn’t stop bleeding, or if you can clearly see bones, nerves, or other body parts under the skin. In this case, call the veterinarian so that they can give your horse stitches.
If stitches aren’t the case, once you have thoroughly cleaned out the wound, you can apply an antiseptic in order to keep the cut free from infection. There are a number of antiseptics you can use, from name brand horse antiseptics to an iodine solution, or even just salt water.
Lastly, I usually apply a fly repellent oil around the edges of the wound in order to keep flies and other bugs from irritating it any further. A product that I highly recommend for this is called SWAT (link to check price on Amazon) It is a great fly repellent oil that is very effective.
It’s important to continue to clean the wound until it scabs. Keep a close eye on it for the following days in order to spot any early signs of infection. If a cut or abrasion gets infected, it will ooze puss, swell up, and irritate the skin around it. If this happens, call the vet.
How to Avoid Cuts & Abrasions
Your horse getting scrapes, cuts, and abrasions is inevitable, but you can help eliminate the risk of situations where this could happen. First, clear your horse’s field of any obstacles that they could possibly run into or fall over. This would include tree stumps, horse jumps, and buckets that are laying on the ground.
If your horse has a run-in shed, many horse owners like to line the corners of the run-in with padding so if the horse were to run into it, it would lessen the blow. Another thing you could do is avoid putting a new horse directly into the main pasture. They’ll instantly be challenged by every horse in there. Instead, start by introducing them to a few of the calmer and less dominant horses in a separate pasture. This will keep them from getting beat up.
What Causes A Puncture Wound
According to Foot Health Facts, “Puncture wounds are not the same as cuts. A puncture wound has a small entry hole caused by a pointed object, such as a nail that you have stepped on. In contrast, a cut is an open wound that produces a long tear in the skin. Puncture wounds require different treatment from cuts because these small holes in the skin can disguise serious injury.”
It can be hard to spot a puncture wound because the opening of the wound can be small and already scabbed over by the time you find it. Rarely have I seen puncture wounds bleed; instead, they’ll have pussy drainage coming from the hole and the area around the wound will swell up.
What You Need to Treat A Puncture Wound
I’ve dealt with enough puncture wounds that I sometimes feel comfortable treating it without having the vet out to take a look; however, this doesn’t mean that you have to do this. If you rather be safe than sorry, call the vet.
You’ll find that most puncture wounds are found in the horse’s legs. The times I call my vet is if the horse has become lame as a result of a puncture wound or if the hole is near a joint. In these instances, the wound could affect or be affecting inner structures of the horse and debris could still be stuck in the wound, causing the horse discomfort. If the wound is large, very deep, or won’t stop bleeding, a veterinarian will have to be called.
Needless to say, you have to be pretty thorough in treating a puncture wound. Here is a list of materials you’ll need:
- water hose
- saline solution
- poultice (see the price on Amazon)
Puncture wounds aren’t to be taken lightly and proper care is needed to see them heal properly.
How Do You Treat A Puncture Wound
The first thing I do when I notice that my horse may have a puncture wound is cold-hose the wound and the swollen area. I do this for about 20 minutes. This will alleviate pain for your horse and it will clean up the wound so that you can see what’s going on.
If the puncture wound has formed a scab over the hole by the time you find it, you will have to peel the scab off. While this may seem very disgusting, it is necessary in order to allow all the fluid that’s causing the area around to swell up to drain out. It will also allow any debris that may still be stuck in the wound to work their way out.
The next thing you can do is put a saline solution in a syringe. You’re going to have to stick the syringe into the opening of the wound in order to get the saline solution into it. This isn’t for the faint-hearted, and always have someone helping you in case your horse doesn’t like this. This has to be done in order to flush out the wound and allow the saline solution to work as an antiseptic.
Once you’ve cleaned the wound, apply a poultice to the swollen areas around the wound opening, just don’t cover the wound. Poultice acts to draw out any fluid or debris that has built up in the leg. Next, just cover the wound area with a bandage in order to keep it clean.
Check on your horse twice a day; each time following the routine mentioned above. Keep a close eye on your horse to make sure the puncture wound isn’t getting infected or that it isn’t looking worst. Walking your horse could help the wound drain, so keeping your horse immobile isn’t always necessary.
How to Avoid Puncture Wounds
You can avoid puncture wounds by removing downed or hanging tree limbs from your horse’s field and making sure there aren’t any nails sticking out in the fences, stalls, run-ins or horse trailers. Keep an eye out for objects that could injure your horse and take precautions by removing them from the area.
What Causes Sore Muscles
There are many things that could cause muscle soreness. Some of the most common occurrences are overworking your horse, requiring your horse to carry too much weight, and using an ill-fitted saddle on your horse.
A horse becoming sore from being overworked is usually seen in horses that are in rigorous training routines. Not only can a horse being ridden for hours at a time affect their muscles, but also the extent of the exercises they’re doing can as well. Jumpers are being constantly asked to thrust their 1000 Lbz + body over 5 ft jumps and dressage horses are required to hold their bodies a certain way for an extended amount of time.
Horses competing and training at this level require time to rest; otherwise, they risk serious injury. All muscle problems in the horse are cumulative; this means that if one muscle in the body is affected, all the other muscles will have to work overtime to make up for the injured muscle.
Another instance where you may notice a sore horse is when horses are required to carry more weight than they can handle. This can be extremely bad for their back and joints. Horses can comfortably carry up to 20 % of their body weight. When that limit is pushed, your horse’s muscles will be working extra hard in order to carry the extra weight. If you’d like to know more about how much weight a horse can carry, click here.
Another reason your horse may be sore is due to an ill-fitted or improperly places saddle. A saddle was made to sit a certain way on a horse on certain parts of the muscles. When the saddle doesn’t fit the horse, it is coming into contact with other parts of the muscle that it shouldn’t be. Your weight will be distributed incorrectly over the horse’s back, causing your horse to become sore. This can also happen with a saddle that isn’t correctly placed on a horse’s back as well.
What You Need to Treat Sore Muscles
While nothing works better for sore muscles than a good rest, there are other avenues to take to help your horse’s muscles get back to how they should be. Here’s what you’ll need in order to treat sore muscles in your horse:
- an equine massage therapist
- liniment (price on Amazon)
- a break from training/riding
- an area where your horse can be mobile
While there isn’t necessarily a quick fix for muscle soreness, each item on the list can help your horse’s recovery time.
How You Treat Sore Muscles
Treating sore muscles can be done a number of ways. The first thing I recommend is after a long hard ride where you suspect your horse will be sore after, massage liniment into your horse’s muscles. Liniment is a liquid that absorbs down into your horse’s muscles. It initially provides warmth to the muscle, aiding in a proper cool down.
Muscles can tend to get sore when they are worked and get hot and then directly immobile and get cold. This doesn’t allow for the proper cool down. Liniment can aide your horse’s muscles in a proper cool down, allowing for the muscles to gradually return to normal temperature. With that being said, properly winding down your horse after a ride is very important, whether you’re using liniment or not.
Another way you can treat sore muscles is by massage. Massage will break up any scar tissue that has formed a well as causing circulation to return to the muscle. Equine massage therapy is a relatively up-and-coming practice, but its methods and results are causing it to become very popular among horse owners.
I’m a certified equine massage therapist myself, and I’ve seen countless horses greatly benefit from the effects that the massage has. If you can’t quite afford to pay an equine massage therapist, just try giving your horse a good curry with the curry brush. Brushing your horse is actually a form of massage and currying your horse is the same concept as most massage techniques.
If your horse has turned up sore, it’s important to give them a break from any rigorous training. If you continue to train your horse even when they are sore, your horse could get injured more severely. Many tendon injuries can be the result of a sore horse being forced to work just as hard. If a horse’s muscles are sore, they can’t expand or contract correctly; this makes a strain between the muscles and the tendons.
If your horse comes up sore, immediately relax your regiment. Let your horse have time off until they show that they aren’t sore anymore. In the meantime, don’t confine your horse to stall rest. Stall rest will make sore muscles worst due to inactivity. Provide your horse with a location where they can be mobile the majority of the day. Allowing your horse to be able to move around will help keep the muscles warm and circulated, which can improve muscle soreness.
How to Avoid Sore Muscles
You can avoid sore muscles in your horse by properly warming up and cooling down your horse. A good warm-up will ensure that your horse’s muscles are warm, circulated, and ready for training. They’ll be less likely to injure themselves because their muscles will be elastic. Cool-down is important in order to gradually allow your horse’s muscles to return to normal temperature.
Plan out your warm-up and cool-down time. Designate time to walk, trot, and canter your horse before the real training begins. Likewise, designate time to walk your horse and let them stretch at the end of your ride. This will help greatly with avoiding sore muscles in your horse.
Make sure your tack fits properly. If your tack fits well but your horse is still sensitive, invest in a heavy duty half pad to help protect your horse’s back.
Stocked Up Legs
What Causes Stocked Up Legs
If your horse’s legs are stocked up, it’s usually due to inactivity. A horse that has stocked up legs won’t necessarily be lame, rather they’ll be stiff and may move slowly. A stocked up leg won’t be hot like a swollen leg and a leg doesn’t stock up due to a wound or trauma.
A stocked up leg is due to bad circulation throughout your horse’s body. When your horse is inactive or standing in a stall all day, their circulation slows down, allowing fluid to build up in the legs. When your horse is out in a field the majority of the day or ridden for long amounts of time, their body is constantly and easily circulating fluids throughout the body.
What You Need to Treat Stocked Up Legs
Returning your horse’s legs to normal is fairly easy. To treat stocked up legs in your horse, you will need:
- room for your horse to be mobile
How Do You Treat Stocked Up Legs
To treat stocked up legs, start by increasing your horse’s mobility throughout the day, whether that means turning them out in a pasture or lungeing them for 30 minutes. Do anything you can to help increase your horse’s circulation.
Another thing you can do to help get your horse’s legs back to normal size is to apply liniment to the stocked up area. Liniment offers a warming quality. Warmth will help muscles to circulate properly. I’ve seen liniment applied to a horse’s legs every day for a week and by the end of the week, they had returned to normal.
If you have increased your horse’s mobility and tried liniment and you still haven’t seen any improvement, you may want to contact a veterinarian to make sure there isn’t an underlying issue.
How to Avoid Stocked Up Legs
To keep your horse from stocking up, avoid putting your horse in a stall if they’re used to being out in the field. If their body has adapted to constantly be moving and circulating, putting them in a stall will be a drastic change, so you’re more likely to see this horse affected.
What Causes Corneal Ulcers
A corneal ulcer is also known as a scratch to the eye, particularly to the cornea. Horses can at anytime get debris in their eyes that would cause the cornea to become scratched; however, I’ve had two instances of this happening to my horses both during the winter when the wind was really bad. It was also when round bales were put out in the fields and the horses could bury their heads deep into the hay, which automatically puts debris and hay stalk closer to the eye.
If your horse has gotten debris in their eye that has caused a scratch across their cornea, the horse won’t want to open that eye. You could see drainage or swelling around the eye. The best way to tell if all these symptoms are due to abrasion on the eye is to hold your horse’s eye open and look for a white dot on their cornea. This white area would signify where the scratch occurred on the eye.
What You Need to Treat Corneal Ulcers
With any eye injury that your horse could suffer from, it’s important to contact a veterinarian right away. Eyes are very delicate and if there is a problem that is left untreated, the eye will potentially have to be removed. Always call a vet when your horse seems to be having eye trouble.
Here is what you’ll need to treat a corneal ulcer:
- a veterinarian
- a fly mask
- a cold compress
- saline solution
While waiting for your veterinarian, your job will be to make your horse as comfortable as possible.
How Do You Treat Corneal Ulcers
As soon as you notice a problem with your horse’s eye, contact your veterinarian. While you wait, use a saline solution to wash out the eye, removing any debris that could still be stuck in there.
When the vet arrives, they will usually do is put dye in the eye to locate the ulcer. Once they have located the ulcer and if that’s the only thing happening in the eye, then they will give you medication to put in the eye a few times a day. The medication will help to keep the ulcer clean. in order to shade your horse’s eye from sunlight
The days following their visit, it’s recommended that you keep a UV protected fly mask (see the price here) on your horse in order to protect your the eye from sunlight, which may irritate it further. You can also hold a cold compress to the areas around the eye to help alleviate some of the pain and swelling.
Make sure you are monitoring the eye and looking for improvements. The vet will usually prescribe the medication for a certain amount of days. If you come upon the date and the horse’s eye still hasn’t cleared up, you may want to contact your veterinarian again.
How to Avoid Corneal Ulcers
There are a few things you can do to help your horse avoid a corneal ulcer. By feeding flakes of hay instead of round bales, your horse won’t have to stick their head into the depths of the bale, increasing the chances of getting debris in the eye.
Another thing you could do is always stable your horse in very windy weather. The stable will provide protection from dust and debris getting kicked up by the wind.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a common injury found in dressage horses?
Dressage horses will usually experience sore muscles due to the amount they have to exert themselves as well as the rigorous training they usually have to endure. Dressage horses will usually become sore in their hind-quarters, back, neck, and shoulders.
Thanks for reading! You can find more of my horse health articles by going here.
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.