LEG INJURIES IN HORSES - How to identify and treat


Horses have long, relatively unprotected legs with only a thin layer of skin covering them, so its not surprising they knock,cut and scratch their lower limbs regualarly.

There are four different types of wounds; puncture, tear, incised and contused.  Learn how to identify and treat each one.
barbed wirecut2
Before we get into the types of wounds, here are a few general do's and don'ts in respect of wound care: 

* If a wound requires stitching, or you are in any doubt, call the vet immediately.  Cells around a wound soon start to die, drastically reducing the chances of successfully stitching the wound.

* Always check your horse's tetanus injection is up to date.

* Wear protective latex gloves when handling wounds.

* If in doubt, call the vet immediately.

* Caution! Too strong antiseptic solutions can damage the tissue.

* Tubbing is an excellent way of treating foot and lower leg injuries. (Read more on tubbing under Veterinary).
To make a saline solution:
  • Strong solution: One tablespoon of salt to one pint of warm, sterile water.
  • Mild solution: One teaspoon of salt to one pint of warm, sterile water.

This type is wound is potentially very serious due to the small, but deep, point of entry making it difficult to locate.  There is a risk of joints, bone structures and tendons being seriously affected by this type of wound so quick action is important.  Common causes are thorns picked up out hunting, hacking etc.  Glass, metal, bits of sharp flint or nails are all culprits and are a very good reason to check your grazing regularly.
* Call the vet who may need to give antibiotics or make the hole larger to gain access and allow good drainage.
* Clean the wound thoroughly with an antiseptic solution.
* The wound must be kept scrupulously clean allowing any pus to drain freely.
* Keep a close eye on the injury over the next 48 hours when there is a risk of infection.
This type of wound can be caused by barbed wire, broken plain wire or the horse getting caught on metal or wood.  The wound will have jagged edges where the object has torn the skin.  The wound can be deep with tissue exposed.  Extra care must be taken if a joint, tendon or bone is exposed and the vet must be called immediately.
* Clean the wound with an antiseptic or saline solution, trickle the water over the wound, avoiding pushing any dirt back into the wound.  
* The area must be kept clean.
* If it's a superficial wound, antibiotic powder can be applied, or an antibiotic spray recommended by the vet.
This is a clean cut wound (imagine a razor cut), has smooth edges and can vary from very shallow to deep and may bleed profusely or hardly at all. Some causes are glass, metal, anything sharp which gives a clean cut, even a kick from another horse can be sufficient.
* Call the vet immediately if the wound is deep or you cannot control the bleeding.
* Hold the edges together to help stop the bleeding.
* Trickle water over the wound so as not to push any dirt back into the cut, gently clean the wound.
* Once the area is clean and free of mud and debris, wash with a saline solution or antiseptic, to clean the wound, using cotton swabs. Wipe from the inside out, NEVER PUSHING DIRT BACK INTO THE WOUND.  Each swab is used once then replaced with a clean swab.
* Air will help the wound heal quicker.
* If the wound is likely to get dirty or attract flies then cover with a non-stick dressing.
* Keep your horse stabled if there is a risk of the wound opening up while the animal is moving around.
coldhosinga knee1
The skin is not broken but bruising occurs with possible swelling and blood under the skin.
 A kick or blow from another horse while playing in the paddock, catching himself or bruising to the sole due to stony ground, are all common causes of bruising.


* If possible cold hosing for 15 - 20 minutes, several times a day, to the area will help reduce inflammation.
* Tubbing, hot and cold fomentations, hand massage and liniments will help.
* Anti inflammatory drugs may be administered by your vet
Read more A-Z Horse ailments