Emergency situations with your horse

Be prepared

Please note: If you and your horse are in an emergency situation, call your practice on the usual number. If your practice uses our service you will be transferred through to a member of our team. 

If your horse suddenly becomes ill or injured, it is important that you react quickly to give them the best opportunity of a positive outcome.

While contacting your vet is always the first port of call, here are some additional steps to consider to help you prepare for this eventuality: 

  • Contact details

Have a laminated list of important telephone numbers including your own, your vet, your farrier, horse transporter, responsible person to contact in your absence, and your next of kin. 

If you are in a livery yard have this visible by your stable. If your horse lives out in a remote field, consider having this visible in case a passer-by notices your horse to be injured.

  • Adverse reactions

A vet may need to administer medication in an emergency so if your horse has previously had an adverse reaction to a medication please make this known. Also please have a warning visible if your horse is likely to bite or kick.

  • Communication and directions

Make sure your phone is charged and has credit. It is extremely helpful to know the postcode of where your horse lives or to use a geolocation app for remote yards and fields. 

  • Transporting your horse

If you have your own horse transport make sure it is road-worthy and legal, and is fuelled to get to a hospital if needed. Alternatively, have the telephone number of a horse transporter who works out of hours. You will need your horse’s passport to travel with them so make sure this is easily accessible. 

  • Make sure your equine insurance is sorted

Know what your horse is covered for, to what value, and if there are any exclusions. For example, a horse previously treated for colic may not be covered for colic surgery, even if you haven’t previously submitted a claim. Also, insurance companies do not routinely pay out for euthanasia (mortality) claims if the horse had a potentially treatable condition. 

  • Equine first aid 

Have a kit ready so you can clean and dress a wound while you are waiting for a vet. Please do not apply wound powder or coloured sprays as they do not help and make it very difficult to assess a wound. Having a thermometer and knowing your horse’s normal temperature is also very important. 

  • Personal protective equipment

In emergencies horses can be distressed or in pain, and have the potential to cause injury. Make sure you have appropriate clothing, including sturdy footwear and a hard hat.

  • Identification 

Make sure your horse has a microchip registered to you with up-to-date contact details – this is a legal obligation. This way if your horse is found anywhere, they can be scanned and identified as yours, and you can be contacted. You can also put small dog tags on turnout rugs or your saddle with your phone number. 

  • Responsible person

If you go on holiday and leave a friend or professional looking after your horse, make it known before you go what you would do if your horse required hospitalisation, surgery or euthanasia. Make sure your yard owner knows who this person is and how to get hold of them in an emergency.

  • Decision making in emergency situations

Would you want your horse to have surgery if they needed it to save their life? Most commonly this is for colic or a severe injury or wound. It can be very costly, and your horse will likely require prolonged box rest during their convalescence. 

Would you send your horse for lifesaving surgery even if they could not be ridden again?  There are many considerations here: your horse’s temperament, your facilities, finances and previous experience. 

There is no right or wrong, but they are much easier to make in advance when not faced with a crisis and the emotional challenges they pose.

Several equine charities have good advice on end-of-life decision making, and it is good to have an idea of what you would wish to do in those circumstances, more advice can be found here.