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First Aid on the Trail


Reprinted with permission from “The Saddle Mule News

Preventing an accident is always better and cheaper than treatment. However, we all will run into a problem over the course of our trail riding adventures. In cases where prevention has failed, preparation is the next best defense. Be prepared for problems on the trail and in the camp so you know what to do until the vet arrives.

1st Aid KitEnlist the help of your veterinarian before you get in an emergency situation. Learn as much as you can about wounds and first aid at the vet clinic. Ask your vet if you could just hang around some day and observe how trauma situations are dealt with and have your vet make recommendations on how to handle similar situations on the trail. It’s much easier to learn in a clinic setting when you are thinking clearly and it isn’t your animal. You can then calmly apply the skills you learned later in an emergency situation on the trail.

Make sure your mule is current on all inoculations before you leave on a trip. You might learn how to make sutures, wrap legs and administer some medications such as Banamine™. Have your vet help you put together a first aid kit to take along with you.

Wire cuts, puncture wounds and fractures are the most common injuries sustained on the trail, so the first aid kit should include materials designed to deal with these injuries. Although fractures are generally very difficult to handle, cuts and puncture wounds are certainly within the realm of treatment on the trail. More serious injuries should be treated until the mule can be taken to a vet or a vet can be brought to the scene of the accident. Consult with your veterinarian on veterinary drugs that you might want to take with you on long outings.

Ready-made kits are available, but will not afford the personalized touch you can add when making your own. Making a kit from scratch and with the help of your veterinarian will insure you have what you require in light of your own experiences and needs. The following items might be included in your first aid kit, depending on how elaborate you want to get and how long you will be away from veterinary care.

Adhesive Tape
Antibiotic Ointment
Antiseptic Spray or Cream
Bandage Material
Bell Boots
Bute Paste
Canteen of Clean Water
Clean Rags or Gauze Sponges
Easy Boot(s)
Epsom Salts
Good Pocket Knife
Mild Detergent Soap
Non-stick Gauze Pads
Snake Bite Kit
Syringes and Needles
Wire Cutter

NOTE: If you have a medical condition such as allergies, asthma, diabetes, etc. that could affect you during a ride – especially bee stings – be sure at least one other person on the ride knows ahead of time. Let them know about medication or treatment, and show them where your medication is. Likewise, keep a copy of your medical care card or insurance in your wallet, and with you on the ride, should something happen. We all hope all shows and events go smoothly, but make sure you have medical information up to date and on hand for yourself.

The principles of first aid for your mule are the same as for humans. Remain calm and try to keep the mule calm. Assess the situation and make sure that treatment can be started without causing further injury. Prioritize the injuries. A rule of thumb is to prioritize in this order: fracture, puncture, cut.

If there is a penetration, is the penetrating object still in the wound and can it be removed without causing further damage? It is best to wait for the veterinarian to remove the object if you can and you are within a reasonable distance to veterinary intervention. If the penetration is in the chest or abdomen area, the injury may be very serious.

If there are skin flaps, these should be cleaned and bandaged as soon as possible to keep the flap as viable as possible so that it could be sutured to obtain the best cosmetic results.

Blood loss can be very upsetting and frightening. What looks like a gallon of blood to you may, in fact, be only a quart. Usually, an adult mule can lose up to two gallons of blood before the situation is considered a crisis. Most bleeding will stop on its own before the animal succumbs to shock from loss of blood. Exceptions to this, of course, are cuts to the jugular vein in the neck or high inside the hind leg.

In determining how to treat a wound, first assess where the wound is and how bad it is.

For superficial wounds, abrasions and lacerations, first, clean the outside of the wound taking care not to probe inside which could carry debris farther into the wound and further contaminate it. Flush the wound with clean water. Clean the wound with soap, beginning at the top and working down. Allow area to dry and apply antibiotic ointment and a sterile gauze or Telfa™ pad and secure in place in an area that can be bandaged.

However, avoid using any medication or ointment on the wound if you think that sutures might be needed. Topicals may prevent sutures from holding. Ideally, suturing should be done within the first six hours after the injury.

Do not attempt to treat major wounds. Only intervene enough to stabilize the patient until you can get veterinary help.

If the wound involves exposed bone, it is extremely serious and veterinarian attention must be obtained within four hours to maximize the chances of preventing infection of the bone. Try not to move the mule until evaluated by a veterinarian.

Your job will be to stabilize the situation. Try to keep a simple fracture form turning into a compound fracture. Try to stabilize the leg as much as possible. This will prevent further damage and relieve the mule’s pain. Keep in mind the practicality of successfully splinting a fracture is slim. It’s worth a try, but don’t be surprised if you lose the battle.

Contusions are blunt traumas which do not break the skin but damage the deep tissues or the bone. The injured area will show swelling, heat and tenderness. Application of cold compresses or streams of cold water should be applied at least three times a day.

The real key to how successful your first aid attempts will be is how good you are in assessing the situation.


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