It is important that horse owners and those in charge of animals should be able to render temporary assistance in the case of accident or sudden illness, as by timely aid valuable lives are saved, while, for want of some elementary knowledge such as the St. John's ambulance classes provide, animals as well as men lose their lives or suffer permanent disablement unnecessarily.
The good Samaritan who would render assistance to an animal by the way, or the other on his own premises, is met with an initial difficulty almost unknown to those whose help is offered only to fellow-men. Horses, even the smallest of them, are not easily controlled when suffering acute pain added to fright; they cannot be reasoned with, or lifted when they fall, by the power of any one person, and furthermore, active as well as passive opposition is too frequently offered to those who would give succour to a wounded animal.
Whether on the road, in the field, or in the stable, occasions arise when horses need prompt and energetic assistance from their attendants while professional aid is being summoned.
On the road, broken knees, collisions, etc, may divide the flesh and set up profuse bleeding from an artery or vein of large calibre, and unless haemorrhage is promptly arrested death may be the result.
In the stables, horses get loose and injure one another, or, getting "cast" as it is called, spend their strength in useless efforts to regain their feet, and in the absence of assistance frequently suffer irreparable injury. In many ways, then, both in the stable and the field, "first aid " may be wanted.
The bewilderment of sudden and novel circumstances, and the natural revulsion that is felt to blood by all who have received no training in surgery, put the horseman to a disadvantage when called upon to render help for which he is quite unprepared. In the chapter on wounds it has been pointed out that bringing the edges together is of the first importance, and here again the reader may be reminded that the first and most likely step towards arresting haemorrhage is to be gained in that way. Often a number of small vessels pouring out their contents at the same time alarm the amateur in surgery, but are of no serious consequence, and it is found that when brought together by the closing of the wound with some mechanical contrivance, these vessels are closed or a clot is formed, and further bleeding prevented.
How is a gaping wound to be closed by a man without appliances? Non possumus, is the answer that rises speedily to the lips of him who has never tried. Besides, so many accidents occur within call of professional aid that the habit of dependence becomes established, so that we regard a serious piece of surgery as only possible with a powerful armamentarium of modern appliances. These are useful, nay, admirable, but nearly every civilized man carries with him some sort of means of stopping bleeding: a piece of string, a scarf-pin, or common pin on his waistcoat corner, a pocket-knife, a handkerchief, the lining of his hat and coat. With some of these, and the hair in his horse's tail or mane, he can secure the edges of a gaping wound or plug a deep one. If he has pins they can be pushed through the skin, and with hair from the animal's mane a figure-of-eight suture may be made, to confine and compress the parts. The handkerchief may serve either as plug or bandage, or, failing sufficient length, material can be obtained from the coat-lining or some other garment less valuable than the life of the patient. Without pins, the happy possessor of a pocket-knife can make skewers from the nearest hedgerow, and if not pointed enough to go through the always tough skin of a horse, the small blade will make the hole and the extemporized wooden pins be made to follow, when the figure-of-eight suture before referred to will be the plan to adopt.
In many cases of accident far from home, if actual haemorrhage does not preclude movement, by which it would of course be excited, it is well to remember that a horse can accomplish a short journey with comparatively little pain or risk which he would be quite unable to perform when allowed to become stiff. It is, therefore, advisable to decide at once whether to wait succour or attempt removal.
Injuries are often in such a position that none of the foregoing suggestions are at all applicable, as, for instance, when a horse falls on his chin and cuts his tongue badly. First aid in such a case is best rendered by compelling the patient to keep his mouth shut, tying him round the muzzle with the neck-scarf or pocket-handkerchief. The saliva and heat of the mouth will do all that is needed to keep the wound from injury.
Horses that have received injuries to the face, when in collision with others or the vehicles they draw, may have divided vessels inside the cheeks or the nostrils. The arteries are seen spurting with blood, but the horseman has no forceps to pick them up with prior to being tied with the piece of string with which we have supposed him to be provided; but his own fingers may be used to produce the necessary compression to arrest bleeding until assistance comes to hand.
Injuries, again, may be under the flank, or in other situations where it may be possible to stuff the handkerchief into the wound or employ cold in the form of water from the nearest stream, pump, or other source.
If he can gain attention from a passer-by and communicate with a dwelling-house, it is most likely that vinegar or alum or spirit can be obtained, any one of which, diluted with water, is an approved styptic.
First aid may be, and indeed often is, too impetuous and ill-considered, as in the case of staked wounds, the horseman rashly attempting to remove a foreign body which a veterinarian would first very cautiously examine as to direction, etc. (see Punctured Wounds). The sufferer from a staked wound should not be walked home without a plug of some kind in the orifice, as without it air is drawn into the loose tissues under the skin, causing much after-trouble. Some portion of the rider's apparel can be spared for this purpose, or suitable material such as tow or cotton-wool may be obtained at the nearest house.