Every one who keeps a horse soon finds out that this animal is liable to many wounds and injuries; every part of the body may be wounded. If the wound is clean cut, and there are no foreign matters about it, an attempt should be made to heal it by "adhesion" or the " first intention" - that is, to unite the divided edges at once. The parts should, therefore, be brought together without delay; and to do this the injury must be treated while fresh, as if not done very soon it will be useless. Sometimes the object in view - to bring the divided edges into apposition - may be accomplished by means of a bandage, smoothly but rather firmly applied; but more frequently it can best be done by sutures. To insert these, it is nearly always found necessary to keep the horse quiet by "twitching," to prevent injury to the operator and attendants. There is nothing cruel in twitching a horse, if it be properly and humanely done, and if pressure only be put on the imprisoned part of the upper lip, when the animal shows signs of resistance. Sutures may be inserted in many different ways to bring the divided edges of wounds together; but for the more professional operator, what is called the "interrupted suture" is most convenient and efficient. This is made by passing a pin through both edges of the divided skin, half an inch deep or more, according to circumstances, and then putting a piece of twine or tow over the point and head in the form of a figure 8 "close hitch," or round and round, so draw the edges of the skin together, and tie moderately tight; or instead of pins, a needle armed with twine, thread, or wire, may be used, and passed through both edges of the skin, as above described, and the ends tied together, the superfluous pieces being cut off. Suture wire has the advantage of not irritating the skin so much as twine or thread, and, besides, it cannot absorb irritating and acrid discharges or other matter.
When the wound is too long to be closed by one pin or suture, several may be employed. If pins are used, each may be fastened separately with twine, in the manner just described, or one piece of twine may be twisted round all of them in figure-of-8 fashion, so as to make them support each other. When wounds are lacerated and torn, it is of little use - except in certain cases - to bring the divided edges together by sutures, as such lesions will not close, except by a gradual growth from the bottom and sides, called "healing by granulation." In this event, care must be taken that no cup or pouch is left for pus or matter to collect in the parts: but we must have what is called a "dependent orifice," so that all discharges can drain away as they form; otherwise they are apt to burrow amongst the tissues and under the skin, and so form deep-seated and troublesome abscesses and sinuses. Attention to this dependent orifice is a most important point in the treatment of wounds. If matter is collecting, exit must be given by puncturing at the lowest part, so that it may readily escape, and do no further harm.
We must not forget, when we are treating a wound, to consider whether any foreign body is concealed in it - such as pieces of wood, iron, thorns, or splinters, or other objects, such as we frequently find in cases occurring to hunting-horses. If such foreign bodies are not extracted, the wound will rarely heal, and we then have much loss of time and aggravation of the original injury. We may here remark that wounds of the horse show a much greater liability to suppurate than obtains in mankind, where there is a greater tendency to heal by adhesion or the "first intention."
Overreaches are wounds of the heels of the fore-feet, caused usually by the inner edge of the toe of the hind shoe. For this reason the inner edge of the hind shoe of hunters is, by a farrier who knows his business, bevelled so that no sharp surface is left. If this is not done, the shoe cuts like a knife if by any accident the hind-foot reaches the fore-heel, and a lip of horn, with the soft part to which it is attached, is cut down, forming in many cases a troublesome and annoying sore. To treat this, the detached horn should be cut off, so as to leave no harbour for dirt or gravel, and the part should be well washed and dressed with tar or other medicament, and then bandaged up with tow, when a cure is generally soon effected. In treating overreaches, it is necessary to thin the horn below the wound, so as to allow it to expand to the swelling which naturally occurs in the injured parts. If this be not done, much irritation is often caused to the patient, and the cure is retarded.
If the injured vessel is small, the bleeding will usually stop of itself; but if large, a remedy is often required. Sometimes pressure will do this, or plugging the wound with tow or soft material. An instance of arresting haemorrhage by pinning up the cut in the skin is observed after bleeding a horse in the jugular vein running down the neck. Sometimes bleeding from a large artery may be stopped by the pressure of the finger; a tourniquet may be improvised until further assistance arrives. In the case of wounded arteries, ligatures are sometimes necessary, or the vessels may be twisted on themselves until their channel is obliterated.
The particular method of stopping bleeding must be determined by the circumstances of the case. Cold water will often stop bleeding from small vessels. Haemorrhage from an artery may be known by the red colour of the blood, and by its spurting out in jets, in unison with the beat of the pulse. In haemorrhage from a vein the blood does not jerk out, but runs in a continuous stream, and is darker in colour than that from an artery.
It is now believed that there are germs of disease floating about in the atmosphere, which are apt to settle on wounds, and cause unhealthy action in them. For this reason we apply dressings; and very good ones are carbolic acid, one part to forty of water, or carbolised oil, one part of the acid to twenty or thirty of olive-oil. Sometimes wounds are very indolent, and in such cases sharper and more stimulating dressings are required, such as lotion of sulphate of zinc and water, or mild caustic solutions, or even painting them with nitrate of silver or butyr of antimony. Of course, this must not be overdone or too frequently. When proud-flesh forms, we should not be in too great a hurry to remove it, as it will often disappear spontaneously; but should it not do so, no time should be lost in excising it, or destroying it by caustics. In reference to the latter, we may remember that where there is much fungous or proud-flesh, time is often lost by employing caustics, when it could be at once removed by a cut with a razor or sharp knife.
These are of various kinds. When a punctured wound is deep, and does not very soon heal, but shows that it is irritated by the occurrence of swelling and pain, the external orifice must be enlarged by a cut, and kept open, so as to afford exit to any imprisoned matter. Of course, if a joint is injured, the great object is to close it as soon as possible; therefore, in such cases no cutting is required.
Sometimes the eye-lid of the horse is torn, and hangs down, being only attached at one end. This should not be cut off, but an attempt made to preserve it. The raw edges, if it is not attended to immediately, should be made to bleed all over by careful paring with a sharp knife or fine scissors, and the divided parts, having been carefully adjusted, should be united by pin, or thread, or wire sutures. An astonishing cure, without any blemish, is thus very often effected, and the patient is saved from the life-long annoyance caused by the loss of so important a protection to the visual organ as an eye-lid.
The lips should also, when wounded, be treated in the same conservative manner; of course, the animal must be kept quiet by a twitch while the sutures are inserted; and afterwards he should be so fastened that he cannot rub the parts against the manger, rack, or sides of the stall or box in which he may be confined.