My horse was kicked on the outside of her hock about two weeks ago. There was a small cut on the back of the hock. She was lame initially but is walking sound now. The discharge has decreased but it is still draining a bit of fluid and the wound has not healed yet. Should I be worried?

KICK wounds in horses are always a concern especially when they are associated with a cut through the skin.

Some of the smallest wounds can be the most life threatening to a horse because they puncture into structures such as joints or tendon sheaths which once infected are difficult to resolve.

One tiny piece of dirt or rust into a wound provides enough bacteria to start an infectious process and the biggest key to success in any wound is early intervention. There is a golden opportunity of eight hours from time of injury to maximise successful healing of a wound, particularly if there are synovial structures involved. Here are a few tips to help you manage wounds when you first spot them:

Lameness – phone your veterinarian

Most wounds and injuries will result in a significant lameness immediately. This is the natural defence the horse has to protect the area from further damage and should mean that you phone your vet for advice.

In the case above, resolution of lameness is a good sign. However, the drainage from the wound is a concern and likely means there is infection of the bone or synovial structures underneath the skin.

Bleeding – pressure

If the wound is bleeding then it has at the very least completely lacerated through the skin and will need to be seen by the vet. If you see bleeding then the best thing you can do is to apply pressure to the area. The horse can lose a great deal of blood before it is compromised. However, the sooner the bleeding stops the better.

The best way to stop it is by applying pressure with a thick bandage. Gamgee rolls, cotton wool rolls or even a square of duvet with an elasticated dressing over it is sufficient in the short-term while you wait for the vet to arrive.

Some areas are not accessible to bandaging such as higher up on the legs or the head, in these cases having pressure applied to the area manually will help. However, your horse may not tolerate that in which case it is best to call the vet and wait.

Mud and dirt contamination – cleaning

Sometimes the wound may be grossly contaminated with mud or have gravel and dirt ground into the tissues.

In this case the old phrase “the solution to pollution is dilution” – fits. Ten to 15 minutes of gentle hosing of the area is a good way to clean a wound that is grossly contaminated while you are waiting for your vet. Despite vigorous flushing most contaminated wounds have dirt ground into them that has to be removed by your veterinarian to maximise the chances of healing.

Foreign objects – leave them

Nails, wood, wire, even whole fence rails can become embedded in the horses’ feet, body or head.

In such cases it is very tempting to pull these out. However, it is extremely important, as far as possible, to leave them in situ and call your vet immediately. A nail left in the foot, for example, will help your vet to determine what structures in the foot may be involved. The object can be x-rayed in situ greatly aiding in the right course of treatment being taken.

Veterinary assessment of the wound will utilise a variety of diagnostic techniques to determine if there is boney damage, soft tissue damage or synovial structures (joints, tendon sheaths or bursae) affected.

Remember that golden window of opportunity (eight hours), and if there is any doubt at all in your mind whether you should phone your vet.