Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Traumatic Incident Witnessed

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • Even if the horse seems normal, it is best to start the conversation.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

    On a number of occasions I have witnessed or treated horses that have sustained severe injuries from accidents: slipping on ice, hitting fences head-on, rearing and flipping over backwards, etc … This list is long.

    In many of these cases the injuries are immediately apparent. In others, the horse seems just fine afterwards. Often, there is an adrenaline rush associated with traumatic injury. Adrenaline causes horses to appear better off than they are. However, once a horse calms down they begin to reveal the true nature and extent of their injuries. The opposite of this can also hold true; Certain injuries are very painful at the time they occur but rapidly improve.

    What the best course of action is if your horse was involved in a severe accident but seems ok immediately afterward? Call your vet immediately and tell them what happened. They may want to see your horse immediately or advise you to carefully monitor the horse over 1-2 days because some injuries take time to manifest.

    For example, a horse that hits its head in an accident may appear normal initially, but worsen over the next 12 hours. Bleeding into the space around the brain causes pressure to form that begins to cause signs of brain dysfunction. “Compartment Syndrome” relates to swelling or bleeding in many locations, with the potential to cause pressure build-up on particular anatomy and cause worsening signs.


    When in doubt, assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), repeatedly, every few hours. Be sure to see the horse walk in circles to both directions, and pay attention to attitude and appetite.

    The WHE takes into account multiple body systems so it is a good quick survey of the horse’s general health. Share your findings and concerns with your vet, who may advise you to give the horse medication (or not, so that the signs of injury are not clouded by this treatment), or provide other advice. When in doubt about whether or not a horse is injured, rest them until they are evaluated by your vet.


    Your vet starts with a basic physical exam. They assess the horse’s general health and look for outward signs of injury. They may perform lameness and neurologic exams for further information about commonly injured body systems.

    The need for any further diagnostics is usually determined by the findings from the initial evaluation.

    Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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