Head wounds are common and often heal well (cosmetically and functionally) with prompt basic treatment. When they first occur they are often painful.
Clipping, cleaning and treating them can be a challenge for those not accustomed to it. If you are able to perform this skill on your horse, you will strengthen your relationship with them. If, however, you find that you cannot perform this skill, keep in mind that uncomplicated head wounds generally heal well with very little or no treatment.
In all cases, talk to your vet and have them guide your approach. Most head wounds can be treated without the use of a twitch, through careful handling and clear communication. However, in some cases, a twitch can be a useful tool.
To clean a painful head wound, first halter the horse. Starting on the horse’s left side, and facing the horse's left eye, grasp the halter with the right hand but do not apply any pressure unless the horse moves its head.
1. The horse must yield to pressure. When you apply downward pressure on any trained horse's halter, the horse should actively seek to escape that pressure by yielding in the direction you are applying pressure. If the horse does not do this, and you intend to treat the wound, you may need a twitch or sedation or you may be incapable of treating it.
2. Teach the horse to accept your touching the wound. Move your other hand along the muzzle and toward the wound. With your halter hand do not maintain pressure, but be ready to apply it instantly if the horse withdraws. Reach up, touch a non-painful part of the wound, remove your hand. Give the horse 10 seconds to realize he has done the right thing. Repeat. If the horse withdraws, keep the wound hand near or on the wound, without causing excessive pain. If the horse relaxes, instantly remove the hand from the wound. If you can do this, you are ready to clean the wound.
3. Gently clean the wound. Do the same thing, but this time gently scrub the wound. If the horse withdraws, let them realize that they will be running into the pressure of the halter. Apply a bit of sterile lubricant into the wound to prevent clipped hair from getting into the wound.
4. Clip the wound, being very careful not to clip the skin edges and cause pain.
5. Clean the wound again. Use gentle spray lavage with a hand sprayer to rinse the wound. Gently dab the wound dry.
6. Apply a topical ointment as directed by your vet, or nothing if that is what they recommend.
Tips for safety & Success
Before you begin prepare a bucket of dilute chlorhexidine solution, and add a few paper towels or gauze. Put your container of chlorhexidine scrub in the bucket. Keep all needed materials in a box or carryall but keep them out of the way of the horse.
Back the horse into a corner of a stall with a high ceiling (so if they rear up they do not hit the ceiling). Remember, head wounds can be painful, one of the keys to any treatment, especially wound treatment, is to cause as little additional pain as possible. The more pain you cause, the more restraint you need.
Be careful not to get antiseptic solutions in the horse's eye. Envision this skill as separate small lessons, each of which needs to be successfully mastered before you proceed to the next step. Your patience and focus is key, as the goal is to train the horse to accept each individual step involved, ultimately culminating in the procedure being accomplished.
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