Trail Riders: First Aid in your Saddlebags

Trail rider on a snowy winter trail near an icy river
Trail rider on a snowy winter trail near an icy river Parrie Haynes

The days are getting warmer and I have been cleaning my trailer tack room and making sure that all of my equipment is in working order. With the change in time this past week, I have been itching to get back on the trail for long trail rides.

One of the first things that I do is to take a look at the human and horse first aid kit that I carry in my trailer and then duplicate an emergency first aid kit of must haves. I place these in my saddle bag. The kit that I carry inside my trailer living quarters is strictly for humans. It contains a wide variety of ointments, bandages, and I will be honest, I just cheated and bought one of the midline already packaged first aid kits at my local pharmacy.

However, the first aid kit I carry in my trailer for horse emergencies I put together myself. I bought a medium-sized sturdy, plastic container from Wal-Mart and it fits very nicely in my trailer side compartment. It has enough material in it for any emergency I may come across for camp and it will let me stabilize my horse until I can get it to the closest veterinary clinic.

Every 6 months I go through it and replace that which looks old, is out-of-date, or appears that it may not function well. The ER kit (as I call it) carries literally everything you can think of in full size, including bandages, sterile gauze, scissors, vet wrap, Betadine, several different kinds of ointment, syringes of multiple sizes and the accompanying needles in sterile packs, duct tape, eye ointment, and a fresh tube of Banamine paste which I get from my veterinarian.

One note: I do keep the Banamine refrigerated, as here in Texas we are subjected to extremes in temperature and the idea of the paste getting hot and then cold does not sit well with me. Just as I pack my own food, I also pack Banamine. I also carry a tub of Bute in the tub in powder form, though you can use liquid or paste form as well.

I then turn to the small immediate first aid kit that I carry in my saddle bags. Here is where you are going to have to consider the type of riding that you do. If you are taking day-long saddle trips into wilderness areas, where most of you will ride in groups, than I would suggest that you take along a much larger first aid kit.

In fact, I would recommend that you invest in a pre-packed trail bag first aid kit - you can find these in numerous places online. To that I would add Bute, Banamine, and electrolyte, all in paste form, and I would keep these fresh and unexpired.

For those of us that trail ride a few hours at a time on more, dare I say it, “civilized and manicured” type trails, and a lot of times alone, I suggest that you pack a smaller first aid kit. While not advised to ride alone, I know that many of us do. So, remember to always:

  • Let someone know where you are going to be trail riding, 
  • How long you are going to be gone,
  • Always carry your fully-charged cell phone.

I keep my first aid items in a Ziploc bag and place them in my saddle bag along with a couple of bottles of water and some trail-type snacks. It is just as important for the rider to keep in mind that you do not want to get dehydrated and the snack foods go a long way towards helping to maintain even glycemic levels.

Using sunscreen and even keeping some of the human electrolyte with you is a good idea as well. Pack it just as you would your horse first aid kit. A lot of the items in your horse first aid kit will work on humans as well.

Here is the list of items I keep and what to use them for:

  • Gauze pads, or a small sheet of cotton padding, and a roll of vet wrap, which is good for small injuries that will require a deeper look at and a more thorough bandaging process back at camp or at the vet office. Use your best judgment call on these injuries. Toss a few different sized band aids in the bag and you can deal with human cuts as well
  • Several types of ointments: ophthalmic (human and horse) as well as a triple antibiotic are all-around good ointments to carry for horse and human lacerations and eye problems
  • A small bottle of Betadine for flushing out wounds
  • Add to this a bottle of saline solution (these come small enough to not add a lot of bulk) and a small syringe to flush out eyes or wounds as needed. No needle is necessary
  • A small roll of duct tape - use to wrap over a bandage (also great as a temporary fix for horse shoe loss)
  • A tube of Bute, Banamine, and electrolyte
  • A snake bite kit and at least one 6” piece of tubing, as most snake bites on horses occur in the nasal area

All of the items listed will fit in a gallon-sized zip lock bag and most people carry saddle bags.

You should always carry a good all-around multiple use Swiss knife tool, as well as a hoof pick. These items should be on you and not on the horse; this goes for your cell phone as well. Some people carry a wristheld GPS and there are several apps out there now for your phone that let you track your trail and mileage.

There is also a unit called the SPOT Personal Tracker. You can find it online and it runs about $80.00 for the tracker. It does require purchasing a service plan in addition to purchasing the SPOT unit, but considering what it can do for you, here is why it is not a bad idea:

  • SPOT is a Satellite messenger with GPS tracking
  • SpotChecking feature alerts friends and family of your precise location
  • SpotCasting function lets friends and family follow your progress in real time
  • Sends GPS coordinates and distress message to Emergency Response Center
  • Satellite technology works around the world
  • Measures 2.75 x 4.38 x 1.5 inches (W x H x D) - small enough to carry (and again, on you, not the horse)

It is much easier to be prepared and not need a first aid kit, than to hit the trail and not be prepared… Happy Trails to all.

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About the Author

Miriam Rieck

After a lifetime of loving horses, Miriam had her first horse at age 41. With Nan she has learned about breeding, foals, health issues, hoof issues, eye issues and is still learning how to become a better riding partner with Nan. She works on this with Nan while riding in Texas Trail Challenges.

With Misty, her second horse of the herd, she gained confidence on the trail riding in NATRC(North American Trail Ride Conference) and Misty is her go to girl. Her horses are her Zen place in life.

Miriam has been writing her entire life and began getting published in her early 20's. All of her work has been of the informative article type and always on topics she has become familiar with in the personal arena first. She currently lives in Central Texas but is looking at a state address change in the near future. She loves writing for Equimed and looks forward to a long future with them.

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