This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Eventing USA magazine.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, medical supplies were in demand, movement is still being restricted, and deliveries are delayed, which makes keeping a well-stocked first aid kit more important than ever.
“If there is anything that I have learned over a lifetime of working with horses, is to expect the unexpected,” said Dr. Jill Copenhagen – and the unexpected hit hard in early February as COVID-19 spread nationwide. Without any rulebooks or how-to manuals, COVID-19 has changed the way people live and work. Many workers have been grouped into one of two categories: the essential and nonessential, and the essential workers of the equine industry include grooms and veterinarians like Samantha Burton and Dr. Jill Copenhagen.
The global crisis has altered many aspects of normal life, but proper horse care is still necessary. Dr. Jill Copenhagen, a sports medicine veterinarian at B.W. Furlong and Associates, and Samantha Burton, the head trainer and facility manager at Sandy Equestrian Center, still work every day to care for horses. Both essential workers share their experience with first aid for horses during a global pandemic.
With case numbers across the country still high, there are precautions both Copenhagen and Burton have taken in order to reduce exposure. Burton, who manages Sandy River Equestrian Center in Axton, Virginia, said, “COVID-19 has definitely affected our day-to-day, simply because we have reduced our total numbers allowed on the farm quite drastically. We have closed the doors to all boarders, lessons, and students so my staff and myself are responsible for all of the extra care and riding of a lot of additional horses. We have just started to allow students and boarders back in for evening lessons so that makes the days even longer.”
For Copenhagen, “COVID-19 has significantly increased my awareness of what I touch and how much I interact with clients and patients. We instituted some practice-wide guidelines to limit our exposure. Part of it is limiting contact with individuals. We have asked that prior to the appointment, the horses be in the stalls with blankets off, I am traveling with my own lead rope. When possible, I interact only with the trainer or barn manager directly and communicate with the owner via phone call or text. Practice-wide, there is more awareness regarding the health of our clients and should anyone in the property have been suspected of having COVID-19, they are asked to stay away, and the veterinarian may opt not to visit the premises until an appropriate amount of time has passed.”
A basic first aid kit can help treat injuries and having a kit that’s already fully stocked can save a trip to the veterinarian’s office or the tack store which results in less human contact. Referring to first aid kits as “vet kits,” Burton explained, “You should have a complete vet kit for each barn and for each trailer. In an emergency situation, seconds count and if you have to locate your supplies it may be costly to your horse. You always want to travel with a complete vet kit in case of any sort of emergency while traveling or competing.”
“The most common item we use in the vet kit is a thermometer, as you should always take your horse’s temperature if anything [seems] ‘off’ with them. We also use a ton of vet wrap and vet creams for minor scrapes and cuts,” said Burton. Copenhagen added that a working thermometer is important because, “There is no definitive way without taking their temperature to know if it's normal or not. Common signs of a febrile horse include going off feed, depressed attitude, increased respiratory rate, and increased heart rate.”
In the kits, most products are designed for horses, but are any safe to use on humans? “The wound disinfectant can be used for people too. If necessary, the gauze can be used to wrap up human wounds as well,” said Copenhagen. Following similar advice, Burton added, “I have used every type of wrapping supply on myself and most creams. I have [also] used all of our ice boots.”
While having a basic first aid kit is necessary for every barn, several items can be deemed more essential than others. Thermometers, antiseptic solution, wraps, scissors, and basic medications are items that overlap in both Copenhagen and Burton’s first aid kits.
Items like gloves and rubbing alcohol flew off the shelves across the country and Copenhagen explained what to do when there is a shortage on products like rubbing alcohol. “In a pinch, hydrogen peroxide can be used [as a replacement for rubbing alcohol], though hydrogen peroxide can be harmful to the wound and delay healing. You are better off using soap and water to clean wounds and the surrounding skin surfaces. Vinegar can also be used as a disinfectant on surfaces, but it doesn’t kill many germs or viruses, however, if you are running out of options, it can be useful.”
Burton continued, “If you are using rubbing alcohol for cooling, ice is the easiest substitution. If you run out of rubber gloves, latex gloves are an okay substitution, but saran wrap works well too. Vet wrap [can be] replaced by using gauze roll [with] duct tape or Elastikon.”
For gauze pads, “Any sort of sheet cotton can be used as a gauze pad. The benefit of the non-stick ones is they won’t adhere to the scab or wound when removed,” said Copenhagen.
The anti-parasitic agent known as Ivermectin has been loosely linked to a form of treatment for COVID-19. With Ivermectin as the active ingredient in most equine dewormers, this product has been rumored to be in short supply. However, Copenhagen advised, “Don’t try to replace your dewormer. There are a wide variety of licensed products available and using an unlicensed product could be harmful to your horse.”
COVID-19 has affected parts of the supply chain where in many situations the demand is higher than the supply. With medical supplies in particular being in high demand, Copenhagen shared, “We are currently working on an allotment system. From our biggest distributor, we can get a pre-determined amount of gloves, alcohol, and scrub. I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of a large practice, B.W. Furlong and Associates. Everyone is really banding together to make sure that no one area goes without supplies or one area is stockpiling other supplies. It requires a team effort.”
Can veterinary care ever be considered ‘non-essential’? What is the difference between essential veterinary care and non-essential veterinary care? Copenhagen explained, “Things that are essential are those issues needing urgent care. This would include colic, wounds, fevers, and other emergencies that require attention for the health and safety of the horse.”
“Non-essential would be described as treatments that could be done at a later date without jeopardizing the health and well-being of the animal. It is ultimately a judgment call on whether the requested service is a justified risk of exposure of both the veterinarian and the owner given our current health situation,” said Copenhagen.
“Depending on where you live, your state may have issued directives on who can remain open and what services can be provided. For the most part, it has been left to individuals and individual practices to determine what is and is not essential. The goal has been to limit the exposure both of the veterinarian and of the owner or barn manager.”
Burton added that, “COVID-19 has not affected us getting health supplies, but we have been much more conservative about calling the vet for treatments. If there is an emergency situation that I cannot handle, we still call right away. [But] if I have a horse who is due to have their hocks injected, I might hold off calling, and treat with [anti-inflammatory medication like] Bute or Equioxx until the time is better.”
Whether it’s during a global crisis or not, Copenhagen ended with, “You can never be fully prepared for anything, but having the basics will help with most emergencies, having some creativity can help with others, and remember to always have a veterinarian’s number posted somewhere accessible.”
Samantha Burton is the head trainer and facility manager at Sandy River Equestrian Center in Axton, Virginia. Burton is also the program administrator for The Professional Groom Training Certificate program, a comprehensive certification program that takes groom education to the next level. The program shares the knowledge and skills necessary to become a professional groom and how to manage many aspects of equestrian life. Burton’s background includes being the competition manager for the O’Connor Event Team as well as David O’Connor’s head groom for many years.
Dr. Jill Copenhagen is a sports medicine veterinarian at Peak Performance Equine Services LLC. (an extension of B.W. Furlong and Associates). Copenhagen’s clients are primarily in Ocala, Florida. and Middleburg, Virginia, and she has treated many high-performance event horses including horses for David O’Connor, Karen O’Connor, and Lauren Kieffer. She has represented Peak Performance LLC at international competitions such as the Kentucky Three-Day Event, Fair Hill International, Boekelo CCI, and Great Meadow International.
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