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Musculoskeletal: fracture - first aid




  • Reduce anxiety in horse:
  • Obtain preliminary diagnosis.
  • Prevent further injury to soft tissues, eg neural and vascular structures, associated with fracture site.
  • Prevent laceration of skin associated with closed fracture → open fracture.
  • Prevent secondary traumatic injury to other three weightbearing limbs.

Immediate first aid

  • Assess systemic health of patient through triage examination/physical examination. Horses may be in shock, had varying levels of hemorrhage, altered mentation, or other conditions necessary to identify before chemical restraint, if needed.
  • Apply physical restraint, eg twitch Restraint methods and attempt a brief assessment of the injury before considering systemic medication.

Inappropriate analgesia or sedation could result in further injury due to horse's loss of awareness of the injury; sedation may also prevent safe transport.


Acepromazine should be used with careful consideration as it can lead to hypotension.

Assessment of injury

  • Conduct a thorough general physical assessment Musculoskeletal: physical examination - adult.
  • Observe the horse's stance, gait Musculoskeletal: gait evaluation (where appropriate), ability to weight bear on each limb.
  • Check history: any previous injuries?
  • Although some injuries can be diagnosed immediately, check for other concurrent injuries.
  • If necessary, wash limb to ensure complete evaluation. Oftentimes, clipping the hair over small wounds or abrasions is helpful to identify the extent of superficial trauma.
  • Some injuries are not amenable to treatment and in general warrant immediate euthanasia Euthanasia:
    • Comminuted fractures + severe soft tissue damage.
    • Femoral fractures: complete.
    • Humeral fractures: complete in horses >300 kg.
    • Tibial fractures: complete.

If there is uncertainty about the severity of the injury DO NOT euthanize until a full assessment has been made.


  • Splinting is important to prevent further damage to neural/vascular elements, bone ends, soft tissues, and to prevent a closed fracture becoming an open fracture.
  • Must be easy to apply with minimal assistance from lay bystanders.
  • Splinting also stabilizes the limb which relieves stress/anxiety, permitting the horse to ambulate.
  • General anesthesia not recommended in the field on stressed horse.
  • Must neutralize damaging forces, eg contracture of muscles no longer on a skeletal frame, at the fracture site.
  • Choice of splint will depend on biomechanical forces at work at the site of injury and the location of the injury.
  • Combinations of light bandaging, splints, Robert Jones bandage Musculoskeletal: Robert Jones bandage and casts Musculoskeletal: external fixation - casts may be used.


  • Forelimb fractures have facing backwards - should be as confined as possible to allow support on all sides.
  • For hindlimb fractures have facing forwards.
  • An injured horse can travel in either its accustomed vehicle or by ambulance Transport.
  • Ideally a low-loading vehicle should be used or one with a ramp.

Print off the Owner Factsheets on Bandaging - the dos and don'tsEmergencies - when to call the vet and Fractures to give to your clients.

Splinting fractures of the forelimb

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Splinting fractures of the hindlimb

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Specific fractures

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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Lutter J D, Cary J A, Stephens R R & Potts L B (2015) Relative stiffness of 3 bandage/splint constructs for stabilization of equine midmetacarpal fractures. Vet Emerg Crit Care 25 (3), 379-87 PubMed.
  • Mudge M C & Bramlage L R (2007) Field fracture management. Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract 1, 117-33 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Furst A E (2012) Emergency Treatment and Transportation of Equine Fracture Patients. In: Equine Surgery. Eds: Auer J A & Stick J A. Elsevier Saunders, USA. pp 1015-1025.
  • Bramlage L (2004) Development of Fracture Management in the Horse. In: Proc 43rd BEVA Congress. Equine Vet J Ltd, UK. pp 27-28.
  • Smith R K W (2004) Handling and Moving the Suspected Equine Fracture Patient. In: Proc 43rd BEVA Congress. Equine Vet J Ltd, UK. pp 77-78.
  • Walmsley J P (2004) First Aid and Transportation of Equine Fracture Patients. In: Proc 43rd BEVA Congress. Equine Vet J Ltd, UK. pp 213.


Accessory carpal: fracture

Accessory ligament SDFT: desmotomy

Anesthesia: analgesia - overview

Anesthesia: pre-anesthetic preparation

Anesthesia: standing chemical restraint


Bone: internal fixation - pins and nails

Bone: internal fixation - plates

Bone: internal fixation - wires


Carpus: fracture - chip

Carpus: fracture - comminuted

Carpus: fracture - slab

Carpus: growth acceleration - angular deformity

Carpus: growth retardation - angular deformity

Deep digital flexor tendon: tenotomy

Detomidine hydrochloride

Distal phalanx: fractures



Femur: physeal fracture

Flexor tendon: trauma

Fluid therapy: overview

Flunixin meglumine

Forelimb: perineural analgesia


Head: fractures

Head: frontal facial fractures

Hindlimb: perineural analgesia

Humerus: fracture


Mandible/maxilla: fracture

MC / MT 3: condylar fracture

MC / MT 3: condylar fracture repair

MC / MT 3: diaphysis fracture

MC/MT 2 and 4: fracture

MCP / MTP joint: arthrodesis

MCP/MTP joint: luxation

Middle phalanx: fracture

Musculoskeletal: anesthesia

Musculoskeletal: angular deformity

Musculoskeletal: external fixation - casts

Musculoskeletal: fracture

Musculoskeletal: gait evaluation

Musculoskeletal: physical examination - adult

Musculoskeletal: Robert Jones bandage

Patella: fracture


PIP joint: luxation and subluxation

Proximal phalanx: fracture

Proximal sesamoid: fracture

Radius: fracture

Radius: fracture repair

Restraint methods


Sacrum: fracture

Scapula: fracture

Scapula: fracture - supraglenoid tubercle

Spine: coccygeal - trauma

Spine: fracture

Straight sesamoidean ligament: desmitis

Tarsus: distal tarsal bone fracture / luxation

Tarsus: fracture

Tarsus: luxation

Temporomandibular joint: fracture

Therapeutics: anti-inflammatory drugs

Tibia: fracture - diaphyseal

Tibia: fracture - malleolar

Tibia: fracture - physeal

Tibia: fracture - tibial crest


Ulna: fracture

Ulna: fracture repair

Ulnaris lateralis: tenotomy - flexural deformity

Wound: dressing

Wound: immobilization

Wound: post-operative care


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