You can’t keep horses without buckets. Whether they’re used for feed tubs or just water pails, they deliver critical nourishment. But they are a potential hazard for the horse’s most delicate tissues. Water buckets with “J” shaped handles can gape over time creating an opening that can pinch, catch and rip eyelids and nostrils.

“Even when the manufacturer puts a rubber cap on the metal hook, it often becomes sprung and gapped over time,” said Ann Dwyer, DVM, of Genesse Valley Equine Clinic in Scottsville, New York.

“Horses rub on bucket handles and frequently catch their eyelids or nostrils on the J hook gap,” she added. “When they pull back the tissue tears, often causing very serious trauma.” 

Eyelid injuries are the most common bucket wound, and Dwyer estimated her practice treats 15-20 cases each year. A torn eyelid is only correctable through surgery, which is required for the horse to regain proper eyelid function and retain a good cosmetic appearance.

An improperly repaired eyelid can cause lifelong discomfort. When sutured incorrectly, hairs from the surrounding skin irritate the cornea. The hairs can also interfere with the tear film that provides the eyeball with needed lubrication.

A wound that can be repaired with a “standing surgery” is estimated to cost between $400-$500.However, if there are complications or the injury is particularly severe, the procedure could cost $1,000 or more.

“Personally, I have never had a horse lose sight because of an eyelid tear,” noted Dwyer. “However, I have had a few patients who had inadequate repairs done elsewhere who suffered very serious, very expensive corneal infections due to irritation from scar tissue or hair abrasions.”

For those horses, Dwyer performed a second surgery to reconstruct the eyelid properly for the cornea to heal. Those procedures were challenging and costly.

While less serious and less common, nostril injuries also require an emergency visit and surgery.

Nostril tears present greater cosmetic issues rather than functional issues for the horse, but they are equally traumatic for the horse owner.

In either situation, “It is important to suture the torn eyelid or nostril edges together perfectly,” she said. “It is critical that the eyelid margin be apposed in such a way that it lines up perfectly and does not curl in or out, or have significant gaps.”

Fortunately, stable owners can take precautions to limit these injuries.

“Preventing this trauma is simple,” she emphasized. “Just tape up all bucket handles even if they do not have much of a gap and the end is covered by rubber. Check the tape often to make sure the J shaped ends are covered up.”

By Katie Navarra