Shots! – A Series on Equine Injections

Equine Injections - Oh No There's Flowers Equestrian Blog
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Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots

Unfortunately these are not the fun kind. I’m talking equine injections. In the On No There’s Flowers’ first ever blog series I’ve tracked down the information you need to understand injections. I’ll cover everything from injection sites, to proper needle handling, to reducing injection anxiety. These bad boys will roll out at the beginning of the month to help really kick it off. Want to be sure to never miss one of these posts? Head to the sidebar and subscribe to the ONTF newsletter.

Hold up, wait a minute! This series investigates the types of injections associated with vaccines, antibiotics, treatments, etc. It is not geared for joint injections. Those are a whole other ball game and will likely be addressed in a later post.

Equine Injections – The Basics

For many equestrians shots are daunting. Whether you are the one injecting, or you’re holding a horse, a basic understanding of what injections are can go a long way in creating a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. And (oh boy, sounding like a broken record here)… always consult your veterinarian before you jab your horse with an needle!

Types of Injections

There are three major types of injections: intramuscular (IM), intravenous (IV), subcutaneous (Sub Q). Each have their own purpose in delivering medication to your horse.

Intramuscular (IM)

Translating to “in the muscle,” this type of injection is inserted…you guessed it!…directly into the muscle. The medicine is gradually absorbed into the blood stream due to the vascularization of the muscles (just means there are lots of blood vessels!).

An IM injection is really, very common. You can give an IM injection in places like the neck, glutes, hamstrings and pectoral muscles. These muscles are large, well used, and reduce the risk of swelling, pain, or the needle hitting other internal structures (which would be BAD, BAD, BAD!).

Equine Neck IM Injections - Oh No There's Flowers Equestrian BlogNeck

To find the neck injection site, make an imaginary triangle.  Find the nuchal ligament (top), the cervical spine (bottom), and the scapula or shoulder blade (side).  The injection is then given within the triangle. The neck is a good choice for IM injections due to its safety for the person injecting. With a handler positioned at the head of the horse, the person injecting in relatively protected from the mouth as well as the horse’s hind end. The neck is easily accessible, allows for good drainage should an abscess form, and is a large muscle. Neck injections can result in soreness/stiffness that restricts movement and eating.

Pro Tip: Stay close to the base of the neck within the triangle to avoid accidentally hitting any ligaments, nerves or blood vessels.

Equine Neck IM Injections - Oh No There's Flowers Equestrian BlogGlutes

The gluteal muscles are an uncommon injection site. The benefits of this site include a large, well used muscle where the injector can stand in a relatively safe location. However the location is prone to abscesses that can spread to the back and loin. Typically this injection site is recommended for horses who have exhausted the other sites.

Injections should be placed in the middle of the gluteal muscles in the center of an “X” formed by two lines:

  1. Top of the croup to top of the buttock
  2. Point of the hip to the dock
Equine Pectoral IM Injections - Oh No There's Flowers Equestrian BlogPectoral Muscles

The pectoral muscles (or as I affectionately call them…. horse boobs!) are yet another potential injection site. It’s location can put the handler at slight risk, but it is a large muscle that will drain well if an abscess forms. The site may also cause soreness. On the whole this is an uncommon injection site unless your horse is receiving prolonged treatment and is sore in other injection sites.

Equine Hamstrings IM Injections - Oh No There's Flowers Equestrian BlogHamstrings/Buttocks Region

The semitendinosus muscle of the horse’s buttocks is the fourth possible IM injection site. For obvious reasons this site puts the handler at a pretty decent rick of being kicked. It is recommended for experienced handlers only. The hamstring muscle is very large and used every time a horse takes a step, reducing the risk of soreness or abscess. Due to it’s size it is also the preferred injection site for foals.

To locate the hamstring muscle find the bony bump that is your horse’s point of buttocks (tuber ishcii). Then drop down one inch and inject anywhere in that muscle mass on the back of the leg.

Intravenous (IV)

Intravenous translates to “in the vein.” It is a type of injection that is given directly into the blood stream using the jugular vein. It is the large vein that runs along the bottom of the neck. IV injections allow for fast absorption of the administered drug (anyone ever see their horse do the “1,2, slump” when being sedated?). When giving an IV injection the needle can be placed facing towards or away from the heart, but never in the carotid artery. Injections given in the carotid artery will go to the brain or central nervous system causing convulsions, seizures, and possible death. While doing my research I found an article from The Chronicle of the Horse on the risks of IV injections (Read it here). I can’t sum it up better myself! 

Equine IV Injection Diagram - Oh No There's Flowers Equestrian Blog
I love this diagram from showing the anatomy of the jugular vein and carotid artery.

So, I have never given an intravenous injection. Luckily my horse has never been on any sort of medication or treatment plan that required one. And because I’m a totally worry wart, I like to leave it to my vet whenever Leo needs one!

Subcutaneous Injections (Sub Q)

The three layers of skin and injection points for IM, Sub Q, and Intradermal. Courtesy of

Horse skin is comprised of three major layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous.  A Sub Q injection is inserted into… SURPRISE, the subcutaneous. A needle is inserted at a 45 degree angle just underneath the skin (the flabby skin behind a horse’s elbow is a good spot) and administered slowly. This type of injection is commonly used to numb a specific area for suturing using local anesthetic. Be aware that this type of injection may leave a lump that can last for several hours.

Having just a basic understanding of injection types and sites can go a long way creating a calm and safe environment for you and your horse. If you want to learn more I posted my references at the bottom of this post. Don’t forget to come back next month for the next installment of this series – Common Vaccines and Their Diseases (I promise it will be more fun that than title). As always please share this post on Facebook, Pintrest, and with family and friends. 

Happy Trails,

The Oh No There's Flowers Blog





1. “How to Administer Intramuscular Injections.” Dover Equine Veterinary. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
2. HQC Program Comittee. The USHJA Horsemanship Quiz Challenge Study Guide. 1st ed. Vol. 1. Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print. Ser. 1.
3. Huggett, Melanie. “How to Give Your Horse an Injection.” Horse Journals. N.p., 11 Jan. 2017. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
4. “IV Injection Basics.” R-Vets (n.d.): 1-4. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.
5. McCall, Cynthia A. “How To Give Your Horse an Intramuscular Injection.” Alabama Cooperative Extension System (2012): 1-5. How to Give Your Horse an Intramuscular Injection. Alabama Cooperative Extension System, 01 Jan. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.
6. Russell, Mark. “Giving Horses Intravenous Shots.” Division of Agriculture Research and Extension (n.d.): n. pag. University of Arkansas. Web.
7. Slade, Lisa. “Know The Risks Before You Inject.” The Chronicle of the Horse. N.p., 04 June 2012. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.




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