How To Help Your Horse Be A Better Patient

Whether you personally experience the stress of having a horse that misbehaves for the vet, or have heard the horror stories, you know that simple misbehaviors can take turns for the worst quickly! Previously I had wrote about making your farm call smoother, a big part of making it smoother will be prepping your horse and working towards correcting the poor behaviors that might have developed. By having a horse that is used to handling it will take away a lot of the stress of a vet visit for you and your veterinarian. This is also true for those horses that are naughty for the farrier!

  1. Horses who don’t allow their head to be touched-Head shy horses can be a veterinarian’s worst nightmare. Also these issues probably transfer over to when you try to bridle your horse. You can begin by standing next to your horse and placing your head on his poll and applying a small amount of pressure. When he drops his head, even the slightest amount, reward the effort by releasing the pressure. This will also turn into your cue for him to lower his head for veterinarian procedures and even bridling. Horses naturally will exude more anxiety when they raise their heads, lowering their heads will lower the stress level. If your horse doesn’t tolerate you touching his poll, you will need to start your work further down his neck.
  2. Have a horse that is bad with needles? Whether the needles purpose is for vaccination or to pull blood specimens for routine blood work, there are a number of tips to help desensitize your horse to the motions. You can start by having your horse in an environment that is stress-free for them, such as in their stall or maybe even out in the pasture. You can begin by simulating your finger as the needle, and mimicking the motions. Vary the pressure and location. As your horse becomes desensitized to a large object poking them, you can gradually move on to using something as small as a toothpick. The narrowness of the toothpick will very similarly stimulate the feeling of being poked by a needle.
  3. Deworming and oral tube-pastes- Most horses that are impossible to deworm have had bad techniques used on them and it is a learned distrust of tubes being put in their mouths. For some horses you can cover the outside of the tube with molasses and cut the bitter taste. Other horses it may not be that simple, it will take time and a lot of patience. Begin by seeing how your horse tolerates his mouth being rubbed with an open palm, once they are accepting of this motion you can move into rubbing a few fingers around their mouths in the motion of dewormer. Again, use caution and good judgment when trying to desensitize any horse that has had bad experiences in the past. The end stages will be using a molasses or applesauce filled tubes to condition your horse to enjoying the motion of being dewormed or having oral pastes administered. Never try to force tubes into your horses mouth, and use extreme force, this will cause them unnecessary stress and can be dangerous.
  4. Thermometer use- Often horses will be taken by surprise when initially being desensitized to thermometer use. Begin with the basics. Be able to rub your horses hindquarter and tail. Any sensitivity to these areas can ensure that your horse will respond poorly to thermometer use. You will also need to desensitize your horse to the act of you raising and lowering their tail. When working with your horse’s hindquarters, ensure you stand off to the side and it would not be a bad idea to have an assistant hold the horses halter while you work on these maneuvers initially to reduce to possibility of you being kicked.
  5. Twitches-Even the best horse may need some distraction from some veterinary procedures. Things such as lip twitches and shoulder twitches can be great distractions from the procedure. If done incorrectly, they can also become another source of stress for your horse.

Correct use of shoulder twitch

Proper application of nose twitch

Safety should always come first when working to desensitize your horse. In the long run, the hard work that you put into working with your horse will pay off.

-Emily Bomgardner

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