Katie Hennessy

Preparing your horse for a vet visit — ‘catching’ and needle-shy issues

TRUST IS ESSENTIAL in a relationship between you and your horse and is something that needs to be developed and encouraged when you are asking your horse to do something that they are unsure or afraid of, such as being caught or vaccinated. Working with a nervous horse takes time and effort, and there will be setbacks in the training process. Consistent reinforcement of the desired behavior is essential, particularly when you are exposing your horse to new experiences.

Horses always seems to know when we are in a rush or trying to catch them for the vet to examine. These are the times they are in the farthest possible point from the gate and no amount of coaxing is effective. There are a variety of training methods available to help you work on “catching” your horse. It is important to remember that no method is a quick fix, they all take time and effort. When beginning any training plan, make sure you have plenty of time. Horses are very good at picking up on tension and stress level, and if you feel angry or frustrated, your horse may be less willing to cooperate. Catching your horse well in advance of the vet visit will have you calm and relaxed.

A few tips are to approach your horse’s shoulder, not the head. The majority of horses don’t like being approached head-on and will instinctively arc their neck away from you. If your horse is in a large herd, separate them into a smaller group a day or two before to discourage running with the herd when they are being caught. When you are not under time pressure, it is a good idea to work on “catch and release” with your horse. Don’t take him anywhere; just put on his halter and make a little bit of a fuss about him, then release him. Working on your relationship with your horse will teach him that being caught is not negative and that being with you is a safe and rewarding experience.

Horses that are needle shy can be dangerous and potentially can cause severe injury to the owner or veterinarian. To begin the needle-desensitization process, rub the skin over the jugular vein or along the neck muscle until the horse doesn’t react. Once that is easy to do, start to pinch the skin in the same areas. The last step is to gently poke the skin with a toothpick but make sure not to puncture the skin.

The most important part of working with a fearful horse is to remain calm and firm. Consistency and practice will help your horse relax and reduce the chance of him reacting dangerously. Hopefully, these tips help you build a trusting and meaningful relationship with your horse.



BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine. She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.

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