Stopping Equine Aggression With An Electronic Collar

"Aggressive behavior in horses is expensive," said Michelle A. Kennedy, DVM, a private practitioner in Delta, Colo. Veterinary expense, property damage, loss of use of affected horses, and the emotional cost associated with the death of an animal if injured severely during an aggressive act all demand a reliable way to change this behavior in the horse. Kennedy has experienced success in using an equine electronic collar with a number of horses.

To determine whether equine shock collars could eliminate aggressive behavior, Kennedy looked at a group of 15 horses that were either aggressive toward a new horse in the pasture, aggressive toward a horse on the opposite side of a fence, or aggressive within an established herd. She emphasized, "I used an equine electronic training collar. This is not interchangeable with a dog electronic collar. Horses are much more sensitive to electric shock. These two (products) are not the same!"

The collar rests anywhere behind the throatlatch, and it does not matter where on the neck the receiver is touching the horse. Place the collar on the horse 24 hours before using it, because it will reduce the chances of the horse becoming collar-wise and only behaving when he's wearing it. "When you see the horse doing what he shouldn't, you push the button," she explained.

"Start at the lowest (shock) level--I didn't count horses that were just posturing with their ears back, I only corrected them when they made an aggressive move toward another horse," she explained. On the transmitter, which has six levels of intensity, the levels needed to stop the aggression ranged from 2-5 (mean=4). One to four stimulations were used on each horse, but most only required two to change behavior.

Kennedy described how aggressive mares in a pasture responded to stimulation when they were aggressive toward a new mare added to the pasture. Upon the first stimulation, she said that the mares had instant posture changes. "The (aggressive) mares would follow the (new) horse around for 10-20 minutes trying to figure out if the (new) horse really did that to them, but notice the horse is still acting intimidated," she said. "After the second time of being rebuffed by the collar, they (the aggressive mares) wanted to be best friends with the new horse--they wanted to graze next to her and have her as a part of their group."

She said the total time before first and last stimulations required to change the behavior ranged from 10 minutes to 2 1/2 days. Collars remained on the horses for one week, and none of the aggressive horses on which Kennedy used the collar exhibited aggressive behavior in the 30 days after correction. She said the collar was extremely effective regardless of breed, age, or sex.

"This did not take these horses and make them wonderful, loving, accepting, and sweet," she cautioned. "It only worked with that horse to which it was introduced. The process had to be repeated (for each new horse). The collar allowed you to integrate a horse into the group very safely and easily."

Kennedy believes the collar is so effective because it's an instant correction to the horse's behavior. "You can correct the horse while he still is performing the act. When you have a delay in discipline, the horse has no idea what he's being corrected for. The other factor I believe is that the correction is invisible--there's no whip and no rocks flying through the air (i.e., nothing to look for and avoid).

The collar can be used to deter aggressive behavior against owners as well. "Most issues are not mean horses," she said. "Usually it's a lack of respect, and they know that they can dominate the owner and can avoid a whip. Most know it's bad, but think they can get away with it."

If the client can be consistent in observing the horse, the collar can work well for cribbing and stall walkers. These types of behaviors won't be stopped by one or two sessions of use. However, many cribbers can become collar-wise and any time the horse is likely to crib, the owner needs to be present with the transmitter.

Kennedy stressed that a specific equine collar must be used. "The shocks are at such a low level that most humans can't feel the lower levels. You don't get a violent shock reaction like you would from an electric fence or a dog collar," and thus the stimulation on the horse is safe.

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Equine Anesthesia

John Hubbell, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVA, professor of anesthesiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University, presented a historical perspective on equine anesthesia that highlighted the rapid, recent advances in anesthetic drugs and monitoring procedures. In the 1800s, veterinary care of horses, including anesthesia, was left to untrained individuals, with the advent of modern anesthesia coming in the 1940s. It wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that inhalant anesthesia began to be commonly used in horses, and xylazine and ketamine made their introduction to the veterinary tool box.

Since then, more advanced drugs--including new inhalant anesthetics--have been developed to reduce stress on horses being put under anesthesia and during recovery. Since the 1980s, research into the importance of monitoring blood pressure, respiration, and blood gases during anesthesia has also been documented.

While these improvements in induction and maintenance of general anesthesia are laudable, every anesthetic event has inherent risks. G. Mark Johnston, MRCVS, PhD, of Vetstream in England, was part of a team effort in a study of non-colic surgery cases in 148 veterinary clinics in 19 countries to determine mortality associated with equine anesthesia. This study reported a 1% mortality rate (1 in 100 cases) of death within seven days of non-colic surgery. More than 40,000 surgical cases were studied, and it was reported that foals were generally at lower risk of death, while equine fracture cases were at increased risk.

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Employing Rescue Techniques

"We need to learn to prioritize our rescue techniques," said Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, professor at Anderson College in South Carolina, in her presentation on equine rescue techniques. "We need something that is technologically simple, low-risk, efficient, and the safest for victim and rescuer." She gave an example of cutting a path to a horse trapped on a trail in the mountains after a fall rather than air-lifting it, which should be the last resort. When these last-resort situations happen, you need to be prepared to handle them; she described two techniques that should be practiced and employed in certain rescue situations.

Recumbent Transport

Whether it be a geriatric horse with West Nile virus, a malnourished mare, or a multi-million dollar stallion that is down, recumbent transport can be a useful and safe way to move the horse if performed properly. A rescue glide made of recycled plastic can get the animal onto a trailer or ambulance, and the most difficult part of its use is getting the horse on the glide.

A second plastic slide can be put under the one bearing the horse's weight in order to reduce friction for an animal whose condition won't be helped by the jostle of a slide across gravel.

Safety aspects to consider when transporting a recumbent horse:

  • Make sure the horse remains sedated during the trip. You might have to stop during the trip to re-sedate the horse.
  • It's illegal to ride in the trailer with the horse, but a camera in an ambulance can be great for monitoring the animal.

Simple Vertical Lift

Gimenez explained that slings for lifting horses have advanced over the years from a figure-eight web sling to slings available today such as the Anderson sling and the Becker vertical lift sling. In their rescue clinics, she and her husband use a Becker sling, which is comprised of webbing that goes around the horse at the withers to down below the heart girth, another webbing that goes around the abdomen in front of the hind legs, and a breast strap. "The average horse owner freaks about how the hind end looks while the horse is in this sling, but this is not used for longer than 10 minutes, and we have had no problems with the demonstrator horses," she said.

Helicopter Sling Load

"This is the last resort, it's extremely expensive, takes a lot of planning, a lot of communications, and a lot of equipment, and you have to practice," she warned.

The steel frame to which the 18 buckles of the Anderson sling and horse are attached is fitted with flotation devices in case it is set down in water. One hook leads from the frame to the helicopter so the horse can be released more quickly.

A minimum of two to three people remain under the helicopter to stabilize the horse and connect the load hook to the frame. The load can never be swinging or twisting. Leave the lead rope on the horse and use ropes attached to the frame to control the gradual descent of the animal. When he is 20 feet from the ground, stabilize the horse and let him settle before bringing him all the way to the ground.

The Gimenezes' training sessions are held all over the U.S. throughout the year, and they not only teach the rescue techniques, but teach people unfamiliar with horses about the instinctual challenges of horse rescue while teaching them to be comfortable around their demonstrator horses.

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Purchase Exams Table Topic

The conditions under which a veterinarian is asked to complete a purchase exam have great bearing on how much he or she is able to ascertain about the horse and its current state of health and athleticism. A roomful of veterinarians discussed the ins and outs of purchase exams, and while some of the attendees said they look forward to performing purchase exams, many admitted that certain aspects of purchase exams can cause headaches and could be much improved with advance planning and modified protocol.

Responding to tricky situations, such as when both parties (owner and prospective buyer) are your clients, is part of the purchase exam territory. "You must not withhold information," said one veterinarian, and if the case appears to be one that will cause conflicts, perhaps the purchase exam would be better done by another vet.

Liability was on the minds of many veterinarians. "I refuse to tell them that the horse will be sound tomorrow," said one practitioner, since it is impossible to know what might happen to a horse. One veterinarian has his purchase exam clients sign a form that they've received all of the information the veterinarian gave, and he has a technician witness this disclosure of information and sign the form as well.

Pricing, payment, access to and recording of purchase exam findings, and drug testing rounded out the discussion.

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Purchase Exams at Auction,


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