Q: I have an 18-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse that was vaccinated two weeks ago with no apparent reaction. A week later, he has become impossible to catch in the stall. He pins his ears, turns his rear to his owner, and kicks. There have been no other routine changes, he seems healthy with no signs of pain or fever, and he has a good appetite. He has always been a little hard to catch in the stall, but it has suddenly become much worse and more violent. Why the sudden change?


A: For a horse like this with a history of minor difficulty in catching, it's often not as easy to figure out why there has been a deterioration in his willingness to approach in the stall as it is to just fix it. Maybe it was the vaccination, or maybe not. But the behavior modification fix is the same.

I find it easiest to just always wait for the horse to come head-first to you at the stall door and let you catch him before you give him each meal. Even if you have to wait awhile, just stand or sit quietly at the door with the feed bucket or hay until he approaches, then catch him, reassure him with a "good boy" and a rub on the neck if he likes that, then give the feed or hay. Doing this every time you go to the stall will get him coming head-first willingly every time, even not at feeding time in most cases. If he starts to appear to distinguish feeding from other times and is slow to come to the door willingly every time you wish, we usually recommend to either start varying the feeding time until he comes to you every time you go to the door, or start giving him treats intermittently when it is not feeding time. 

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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