Understanding Horses Part 10: Stand Still

Horses often need to be restrained for the veterinarian, farrier, or groom. Foals present particular problems, as do horses that might have been mishandled or who have never been taught to be patient and respect their handlers. Here are a few tips for restraint.

Foal Restraint

In my opinion, God put ears on horses for handles. Some clients will fire you for that. With babies, it's especially important that if you are going to use ears as a restraint that you do it correctly. First and foremost, don't let go. If the horse gets away, he learns to get away, not to stand still.

My babies don't grow up with a halter. If I need to deworm or vaccinate one, I restrain that baby with an ear and its tail. Some people say if you use an ear to catch a horse, it will make him crazy, but that's not true. If one is crazy, it's because someone didn't put a proper ear restraint on him at some point. The goal is not to inflict pain by trying to twist his ear off.

(Editor's Note: When I was visiting Anderson's farm, he had three horses there he trained from birth. When he went to the field to catch them for riding, he greeted each one by rubbing in and around their ears. They all loved it. These are horses he used the "ear hold" on when they were babies, yet they had no head- or ear-shyness as adults.)

Lots of babies get hurt because they flip over backward when you are trying to restrain them. To avoid that, grab the baby's tail first and reach under his jaw to catch the ear on the off side. Don't put that baby's tail over his back or he will want to sit down.

In this posture a veterinarian can get to the foal's jugular vein, eye, head, or butt effortlessly. Now this is important: When you turn the baby loose, release his ear, rub on his head and ears, turn his front end loose, step away, and let go of his tail.

The mistake people make in this procedure is they turn the tail loose first. That allows the baby to flip over backward, and you can have a dead foal or a severe head injury.

Head/Ear Shy

If you have a horse of any age that is head- or ear-shy, rub the places you can rub him without a problem (you might have to start as far away as the neck or shoulder), then work your way up. Have him in a confined space where he can't escape, then get hold of an ear and don't let go. Just keep rubbing on it. Once he settles down he'll discover he likes it. Then do the other side.

If a horse is head-shy, it's because he learned by accident that if he resists, he can get his head away and people won't try anymore. You take that away with gentle, but firm, persistence. There is never a reason to strike a horse on the head. This will make one head-shy.

Needle-Shy Horse

I was making a video and wanted to film desensitizing a needle-shy horse, but I couldn't find one in my practice. This says something about the way we handle horses in our practice; needle-shy horses aren't born, they are created.

If you do have one, just work with him slowly in steps. Tell him he's a good boy, and you can reward him after he stands still for each step. Pretty soon he learns it's not so much trouble to stand there for a shot, and he gets a "good boy" and a food treat when he deserves it.

However, there are some instances when you must give a horse an injection now (such as needing to be anesthetized to sew up an injury), and you didn't know ahead of time he was needle-shy. You can't spend hours or days getting him desensitized. A lip chain properly applied (see page 30) works wonders for the needle-shy horse that must be injected now. Remember, if his needle-shy behavior works for him, he will continue to be needle-shy.

One thing I'd like to share with all horse owners that some trainers already know: You'd be amazed how much that horse will tolerate once he learns to stand tied quietly for several hours at a time. Do it safely and let him think things over. He'll learn to accept restraint, he'll develop patience, and many behavior problems will disappear.

By Andy Anderson, DVM, with Kimberly S. Brown

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