All Set for the Vet
Train your horse to accept medical procedures before the emergency strikes.
August 15, 2011
From America’s Horse
Things happen to horses all the time. They need immunizations; they get cut; they colic. In short, you can bet that at some point in your horse’s life, he’s going to need a veterinarian.
When that time comes, you need your horse to cooperate. And that’s not the time to start training him.
“It is not the vet’s job to train our horses,” says clinician John Lyons. “It is our job to train our horses, and the time to train the horse is before the accident.”
“It’s not fair to anybody if the owner doesn’t prepare the horse,” he says. “It’s unfair to all three parties – unfair to the veterinarian, unfair to the horse owner and unfair to the horse to wait until the last minute or until it’s a critical time and say, ‘OK, everybody just take the risk.’ ”
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John partnered with equine veterinarian Dr. Mark Fitch of Boulder, Colorado, in a demonstration in 2006 to help get a spooky yearling, who was known for not liking shots, ready for his next visit with the vet.
“The horse wasn’t comfortable with people. It was barely halter broke. It was running around throwing its head, starting to rear up. So what would make me think I could make the horse stand very quietly and let me stick it with a needle when I can’t get it to stand still on the end of a lead rope?” John says. “It was flying around and scared.”
He explains that scolding the horse and yanking on its lead rope wouldn’t be helpful. Rather than punish a horse for doing something wrong, he’d rather show the horse how to do it right.
He starts by rubbing on the yearling’s head.
“I’m just going to teach him that things don’t hurt a horse. I’m teaching him that I can be around his head, and he doesn’t have to be afraid of me.”
That paves the way for easier haltering, bridling and clipping.
“If I want this horse to change, the horse doesn’t have to change,” he says. Instead, he asks himself, “ ‘John, what changes do I have to make in me?’ My attitude is reflected in that horse.”
An important part of that mindset is never referring to your horse in any terms that aren’t synonymous with the word “partner.” If your horse shoulders into you, he isn’t being “rude,” he just doesn’t know what you expect of him. But thinking of him as rude “builds walls,” John says. “You don’t like your neighbor if they are rude and if they are a jerk and if they are pushy. Those aren’t attributes we like in anybody, so if I use that word to describe my horse… I’m setting it up to where my horse is against me.”
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But working with your horse – and getting your horse to work with you – will make so many aspects of life easier. At John’s home in Parachute, Colorado, “veterinarians can come out and enjoy my horses, and they aren’t afraid they’re going to get hurt,” he says.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of our horses and take care of their needs, and one of their needs is to be able to be seen by the veterinarian.”