Curing Your Horse's Bad Behavior

Fix your horse’s vices before your next vet appointment with these horse-training tips.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Dr. Brian Carroll of Oklahoma City Equine Clinic and Dr. Andy Anderson of Equine Veterinary Associates in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, have heard it all. And they’ve had to put up with some terribly behaved horses at their clinics. Horse owners can prevent their horses’ bad vet-visit behavior with proper training at home.

“A high percentage of horses get nervous at clinics because they’re not broke,” Dr. Carroll says. “If they’re broke to lead and they’re well behaved, then as a veterinarian, you can walk up to them, introduce yourself, tell him you’re there, pick up his leg to examine it without him having any undue stress.”

Both vets agree that part of their duty as veterinarians is to inform customers of ways they can improve their horses’ behavior.

“I was a horseman before I was a veterinarian, and I feel absolutely compelled to tell people that horse ownership doesn’t have to be like this,” Dr. Anderson says. “For a lot of people, all they’ve ever owned are horses who run over them and push them around. They think that’s the way horses are supposed to be. We have to point out to them that’s not the way they have to be. I invite people to come out to look at my horses and see how they behave. For some of those people, it’s a revelation!”

So do your veterinarians a favor and teach your horse discipline and respect for humans.

“He has been in his herd of two - him and the owner - and he’s firmly established his position in the hierarchy, and it’s one step above the owner,” Dr. Anderson says. “He starts thinking he’s one step above all human beings, including veterinarians, farriers and everybody else who has to work on him. Somebody has to break the vicious cycle somewhere.”

Teach Your Horse to Tie Safely

“One thing people could do that would make their horse better for the veterinarian and farrier to work on is to teach him to stand tied,” Dr. Anderson says. “That’s the single-best service horse owners can do.”

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Dr. Anderson recommends using an unbreakable halter and lead rope and a safe tying area. A flat wall is ideal. Tie your horse where he can stand squarely and hold his head comfortably, then walk away.”

The horse should stay tied until he accepts it without fussing, pawing or pulling back. That level of discipline, Dr. Anderson says, will get him “over about half of his phobias.”

But don’t make a common mistake. If your horse begins to fuss and fight, don’t be tempted to untie him.

“When they get to pulling back and throwing a fit, a lot of people will turn them loose,” Dr. Anderson says. “You may as well have given them an apple and carrot. You’re telling them that’s the behavior you’re trying to achieve. Don’t untie them until they’ve accepted it and are being quiet.”

When your horse is resting comfortably and contently, it’s OK to go into his stall and praise him or untie him.

“They’ve learned to be patient, stay in one spot when they’d rather be elsewhere, and they learn not to fight restraint,” Dr. Anderson says. And these lessons are crucial for a smooth visit to the veterinarian.”

Be Truthful About Your Horse

If your horse hasn’t had proper training or you are an inexperienced hand, keep the peace by telling your veterinarian the truth.

“The best thing owners can do when they get to the clinic is hand their horse to the veterinary technicians or somebody there and admit that they can’t handle them or that they’re afraid of them,” Dr. Anderson says. “They’d be much better off to swallow their pride and hand the horse to somebody who’s a better horseman. Everybody’ll get along better.

“Owners hate to admit this, but I’m better off working on the horse without them there,” he says. “Horses aren’t stupid. They know I won’t let them get away with bad behavior, but they know they can push their owner all around and she doesn’t care. I’m better off without her even in sight.”

Train Yourself

“The owner not wanting to restrain the horse at a clinic is a big problem,” Dr. Carroll says. “If you let horses tell you they’re not going to stand still, and they get away with it over and over again, then the behavior gets worse and worse and worse. You need to be able to restrain the horse with a halter without it running over you.”

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For starters, stand close enough to your horse’s head to maintain control.

“One problem is that most people stand out at the knot of the lead rope,” Dr. Carroll says. “They don’t ask the horse to stand still and let the veterinarian look at him, lift his lip, insert a thermometer. They’re just out there on the end of the knot, and the horse is going around and around. The horse needs to know he’s supposed to stand there when somebody’s holding him.”

Get Help From a Horseman

When it’s time for a visit to the vet’s office, Dr. Carroll recommends finding an equine veterinarian who is also an experienced horseman, who can teach you to control your horse.

“Get recommendations from friends at AQHA shows, your 4-H club, trainers and fellow horsemen,” he says. “It boils down to basic horsemanship and an understanding between the veterinarian and the horse’s handler to go about what you need to do with good, basic horsemanship,” Dr. Carroll says.