Having a horse who is afraid of the vet is no fun at all. And
it's very dangerous for all concerned. Clicker training is the very best way to
address this problem, and I'll share my story with you.
Last year I took on
the task of desensitizing our then two-year-old filly to the vet. We've had
her all her life, so I knew what the issues were. As a 24-hour old baby, she
had to have a transfusion because her IGg levels were way too low. Then, as a
youngster, she had to have corrective shoeing because one ankle was crooked,
and she had to have a tranquilizer for each shoeing session so she would remain
perfectly still while the special epoxy being used on her hoof dried
correctly. It was during that time that she became antagonistic to anyone
an injection -- and she was violent about it.
Well, shots and vets are a part
of life and I saw it as my job to get her past it. I started with basic
clicker training -- using a target to teach her how clicker training works.
(working in her stall with her loose with me) I started desensitizing her to an
assortment of items -- towels, buckets, whips, leadlines tossed over her body
-- anything I could think of in order to give her an opportunity to do
something clickable. She liked the game and she loved her treats (I use little
pastel after-dinner mints). It didn't take very long before she was very
with the game and glad to play. So then I started *playing* doctor.
up to her neck and grab a *pinch* of skin, just like the vet would do prior
to giving her a shot -- and I'd click her instantly and release the skin. The
first few times, she'd flinch but figured out very quickly that this was
another CT game. Once she accepted that, I'd grab a pinch of skin and then
it with a fingernail -- she hardly reacted, and it got to be a non-event.
Then, I took her out of her stall for our training episodes and put her on the
cross-ties and started at the beginning with just pinching the skin and quickly
worked up to pinching and bumping. I started all of this about two weeks
before the vet came out for Spring tune-ups. The day that the vet came out, I
explained to him what I had been doing and asked him to help me help her to take
the next step -- and he agreed.
She was in the barn aisle, not cross-tied but
on a lead line that I held. I stood at her head. I had the vet go through
the same desensitizing procedure that we had been doing by ourselves: he
pinched, I CT'd, he pinched, I CT'd, he pinched and bumped, I CT'd, he pinched
bumped, I CT'd.
Then when I could see that she had relaxed about all of this,
I told him to go ahead and give her her shot, so he pinched and injected and
I CT'd simultaneously. She did back up a step or two, but then was fine and
she got pats and praise from both of us.
The thing to keep in mind is that the
horse has built up in her/his mind that this is a life-threatening event. If
you use the clicker to take it one step at a time, you can show them that
there is nothing scary about it at all.
There is a little prick that hurts, no
doubt, but that's all that it is -- kind of like a fly bite.
foundation calmly, slowly and with rewards for success. There is no better way
teach your horse that he needn't be afraid. And as he learns this, he will make
a bond with you -- his safe teacher -- that you wouldn't have otherwise. Good
luck and let us know how things progress.
To contact us, please go to the Contact
Page. If you have any pictures to share of your horses, or just
questions, in general, please feel free to email us.