5 Useful Techniques to prepare your horse to Vet Visits

We hope this never happens, but it does. Horses get into accidents, fights, and other trouble. If you’ve been long enough around horses you know that crazy stuff happens. No matter how careful you are… Equine first aid is a necessity for all horse owners.

Rusty nail

Kyra stepped into a 2 inch (5 cm) rusty nail on Saturday. She was lame and I discovered the nail when I rinsed the mud off hr leg and foot with cold water. It wasn’t in her foot all the way, but a good 1,5 – 2 cm. Not straight upwards luckily.

Hoof wrapping

When the nail was out (I just pulled it out) immediate relief from Kyra. Then I got a quick lesson in hoof wrapping from my barn manager. One of the perks at boarding out and have experienced horse people around.

Vet care training for horses

I have had “vet care training” since day 1 in my training program. Kyra came wounded to me. So she could already be hosed off, put her foot in a bucket with water and lift her legs.

You don’t want to start training these kind of things in an emergency!

Vet visit

When the vet came Kyra behaved so nicely. When she pushed on the wound Iused the open bar/closed bar technique and Kyra really appreciated it! She didn’t fight although it was very clear she was in much pain! She didn’t kick and let the vet do her work. Wow, that’s such a great feeling! Safety for everyone involved and the best treatment (because the horse lets the vet).

Be prepared!

Prepare your horse before you need it! Trailer loading, rinsing off legs (up until 10 minutes), injections, training for calm behaviour and standing still for longer periods of time (up until 10 minutes) are very helpful!

Useful techniques in vet care training

Techniques you can use for vet care training:

  1. A tiny bit of moulding/molding can help teaching your horse to stand in a bucket (rubber pan). It can be hard to free shape it so that they step into the pan themselves, especially with their hind legs.
  2. Duration. In vet care procedures ‘duration’ is so important. In our minds 10 seconds seem very short, but we also know when we are in the dentist chair without freezing and the drill drills 10 seconds, it’s suddenly ver, very long. Since horses don’t know when we stop with unpleasant procedures it’s even more difficult for them. They really have to trust you!
  3. Start button behaviour. Teach a behaviour so the horse can indicate: ‘I am ready.You can do what you need to do now.‘ Eg teach them to touch a target.
  4. Stop button behaviour. Teach a behaviour so they can indicate ‘Stop the procedure.’ You can teach them to touch a different target than you use for the start button behaviour.
  5. Open bar/closed bar. This is a great technique if the horse is not clicker trained or not prepared well enough. It also helps in quickly building duration. You ‘open the bar’ as soon as the behaviour starts. For instance putting the hoof into the bucket of water, holding up their hoofs for dressing or farrier work. When the horse pulls back, you let go of the foot (if possible!) and stop feeding: you ‘close the bar‘. You ‘open the bar‘ again and start feeding as soon as the horse offers the desired behaviour. The reinforcers must be high enough value to make it worthwhile. If you’re building duration a food reinforcer that they have to chew on long(er) is a good choice. Eating also distracts from the procedure and if they stop chewing with food in their mouth it can be an indication of increased stress or worry.

Make a good hoof wrap out of duct tape

In the next blog I will show you how I make a ‘space shoe’ out of duct tape and other items to keep her foot clean and dry in the mud. I took lots of photos and made videos of our training. Here is one of Kyra’s space boot the next day. It kept well in the mud.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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Things to Consider Using Treats in (Clicker) Training Horses

There is much to consider when you’re serious about positive reinforcement training and want to use treats. This is not the occasional sugar cube I am talking about.

Let’s see what’s important in clicker training your horse and choosing the right appetitive or food reward.

Value of the reinforcer can change over time

Value of reinforcers can change so I keep that in mind too. Kyra loves to work hard for hay cubes in Winter, but in Summer not so much.

In Spring and Summer I often use dandelion leaves or simply freshly plucked grass. Kyra has EMS so she won’t be full time in a pasture anymore. That’s why a handful of juicy grass will always be high value for her.

Low sugar grass pellets (simple to use and cheap to buy in bulk since it’s a ‘dinner grain’ type of feed) will do year round for Kyra.

Occasionally the value ‘wears off’ and I will mix in a few sunflower seeds or different kind of dinner pellets I get from other people, to make the reinforcer more interesting and less predictable.

Home made treats: cheap, easy and sugar free

I also bake my own treats (find the DIY home made horse treats recipe here) and it’s easy and cheap in comparison to store bought treats. You can choose the flavour, too. I usually make them with lots of cinnamon or tumeric (both anti inflammatory). All horses seem to like those flavours. People love the cinnamon ones and are fairly disappointed if I tell them no sugar is involved. 😉 The smell is soooo good!

Healthy vs Unhealthy

One thing to consider is the amount of reinforcers you use. If you would put all the treats you use in a day in a bucket, how much do you think that will be? The amount of all sessions added together.

If you use 10 reinforces per day and you choose apple pieces, that would be 2 apples or 1 if you make the pieces really small. If you use 15-20 per session and train 3 sessions a day that will add up.

So ‘healthy’ is one thing to consider. I used to feed handfuls of grass pellets in the beginning of Kyra’s training, when I was in the phase of taming her. She was born in the wild and untouched when I got her. She didn’t eat anything she didn’t know: no carrots/apples, commercial treats in the wild!. She only wanted to eat hay and grass pellets.

How much reinforcers do you use?

So I had to use lots! When I realized how much pellets I was actually using in just a 5 minute session, I was shocked. I calculated I used 1,5 to 2 scoops of pellets a day. Full scoops! I fed handfuls per click so it went really fast. Kyra was still very scared of me at the time and had hay available at all times, so I didn’t have much choice. She choose her hay from the net over hay from my hand in the first few days.

This was a lot, for a yearling, so I reduced the amount I fed after a few days by making the sessions shorter and the breaks between sessions longer so I wouldn’t overfeed her. She also had made great progress in accepting me nearby. Once I could feed smaller hands of pellets I could decrease the overall amount significantly.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

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More articles about using food reinforcers

Easy treat ideas for clicker trainers

3 Reasons to use treats in training

Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

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