All horse holders are not created equal. While the job may seem easy, veterinary appointments are very stressful for most animals. All of their senses kick in to tell them that this guy is not someone they want to be around. They see a truck pull up, hear the other horses becoming agitated, smell the other horses on the veterinarian, and more. Despite all of this, a good veterinarian has a calm demeanor and a lot of experience handling horses – they can keep the patient calm during a visit. However, since we’re working with large, strong animals that have a strong flight instinct, we always exercise caution when working with them. An important part of that caution and keeping everyone safe is ensuring that the person holding the horse (trainer, veterinary assistant, owner, student, etc.) knows how to best hold and handle the horse during treatment. Here are FIVE simple things that make a visit easier for your veterinarian (or farrier!) as well as your horse.
Holding the lead
When holding the horse, keep your hands about 6-8″ from a horse’s head. This gives them a little room to move their head around without giving them too much freedom. If you’re too restrictive, your horse will become anxious and agitated. Give them a little space to stretch, snort and scratch without compromising your safety.
The remaining length of the lead rope should be laid in your hand. Under no circumstances should you wrap a lead rope around your hand – and that goes for every day, as well as during a veterinary visit. A strong, nervous horse is a very dangerous horse. If your horse decides to leave that scary situation, and you have the lead rope wrapped around your hand, you’ll injure your hand, shoulder, or more. If your horse really wants to leave, he’ll probably be able to. Don’t let him take your hand with it.
Positioning around your horse
Stand near your horse’s shoulder. Again, this applies to every day life as well as during a veterinary or farrier visit. Standing near the shoulder or the end of the neck gives you enough control over both ends of the body.
Stand on the same side of horse as the veterinarian. There are two ways this will help. One, if a horse gets jittery, you then have the power to move the horse’s back end (the dangerous one!) away from the veterinarian or farrier. Two, if your horse does decide to leave, you don’t have make him choose between running you over and running your veterinarian over. If a horse is so spooked that he decides to get out of there, he will, one way or another. Give him a safe option or getting out without crushing someone along the way.
Pay attention to your horse’s demeanor. In the video below, you can see that our equine model, Crooks, is a little distracted. She isn’t fearful so much as misbehaving. At this point, she had been standing around for quite some time making videos! During an actual veterinary visit, you’ll want to keep your eyes on your horse’s lips, legs, skin, ears, etc., to determine if she’s agitated or distracted. You know your horse best, so keep your eyes on her and make sure her state of mind is calm. If she does need correction, make sure to warn the veterinarian before you do so. If she is starting to move, tell them. If she is spooking, give a calm, quiet “whoa”. Your veterinarian will know what that means.
Hope that helps make your next visit run a little more smoothly!