Safe Horse Handling for Vet Visits

What’s the best way to handle a horse so he remains calm and well-behaved during vet and farrier visits?
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safe horse handling
Stand on the same side of the horse thatyour vet is working on. Here you can keep an eye on the clinician interacting with the horse and should any dangerous movement erupt, you are better positioned to direct the hindquarters away from the clinician by simply drawing the horse’s head toward yourself. | Photo: The Horse Staff
Q. What’s the best way to handle a horse so he remains calm and well-behaved during veterinary and farrier visits, keeping in mind both horse and human safety?

—Via e-mail

A. This is a great question. It would take a book, or at least a chapter, to adequately cover all the different procedures, but let me offer some general tips and examples. And we’ll assume this is for routine care rather than emergencies.

The strategy I (and most other equine professionals) recommend is to acclimate your horse to veterinary and farrier visits before they actually happen, using positive reinforcement to reward tolerance of simulated farrier or veterinarian procedures. Just as with trailer loading and transportation, every horse deserves to be acclimated as early in life as is practical, so that standing for procedures becomes a simple, positive experience. And although we often assume it’s easier for horses to learn these tasks when they are young, it’s really never too late to start teaching a horse how to be comfortable with any of the routine health care and veterinary procedures

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Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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