The wall of death! Does your horse hate the vet?

Chris Keate reveals some tough facts when dealing with problem horses 

How our horses behave – like it or not – is essentially down to us as owners. We probably all know of or, have owned a horse that as soon as a vet sets foot on the yard ‘goes into one’.  With a bit of luck, a headcollar might have been attached before the vet is expected to enter the stable, but more often than not, the owner looks on expecting some sort of superpower to emerge with the horse magically transformed into a picture of compliance!

 I am the first to admit I have owned one of these horses. A 17.1hh warmblood mare I’d owned from a foal that just kept growing – way past the size my 5’3” height realistically needed! Ellie wasn’t my first foal – when she was vetted, and to be honest was not at all co-operative, the comment was ‘she’s feisty! Ha, I knew better and that some consistent handling would settle her. It might have, had the stud where I had arranged livery supplied the conditions that had been agreed. That is another story however, and safe to say my feisty youngster became a large, super sensitive, feisty mare.

Thank goodness she had feet of iron, as the thought of getting shoes on her would probably have finished my farrier off, as it was, I believe a lie down in a darkened room and a large shot of gin was probably next on his list after a visit to Ellie!

Ellie – loved but challenging in so many ways!

So, what happened when a vet visit was required?

I would like to say she stood like an angel but that would of course, be a bare faced lie. Her saving grace however was, that she would virtually hold out her nose to be twitched! Like the idea of the twitch or not, and I am sure there are plenty of horror stories but, that is not what this is about. I am certain that if she did not feel some benefit from the release of endorphins that we all understand is what happens when a horse is twitched correctly, she would never have been twitched more than once! Certainly no one would have lived to tell the tale.

So, our routine with a vet visit, or anything that might set her off, was to twitch before the stress and tension had a chance to kick in. No wall of death around the stable expecting a vet to secure the horse, find a vein and, inject a sedative with no injury to horse or human and, with no loss of a needle in the bedding when it all went pear-shaped. She would stand quietly; sedative would be injected and we would be good to go – stress free.

The scenario with this horse is not a good one but, it was the best we could do to ensure the safest environment and, least stressful experience for all concerned. It was also over twenty years ago, when there was very little accessible information about equine behaviour. It was at a time I hate to say, PRE INTERNET and GOOGLE!!

We are so lucky now to have information and experts at our fingertips who can help us make our own lives, those of our vets and other visiting professionals and, most importantly, our horses’ lives so much more pleasant and calm. The ‘science of equine behaviour’ exists and, is actively helping horses and owners to understand each and really connect.

Yes, if I had this horse now things would be different. However, at the time we still found the safest and least stressful to the horse, way of interacting with the vet.

If your horse is a stress-head, do not accept ‘this is how this horse behaves and there is nothing to be done’. Our horses are our pleasure. We all deserve to have the best possible time when we are together so, make the effort to understand the cause of antisocial behaviour and ask the experts for help. Remember, ‘bad’ behaviour, is just information the horse is trying to communicate, it’s our job to interpret it and get help when needed.

In the coming months The Horse Hub will be looking more closely not just at the issues above, but equine behaviour in general and, how we can better understand our horses, with lots of practical advice, case studies and discussions.

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