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Advice for the needle-phobic horse

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    Advice for the needle-phobic horse

    I purchased my filly about a year and a half ago from her breeder. This past spring was the first time we had to deal with vaccines together, and it was a nightmare. She had to be sedated to have her shots and bloodwork. Had to do oral sedation at first (she willingly accepts EVERYTHING orally, go figure), followed up by IM. Apart from having a huge vet bill just for sedation, I hadn't really thought about it until yesterday when I needed to give her an IM injection. My otherwise placid, mellow horse reared up, and but for my quick reaction time, would have struck out at me. Her reaction is remarkable.

    She is not a particularly sensitive horse on the ground or under saddle. In fact, she prefers strong contact, and a hard curry. She does however illicit a similar reaction when I attempt to pull her mane (for which we have resolved to using a solo combo or mane rake). But I would prefer to not have to spend $150 on sedation again. I jokingly told my friend i would start giving her placebo injections.

    Does anyone else have experience with this, have suggestions?

    I would highly recommend twitching her... We had a similar horse with a similar reaction to shots...twitching worked like a charm.


      Left hand over left eye, shot with right hand worked great for me.


        I swear my gelding can sense a needle coming. When it's vaccination time, my vet will twitch him first, then go back to the truck to get the vaccines. By the time he returns, my boy is in his "happy place", the shots go well and he can move on to the next horse.
        I had tried some desensitizing exercises with him, without improvement. I'm not generally a fan of twitching but I feel that for once a year, five minutes of twitching is a good trade-off to prevent someone from being injured.


          Cover her eye, "punch" the neck spot twice and on the third the needle goes in. As long as they don't see it coming, it should be fine. With IV you'll have to twitch her, but with IM it's easily avoidable.


            Originally posted by secretariat View Post
            Left hand over left eye, shot with right hand worked great for me.
            what about for the second shot? Mine usually get a coggins sample pulled, plus rabies, a 4-way, and potomac. Having tried this, it does work for some but with a horse that rears or becomes dangerously frightened you have to think of human safety as well as horse safety. I had a previous anti-twitch vet think she could trick my gelding into not knowing he was getting a shot. Once that needle went in, he knew he was getting a shot!


              Original Poster

              We have tried covering her eye, one person coming up the side, etc, etc, but she's got it pretty well figured out, and is moving around pretty well before the needle gets anywhere near her. This last time the needle actually broke off into her, and it's just not working.

              I think twitching is the correct route. I think i need to be more coordinated for the "punch" routine, though I have seen it work before.



                My gelding used to be like that. Not fun with 1400 pounds....

                Covering his eye actually made it worse.

                My wonderful vet took it as a challenge to get him over it and win his trust, or at least make him tolerant So this is what we did. Every time the vet came out for anything she would seek him out with a pocket of treats. She would rub and poke at his neck and give him treats then just turn and walk away. The confused look on his face was priceless! We would also do this with him in the field and in the barn.

                She would never bring her whole kit in the barn when it was vaccination day. One look at that black kit and it would be over for him. She would have his stuff drawn up and in her pocket. We would get him and she would walk around with us and give the shots on the move while also giving treats. She was so good that she could even draw blood for the Coggins while walking along with him!

                We have gotten to the point that he will stand in the barn for shots. He's not really relaxed and casual about it but tolerant. With him once the needle is in he's pretty much fine. It's the poke that he resents I guess.

                It just took a lot of kind, patient perseverance to get him to tolerate it.

                Good luck.
                Kanoe Godby
                See, I was raised by wolves and am really behind the 8-ball on diplomatic issue resolution.


                  you can de-sentisive her. I used to work with my horse on this but now I just twitch her and the vets get in and out quick.

                  I used to have a practice syringe. Id pretend I was holding a needle (locking kind) in my left hand, tap, tap, tap, tap hard on her neck, then bring the syringe up to where the pretend needle was in her neck, fiddle around a bit like I was locking it on, pushing the drug, etc then apple afterwards. I did this every time I groomed her. She got over it. I was able to give adequan to my mare for many months without problems. She was otherwise a "slam you into a wall, rear up, lunge forward, strike out" kinda girl.

                  But I lost the syringe so now I just twitch her. Either way.


                    Clicker training works well for this.
                    "It's like a Russian nesting doll of train wrecks."--CaitlinandTheBay

                    ...just settin' on the Group W bench.


                      When I had one like this we twitched her. She was unsafe to be around otherwise. Only took a couple times before she stood quietly.


                        My vet does something interesting. He has the needle separate from the plunger. So he approaches the horse with the needle held in his fingers so it can't be seen, darts the needle in, and then attaches the plunger. Of course there is some kind of escutcheon or base on the needle which holds it in at the right depth. Sometimes he will turn away, leaving the needle in the horse's neck and retrieve the plunger or fill it or whatever. He does it very quickly, quietly and efficiently, and they don't even flinch. Don't ask me how he attaches the plunger without moving the needle too much, but he somehow does.

                        My horses are all good with shots, and don't even seem to notice their shots, but I wonder if this technique works well with horses who are needle phobic, because they would never see the syringe coming. Maybe just a good technique to prevent the phobia from forming in the first place.

                        This might be a common practice, but I had never seen it before.
                        "Random capitAlization really Makes my day." -- AndNirina


                          There are some other threads on this topic. The low cost solution can be as simple as putting several ice cubes on the area to numb it. A slightly pricier approach is a topic local anesthetic like the stuff they make to put on children's gums to help with teething. Quite a few on the shelf that are designed to be given topically and will anesthetize the area for the needle stick. Ask your pharmacist what is available if you are not sure what you are looking at on the shelf.
                          pace, path, balance, impulsion and ??

                          Don't panic! Ralph Leroy Hill


                            My youngest mare started out being horrendous for shots. In her case, a gum chain really made a world of difference. Not so much to crank on, but applied snugly enough that it wouldn't slide around, and then wiggled to distract her. She freaked out about the twitch, and she'd have fits about having an eye covered (though I've seen and used both those techniques successfully on other horses), but the chain on her gums under her upper lip really calmed her down. And it was easy for me to do with one hand while injecting her with the other.

                            Though after losing one eye to a fungal infection, she is actually a lot better on her blind side even though she's still smart enough to know what's coming. Not that I'd recommend enucleation as a training tool, obviously, but I'm certainly not opposed to working with what we (don't) have

                            The good news is that she's really grown up a lot. She hit about 3 1/2, and suddenly mellowed out significantly. Now she's 5, and I give her Adequan, so we get lots of practice. These days I can do her in a stall, by myself, with just a halter and lead. She still gives a bit of a dramatic jerk once in a while, but it's very doable.

                            I've had a few vets that did the needle and the syringe separate from one another, and it worked very well for them, but I can't seem to get it done like that without wiggling the needle a lot.
                            "In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesnt merely train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming part dog."
                            -Edward Hoagland


                              I've done the chain on the gum too. Only way to get a catheter into my mare, and I am yet to see a horse it doesn't work for.


                                For neck injections, gather a fold of skin on the neck just in front of where you are going to inject. Jiggle that skin firmly and as you are doing that, insert the needle(still attached to the syringe. Continue holding the fold of skin and complete the injection. Remove the needle, release the skin and rub the area.

                                That will also work when drawing blood though you'll still grab a fold of skin the the injection site area.

                                If necessary, back the horse's butt into a corner. Get them desensitized by
                                routinely ghrabbing a fold of skin, wiggling it but doing nothing else because if
                                you only do it when you are giving injections, you'll create the same problem you now have.

                                As suggested, a twitch will also work but then you run the risk of getting the horse reactive every time you touch its muzzle.


                                  I dont really like to twitch, but for shots with my old gelding I would have to. I would have to do it before the vet walked in the barn because he flipped when he saw him or the bag. Slamming into the wall, kicking out, rearing, and a dangerous situation.

                                  This horse was 14.2 and angry. He just never got better. Disclosed it when he was sold and of course ebfore the ppe.
                                  I am on my phone 90% of the time. Please ignore typos, misplaced lower case letters, and the random word butchered by autocowreck.


                                    My guy used to be difficult with shots. Now, I can give him a vaccine without putting a halter on him. I still need a halter and often someone to hold him if I am drawing blood, but that is due to my lack of coordination more than to him misbehaving.

                                    We started desensitizing with my poking him with my finger and imitating a shot every day. Then, we went to a syringe without a needle. After he got used to the routine, he decided it was ok. A handful of grain is a good reward during or after the pretend injection.


                                      I have a mare who was like yours, OP. She was born here, so I know she never had any bad experiences which made it very confusing for me the spring she was about to turn a year old and vet was out doing normal shots/coggins, and she freaked. I mean rearing, trying to flat out run us down, trying to slam us into the walls, etc. A lip chain helped, but she was still far from being safe. So I did the toothpick method. While grooming or whatever I'd just give her a poke with a toothpick. yep, she blew up the first time or two, but eventually got she did get used to it. Now as a 17h, 1500lb 5 yr old, I am happy to say I can give her a shot on my own. Yep, she will still give a quick tense of her body when the needle goes in, but she stands still. She is ok with the vet now too, and does tolerate multiple pokes if she's getting more than one shot or her coggins. She, like your horse, will not tolerate mane pulling either. I know some people will say you need to make her tolerate it, but I use the Solo comb too, and she is happy, which means I'm happy, and her mane looks as good as anyone elses.
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                                        Originally posted by Rick Burten View Post
                                        For neck injections, gather a fold of skin on the neck just in front of where you are going to inject. Jiggle that skin firmly and as you are doing that, insert the needle(still attached to the syringe. Continue holding the fold of skin and complete the injection. Remove the needle, release the skin and rub the area.
                                        This is what we do here and have never had a problem, except that I chose to grab a handful of skin below where I'm going to inject. We did end up purchasing one mare who is an absolute nightmare for injections, and of course needed approximately 6 days of around the clock oxytocin injections. We just used 28 gauge insulin needles. Problem solved!
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