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Vaccinating the bad horse?

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  • Vaccinating the bad horse?

    We had to vaccinate a new boarder today. Excellent horse... has had some abuse in his past. We knew about his issues with the farrier, but didn't cross them over to issues with the vet. They pulled blood on him before I got in from a lesson, and then I noticed that they were having some problems with him, so I went up to take over for the BO that was handling him- small, older lady... doesn't do well with bad situations.

    Anyway, so it went, he got very upset and wouldn't let us near him. He trusts me more than anyone else (I handle him/ride him more than anyone else), I was able to hold him and sooth him, but he was still frantic at the site of the vet. I don't BLAME him- he is not a mean horse, and he does not want to hurt us, he just LITERALLY has had to fight for his life before... and thats what he knows. He rears, strikes, body slams. After he reacts, when you get his attention back he always acts surprised with himself.

    The neck illicited the worst response from him, so we tried in the chest and butt. Didn't have anything to squeeze him between, couldn't quite get the reach between the stall bars approach. Chain over the nose, chain in mouth, chain on gums. Twitch. Carrots, treats, cookies, soothing noises... all bad.

    The vet finally turned it over to me to try to get him done with some coaching from the sidelines... I managed to surprise him with a few ccs of IM sedative- only half of what we wanted to get in him. The BO and I held and ice pack to his neck for about 25 minutes and managed to get some more, stronger sedative in him while he was numb. It was lucky. The sedative didn't take hold very well, but it helped, a little...

    I finally went in the stall with him and had to put the chain over the gums again. I was finally able to vaccinate him- me only, vet down the aisle out of sight. I had to do all three in the chest, neck was not happening. My vet has excellent manner- I don't blame her one bit, she tried everything should could do, this horse just knows who he can trust a little and I'm the only one on the list at the moment.

    He has not ALWAYS been this way, I knew him a few years ago and he was fine, so this is behavior developed recently, and from the stories I've been told, I don't blame him.

    We were able to get him over farrier issues by pulling his shoes, concentrating on quick trims and LOTS of carrots.

    How do you deal with a horse this bad for the vet? Its harder to desensitize him to the vet at 2x/year instead of every 6 weeks. If we'd known he was bad, we could have sedated him when we pulled the coggins, but we had no idea. Any tricks? Hints? Success stories? I feel awful for the poor guy, he was exhausted at the end. We gave him lots of treats, love and a rub down after we finished, and I'm wiped out from adrenaline rush...
    Big Idea Eventing

  • #2
    Sometimes covering the eye on the side you'll be giving the shot will help.


    • #3
      I've a mass of experience with this and personally own 5 horses right now that were totally screwed up before landing up here. All 4 work on the principle that no-one has a right to be trusted and 3 still believe that the majority of folks can't be. Worming and vaccination and physical restraint of any kind was (unsurprisingly) among the huge list of things to be take exception to.

      Hints and Tips when undertaking remedial training of a horse that is frightened or lost trust.

      Consistent and confident handling: NEVER in the early weeks do anything other than this. Get the horse into a state where it knows you are it's leader and as such comes to understand you will never ask it to do anything or put it in a situation that it's to fear because it's going to do it further harm or trigger the memory and reaction to that. Only allow an experienced confident handler to manage the horse until it starts to trust and behave well. For the horse's sake, keep it away from anyone that is nervous, dangerous, inconsistent, unreliable. Only introduce those types once the horse is demonstrating trust and lack of fear and confidence.

      Avoidance: Try to avoid doing anything that will break down trust or hurt or be unpleasant for the horse until you have it's trust and respect.

      Early days..... ONLY do what is vital from a veterinary perspective. So treatment of things that are essential and vital stuff only.

      Restraint (chemical or physical): Head collar and tethering and a low stable or low roof beams can be your friend but try to avoid stuff where the horse feels like you are actually trapping it or forcing it willfully or causing it pain and discomfort in the process. I actually have a stable that has low roof struts and which means a horse can't rear up to strike out. (Well not without smacking it's own head itself.)

      Sedation can be your friend. Sedate well in advance of trying anything veterinary. Don't wait to see how the horse will react if you know it's likely to be a bad reaction.

      IM injections: Have everything ready in advance and before you go in. Have the horse tethered in the stable and groom him vigourously. Brush him and pat him all over. Keep doing that and occassionally leaving him and then coming back in and doing a bit more. Each time you go back in then give him a really good pat on his chest or neck or butt muscle. (you decide which) Then once he's relaxed about all that and in fact positively enjoying it just come in matter of fact and pat pat pat inject pat pat and continue grooming. (Does it go without saying..... sharp new narrow guage needle, no messing about or hesitation and ensure you know what you're doing)

      Be aware that when managing such a horse that each time you have a bad experience it knocks back the horse's confidence and ability to trust. So get back in with that one right now and do the grooming and patting muscles thing. No pussy-footing about. Confident handling and lots of it. Get as many confident folks as you can doing it frequently and regularly. Get it so it's familiar with a whole mass of folks coming and going and smelling and looking different and you go in with them so the horse knows you're the leader and when you're there it can be confident you're not going to bring anyone in that's a fool or going to harm it.


      • #4
        Thomas 1 said it very well. Get him used to a lot of pats and fit his routine ishots into a grooming session. He does need to learn to trust the vet in case he should ever need him/her emegently in the future. We had a pony with a somewhat milder case of what you have described but she has gradually gotten over it.


        • #5
          My horse came to me with a real distrust of strangers, vets in particular. Shots were a real rodeo. My vet made it her cause to win him over. Every time she came out she would go out to him in the field with treats and rub him all over, give him goodies, rub his neck, the vein, you name it. Then she would just turn and walk away. Pretty soon he really liked her. then we would bring him in the barn and she would do the same thing and we would turn him back out. It took a year, but now he will grudgingly stand for shots, pulling blood, what have you. But she never draws the syringes in front of him, she has everything ready and in her pocket when it's time to do him. I don't know if he will ever be totally relaxed about it, but he has now figured out it isn't the end of the world.

          One time another vet came to attend an emergency and had her kit in the barn. As we were walking my horse through the barn she opened it. My guy took one look at it and about had heart failure. But we just continued through the barn out to the field. He took the biggest sigh when he realized all those needles had nothing to do with him. It was kind of funny!

          Oh, and with this horse covering his eye was a real trigger that something bad was going to happen, so we didn't do that.
          Kanoe Godby
          See, I was raised by wolves and am really behind the 8-ball on diplomatic issue resolution.


          • #6
            I'm a bit confused as to why, if it was possible to give IM sedation, it was not possible to give an IM vaccination.
            "It's like a Russian nesting doll of train wrecks."--CaitlinandTheBay

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


            • #7
              Sedate the poor critter until it learns to trust a little more. Ace can be given orally with moderate effects, and when he's a bit more relaxed from that, you can give him something a bit stronger if need be.

              But as he learns to tolerate more things, do incorporate "vet stuff" into his routine, little by little.
              Click here before you buy.


              • #8
                If this was my horse I would also take a good look at his diet. Perhaps there's something in his diet that makes him overreact or at least contributes to it, either too many NSCs, soy, flax or something else.

                I'd take everything away for a while, except good grass hay and perhaps add a magnesium supplement. If the diet is a factor you shuld see a change in only about 2 weeks.


                • #9
                  Try this....


                  Good article from UPenn Behavior lab


                  • #10
                    I have a very needleshy mare who HATES vets. She's hasn't had any really bad experiences with vets (my parents bred her and I've had her since 3 years old!) but for some reason she's totally phobic about needles. I think some horses just feel them more, just like needles really hurt for some people and merely pinch or sting a bit for others.

                    I've gotten her desentized to IM shots by a systematic approach where I pinched the skin, then gave a cookie. I did this for several weeks, until it was no big deal and she was totally relaxed about it. Then I would pinch the skin and poke with a toothpick. It didn't break the skin but gave the same kind of sensation. Again, I repeated this over an extended period of time until there was no stress or tensing up at any point.

                    Eventually I progressed to putting in a very small gauge (I think 25 gauge) needle and feeding her a bunch of cookies while it was in her neck. Then I'd take it out, get a new needle and repeat. She soon learned that the good stuff only happens after the poke. If she threw a hissy fit, then she was put back in her paddock and I'd feed the rest of the treats to her paddockmate while she watched.

                    She just endured a weeklong round of daily dex by 18 gauge needle like a pro. Toward the end she got a little bit fussier but she's not really afraid of the process anymore (and she's a total food hound) so she tolerates it.

                    That being said, we're just now starting the process with IV injections. At first, when you merely pinched off the vein, you could feel her heart rate skyrocket and body tense. Now she's pretty easygoing about having the vein pinched off and a toothpicked poked (pretty hard) against the vein. The first time I put a needle in, I expect she will regress slightly.

                    There is also the fact of other people. My mare will let me do a lot more with needles than anyone else (especially anyone who smells vet-like). So to truly fix the problem, a bunch of other people are probably going to need to go through an abbreviated version of the same process with her.

                    It's a tough thing and I haven't met many horses that are THAT phobic of the vet, but my mare definitely is and when their adrenaline gets pumping that hard, they aren't thinking, they're just reacting. My mare normally is a pretty good citizen, good ground manners, etc. If she gets into that much of a panic, she absolutely will fight for her life, including striking, flinging her head around wildly, trying to bolt, kicking if she can, etc. All the restraint in the world can't overcome that (we tried, hobbling, twitching, blindfolding, stocks, etc. -- she'd injure herself trying to get away). Instead teaching her that it really isn't so bad seems to be what works best for us.

                    Good luck!

                    Edited to add: I recently went to a lecture from a zoo veterinarian on how they desensitize their animals to procedures (shots especially) using operant conditioning. They've got the lions, etc. so desensitized that they will be loose in the cage, come over on command, lie down next to the bars, and stick their tail under the bars on command for the vet to draw blood off of. No restraint keeping them there, just a handler that they trust feeding them chunks of meat at regular intervals. VERY impressive vidoes and they use the same technique with the herbivores!
                    Last edited by outwestPoloPlayer; Mar. 8, 2009, 03:37 PM.


                    • #11
                      needle shy

                      The UPenn article DVM2003 posted is very good. I used its guidance for helping my extremely needle phobic filly to accept injections with little to no fuss. I used a clicker and it was a winter project last year. Definitely worth the time it took.


                      • #12
                        I enjoyed the Penn article, and it makes sense--but the idea of a horse playing "the apparently amusing game of 'Make person jump!'" made me laugh.
                        Proud member of the "I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday" clique


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by outwestPoloPlayer View Post
                          when their adrenaline gets pumping that hard, they aren't thinking, they're just reacting.
                          Instead teaching her that it really isn't so bad seems to be what works best for us.
                          So true! Instead of buying into the 'imagined' trauma - teach them how to deal with it. Mostly horses don't have the ability to imagine pain (as people do) but if your horse does - use exercises, such as this, to desensitize them. You, your horse and your vet will benefit by it!
                          * <-- RR Certified Gold Star {) <-- RR Golden Croissant Award
                          Training Tip of the Day: If you can’t beat your best competitor, buy his horse.
                          NO! What was the question?


                          • #14
                            I didn't read all the replies. I have an 18-19ish mustang, who used to be very difficult to deworm and vaccinate. He has since gotten very arthritic, and is easier to deal with.

                            It took me a few years of trying to vaccinate a rearing, freaking out horse. My vet had no interest in doing it. Then I decided it was just cheaper and easier to do them myself, if I couldn't even PAY the vet to do him. But that is besides the point.

                            I gave him a very small amount (I think .2-.3cc) Dormosedan on the tongue. Let him relax(may take 10-15 minutes). Cover his eyes with a towel.

                            Now I can walk into his stall and halter him, and stick him. QUICKLY. He routinely bends the needles. I do not have time to even draw back on the needle, but I stick them low on the neck and am fairly confident I am not going into any veins! This horse has never gotten or needed an IV shot, I'm not quite sure how that would go...


                            • #15
                              They're working on all sorts of vaccines nowadays but I don't think they've invented one for that yet.


                              • #16
                                Great suggestions so far, but another idea.

                                Don't sedate by injection, but use a sublingual. Even just giving him ACE under the tongue, to help take the edge off, or some quietex the night before and morning of the shots, can help tremendously. If you try to sedate him AFTER already starting the fight... you're wasting your time. Once that adrenaline gets pumping, it is very hard to counteract it. You have to get him calm and dopey BEFORE he even sees the vet. Also, work him before the vet comes. Horeses are far less willing to fight when they don't have excess energy. Well, not less willing necessarily, but it won't last as long.

                                Cover the eye of the side the vet is on, or the injector. Also, as outwestPoloPlayer suggested, lots and lots of desensitization. Lots of petting, poking, pinching the neck.

                                Between mild sedative, releasing excess energy, and lots of dessensitization, he will get over this quickly.
                                Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.


                                • #17
                                  Thomas hit the nail on the head....

                                  It is a bigger trust issue... and a dominant, insecure horse. His advice makes perfect sense.
                                  We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.


                                  • #18
                                    Ask your vet about alternatives to Ace
                                    Some horses react oddly - the exact opposite of the expected effect.

                                    Many years ago I was asked to lead 2 draft horses who had been Aced for a parade up to be hitched.

                                    One had the normal Slo-Mo reaction...

                                    The other was higher than a kite - prancing and dragging me

                                    I imagine I looked like a cartoon version of someone being drawn & quartered.
                                    The carriage driver got a good laugh out of it.
                                    *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                                    Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                                    Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                                    Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


                                    • #19
                                      I always do my own shots (I'm el cheapo), but my young mare wouldn't let me get near her. Her neck shot up and the needle bent. So I went down to my vet. He strolled up to her, both needles in one hand, slowly stuck them in and strolled away. Dang it anyway. It had to do with him blocking her view with his body, pinching neck skin and moving slowly and not stabbing.
                                      Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique