Positive Re-enforcement

If you have been keeping up with us for a little while you will probably know Eva is quite precious about her personal bubble and people such as the farrier and vets have to invade that bubble – its pretty much in the job description! This means that Eva can get quite nervous and when she gets nervous she will charge her way out. It’s in these situations I feel like I have a rhino rather than a horse.

Well guess what! I – her delightful owner – decided to book in the farrier and the vet in for the same day!

Sorry Eva!

For the farrier I give her a little sedation – not even that much any more when I’m there but more if I can’t be there – as she has a tendency to snatch her feet and just get very rude throwing her weight around. When you have a 17.2hh horse you would rather they didn’t do that… especially when the farrier is holding a hot shoe.

She is still bare foot on the back as she doesn’t seem to be bothered about them in the slightest and as long she’s happy with it I’m happy with it.

Unfortunately the vet was in the afternoon, after the sedation had worn off, but luckily I have a method that I ask the vet to use each time they are out.

The vet practice I have Eva with is quite large so quite often I will have a vet that I haven’t met before or haven’t seen in a while, either way the conversation always tends to start the same;

So there is a note on Evas file that she can be quite needle shy?”

(Sounds like she’s got an asbo* doesn’t it)

When I first bought her each time the vet would say this I would cringe and apologise. But not anymore!

Now I explain to them that if we use some positive re-enforcement then actually she isn’t that bad at all.

The method is to start small such as the vet putting their hand on Evas neck, when Eva stands and relaxes she is rewarded. Then we move on to a skin twitch and repeat, Eva stands and she is rewarded. We then move two hands, one with a skin twitch and the other on her neck beside as if going to inject, once again standing still is rewarded. We then built it up step by step and each time we back away and a treat is given.

I’ve put a video below as shows the exact method the vet and I followed, the only difference we didn’t use a clicker. In the video they say that owners can practice when the vet isn’t there by taking a skin twitch at home and mimic what the vet will do, I have also done this to the point that Eva continues eating her hay and ignores what ever her silly human is getting up to. The issue we have is that the vet visits are only once, perhaps twice per year therefore we need to take it all the way back to the basics each time. But even when we take it back to basics it takes ten minutes to have her standing again.

Every vet I have had has very happily used the method and Eva has the exact same reaction as the horse in the video, first nervous and trying to wriggle away and by the end she doesn’t really care about what the vet is doing she is more interested in where the next treat is.

When she was injected she did react to it but then vet and I repeated the same actions again a few more times so that we didn’t end on the jab and she very quickly relaxed again meaning we ended on a good note.

If you have a needle shy horse I highly recommend you give positive re-enforcement a go, horses are smart and will reasonably quickly pick up on when the reward is given. It certainly helps with Eva and I, and every vet so far has been very happy to do it as it keeps everyone involved safe.

Just make sure you have plenty of treat available! Eva worked her way through a whole pack of mints! (Yes at this point I do acknowledge this might all be a ploy by Eva to get more sweets!)


* For my non uk readers an asbo is “a court order which can be obtained by local authorities in order to restrict the behaviour of a person likely to cause harm or distress to the public.”

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