Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Rider's Wednesday -- Successful Shot Tips

Not long ago, I received a rather frantic e-mail from a friend on the subject of giving shots. She had to give her filly 15cc of B-penn 2x a day, and the horse (understandably) didn't care much for the new routine.

She started running away from her owner. She also tried backing up and pinning her ears.  My friend continued:

I can't get the shots in her now. I can't do them in her butt 'cause she spins in circles and kicks out. I tried hobbles, but I don't want to do anymore damage to the leg and to her. (The filly had injured her leg when a neighbor's horse got loose and ran her through a fence.) 

I do it in the neck but she pulls off the needle before I get it all in and shakes her neck around and bends the needle. It takes 3-4 pokes, and by that time the needle has to be dull. Once, she even broke the needle off. Food doesn't distract her, either. She has to have this, but its thick and takes so long to give and she is getting worse.

I only have a day and a half left, but 3 pokes is a lot when she is bad and I can't have her (or me) getting hurt in the process.

Sometimes, the hardest part about giving shots is discovering that the horse is skittish about needles. Shots aren't often something that the average horse owner starts to train a horse to accept until an injury or sickness occurs. And then it's close to too late.

The best way I've found to get a horse used to accepting shots is to introduce the syringe to the horse in stages, and always introduce it as part of an all-over body pat.

Clinton Anderson is a big believer in desensitizing horses to your touch. If you ever watch him or take a clinic with him, you'll see that he does a lot of this desensitizing. He'll start at the neck and just gently start patting or lightly slapping the horse. It's not a stinging slap. It's the kind of slap that well-meaning, but uneducated owners do to say "Good Boy!" (They never take into consideration that sudden movements and quick pats are not at the top of an herbivore's Top 10 Favorite Things list.)

As you do the patting, every time the horse flinches or moves at your touch, stay wherever you were that caused the horse to react. As soon as the horse stops jumping or reacting, stop patting on him and rub him. Continue until your horse will stand calmly while you pat / slap all over his body. Then hold the syringe (with the needle capped) and do the exact same exercise -- patting and slapping until he stands quietly as you go over his whole body.

Do this several times a day without giving the horse a shot. Also do it when you do give the horse a shot. But don't stop after the shot. Continue doing the slapping thing. Don't just walk in, jab the needle in, and leave. If you continue this regimen, the horse won't learn to associate the syringe with the pain of the shot. And the sting of the needle won't happen every time you walk into the horse's stall.

Ideally, you can practice getting the horse used to this before you ever need to administer regular shots. But even so, you can still use the technique to take some of the frustration and fear out of shots. A little time spent getting the horse used to being tapped or slapped all over his body is well worth it when weighed against the prospects of breaking a needle off in the neck or chest of a frightened animal in pain.