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Horse Vet Etiquette:
Keeping Your Equine Calm During an Veterinary Medical Exam

Horses, like people, have different temperaments, so while some horses are the perfect patients, when the vet comes to visit, other horses act up. Having a calm horse who's ready to get to work when the veterinarian arrives is one way to keep your horse happier and your equine doctor and those around the stable safer.

Acclimate Your Foal to a Vet Visit

If you're raising your horse from a foal, you have the ideal opportunity to train him to work with the vet easily right from the start. Most equines who have problems with veterinary visits aren't used to being handled much, especially by strangers. As soon as the mare will let you, get your hands on the foal. Touch his neck, chest and face. Put your fingers in his mouth. Touch his chest and his flanks. Pick up his feet and get him used to a hoof pick by tapping it lightly on his hooves. In short, teach your horse that it's okay to be touched anywhere.

Get Your Horse Comfortable with Strangers

Your horse should get used to being handled by more than one person. Let your friends pet him, curry him and give him treats. If your horse thinks it's normal to be touched by all sorts of people, he'll be less likely to feel offended when a total stranger comes in to take his temperature. Another important part of teaching your horse to relax with other people is to make sure that he or she has contact with friendly people of both sexes: if a horse is only used to one sex, an opposite-sex vet may have a difficult time.

Expose Your Equine to Poking and Proding

Some horses don't mind getting a shot—as long as it's on the left side! Many people forget to work with their horses from both sides. Make it part of your horse's daily activity to be led, curried and mounted from the right. Also get your horse used to things he would otherwise consider indignities: look briefly into his eyes with a flashlight; open his mouth and move his tongue to one side, then the other; take his temperature. In short, teach him to become comfortable with the various things that vets do for no discernable (to a horse) reason.

Desensitive your horse to various veterinarian tools and sounds

Vets may use things like electric clippers, which can freak some horses right out if they've never encountered them before. Starting as young as possible, get your horse used to the sound of clippers by running a pair near him, even if you don't actually use them. Teach your horse that leg wraps are a fashion must by putting them on for time to time when your horse is in the stall. Use wraps made for polo or for shipping, and let your horse become accustomed to the way they look and feel. At some point, most horses sustain some minor injury that requires wrapping, so when that happens, your horse will understand what wraps are instead of trying to get away from them.

Stand by Your Vet

Most of the time, when a vet is working with your horse, he or she will ask you to stand on the same side. That way you can communicate easily, and if the horse should decide to act out, there's less chance of anyone getting hurt.

Exercise Your Horse Before the Vet Arrives

Unless your horse is stabled because of an injury, it's a benefit to everyone to give him time to play outside before the vet comes. A horse who's been locked up inside all day will be a lot more restless than one who's had the chance to run around a little and kick up his heels.

Your Horse Can Sense Your Stress Level Too

If you're not worried, chances are that your horse won't be either. But if you're acting stressed, or are upset by an injury or the upcoming sutures, you may cause your horse distress. If you can't stand blood, find someone else to help the vet and get yourself someplace where you won't be adding to the stress your horse will be feeling. Preferably, you'll be able to act calm and be helpful to the vet and soothing to your horse. Some experts say that singing or talking to your horse works.

Keep the Area Safe

Give your vet plenty of room to work by keeping equipment and tools out of the stall. Catch the horse well before the vet arrives to save time and also to give the horse a chance to calm down after being caught. Good light is important, so your vet can see what's going on, and providing him or her with warm water and a clean towel to dry off with is a kindness.

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