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Not Me!
Does Your Horse say: No Way! when he sees the wormer?

By Yvonne Lehey
Yvonne's Website

Worming their horse can be a real challenge or even a nightmare for many horse owners. They resign themselves to the fact that they have to put up a fight with their horse every 3 months on this occasion, and are becoming more and more frightened by the idea of having to paste-worm their horse regularly, due to the more and more violent rodeo scene that this involves.

But you can take a deep breath and relax now, as there is a possibility of worming and, in general, applying all kinds of medical and other care to your horse without having to fight against a scared, unwilling and thus dangerous animal!

To obtain your horse's willing and relaxed cooperation, apply approach and retreat, combined with Clicker Training. It takes a bit of preparation, just a few short training sequences, and the formerly horrible sequence will have lost all it's terror. How do we proceed?

Rubbing Mouth
Rubbing Gums

Well, in the same way as for all our teaching via clicker training, i.e. breaking the procedure down into baby steps which your horse can manage one by one.

Holding Tongue
Holding Tongue

Let's say, you have a horse that snorts and paws and rears and rolls his eyes at the mere sight of the worming tube. The best thing would be to take him into a relatively small area, like a stall, a small roundpen or something similar. Stand there quietly, at a safe distance first (yes, don't forget to breathe deeply yourself and relax your body language, and put a friendly look on your face), with the tube in your hand and your clicker in the other one. As soon as the horse looks into your direction, C/T. C/T each step you can take into his direction with him standing still. If he starts moving or gets worried, step back a step or two and wait until he gives you his two eyes and ears again.

Targeting the Tube

If you have already taught him to target objects, just ask him to target (touch with his nose) the worming tube. Then do some gentle rubbing with it all over his neck, face, and mainly at his cheeks, than lower towards his mouth, around the corner of his mouth. Of course, C/T each step in the right direction. Each time he starts getting worried, calmly move the tube away and start again after a few seconds. Of course, you do not C/T him for moving away! You can also ask for the head-lowering cue in the beginning, if he already knows it. The targeting and the head-lowering are excellent exercises to calm down your horse at multiple occasions. It is also useful to teach the horse, before you even come close to him with the worming tube, to like you rubbing his muzzle, lips, gums with your hand.

Once you can rub his mouth with the tube, start touching the corner of his mouth with the tip of the tube. C/T if he opens. Continue with approach and retreat until he is comfortable. During all these exercises, and as soon as your horse is calm, stand at the side of his neck, looking in the same direction as he does, pass your right hand under his cheeks (if you are standing at his left side), rest your right hand gently over the bridge of his nose, and handle the tube with your left hand. You should be able to do all this without halter and rope, but if you feel more comfortable, you can leave the halter on. Once the tube is completely in his mouth, give him a jackpot. Repeat several times.

Approach and Retreat
Approach and Retreat

Some people like to fill the tube (or a syringe) with apple sauce, or some other yummy-tasting liquid. But I found that the above method is sufficient to allow a stress-free worming. Just include the "dry-worming" in your normal routine fairly often in the beginning (for example before or after grooming), and the hose will think that it isn't a big deal at all. After the actual worming, I reinforce my horses with "good boy/girl" and a loft of gentle stroking and rubbing.

Remember to always stay calm and persistent, until you get the desired results. Your inner mindset is very important for the success. Once you are determined to get the worming (or whatever) done, and are convinced that it will work, three quarters of the job are already done!

Rubbing Tube on Mouth
Rubbing Tube on Mouth

The procedure for giving injections is mainly the same, and has already been described in some detail on the list. You can also prepare your horse for being treated by the vet with the same method. Ask your vet for a minute of two of patience, while you are asking your horse to target, and then his job will be a lot easier.

Isn't it fun that now you can go out and paste-worm your horse with a smile on your face and not the least little bit worried about how he will behave.....

Success! Inserting tube.

I arrived at the barn after work one day and the barn staffer handed me a worming tube and said - would you mind worming your horse? She's always difficult to worm, but she seems to do anything for you. I'd only had this horse a couple of months and had never wormed her, or seen her wormed. She was very suspicious and headshy, however.

I had a few carrots with me. I put her loose in the aisle on a lead rope and stuck pieces of carrot into the side of her mouth. She greedily looked forward to the next one. Then I pushed the tube in - squirt - and she hardly noticed. I kept shoving in a few more carrot chunks. No big deal.

They created a problem because they were trying to come at her with the tube held up to her face, chasing her backward around her stall. When they tried to hold her still she panicked. She was set up for an unpleasant experience - I'd run, too!

Stand to the side of the horse and fuss over him, petting his face and feed him treats - (if you approve of that, it's not obligatory!) have the tube pre-set and ready to squirt. Don't let him see it! When he is relaxed and happy quickly stick in it as far as you can and push the plunger in one quick movement. Get yourself ready to do it smoothly and very relaxed. Then back to petting and making a fuss like nothing happened. I always consider it a courtesy to immediately feed the horse a sweet treat after worming that will take away the medicine taste. A handful of sweet feed in a bucket will make the experience more pleasant. Some will actually look forward to it if they know the treat is coming!

Either you've got to find a really big motivator, or do what I do; train my horses to accept it all, by filling the worming tube with apple sauce or molasses. That way, they also get reinforced DURING the behaviour, probably a jackpot too, if they like molasses as much as my lot do. Pretty soon, they're running to you when you bring out the wormer. After you've established this, then just occasionally reinforce it by doing the same.

When it comes to real worming, you can get it over with simply & easily & they won't 'hold a grudge' about the tube. Make a point of sometimes 'worming' with goodies a day or so before the real dose & always afterwards. That way, he never knows when the occasional bad one's coming but forgives it because he knows there's goodies coming.

Worming time was a real problem for me and left the horses upset also because it usually turned into a fight. I started using the "Treat in a Tube" method that several people have suggested. I think I saw it in a John Lyons publication, but it worked very well. I used a CLEAN empty worming tube with applesauce for three days prior to the real stuff and two days after. That worked great and the horses would come running for it. But it takes a lot of time with only three horses and after reading some things n this list I realized the problem was probably my attitude. So I did some mental preparation and went out with a very positive attitude. Standing on the left side of the horse, facing forward, I hold the halter with my left hand and take the already prepared tube in my right hand. Reaching under the horses head, the tube goes in the side of the mouth on the off side and the job is over before anyone knows what happened. I do reinforce with a treat - but that is an individual choice. Two horses didn't even blink. The eyes of one horse got wide and she said "Am I supposed to be doing something?" Since then there hasn't been a problem. I continue to learn that my attitude and my approach is everything.

Larry, has been very skeptical about clicker training. Every time I try to explain what's happening when I'm using it, he just smiles and says that it's only good for tricks. I have a hard time explaining how it works to people that don't know anything about it. Even after showing him how Noble the mule now puts his head in the fly mask didn't really convince Larry that it's no more than a game. Today I worked with Noble again. He hates the worming syringe. Every time we worm him, Larry automatically reaches for the twitch along with the tube of paste. I started clicking Noble for just standing still and looking at the tube. Then he would let me touch the side of his mouth with the tube and things went fast from then on. As soon as Noble would open his mouth just a tiny bit, he would get a jackpot. Larry was near by and I told him to come watch us. When I held the tube up to Noble, he opened his mouth and put it on the tube! In fact, I had a hard time getting it away from him. :) All Larry could say was "Unbelievable!" Larry now thinks it's the greatest thing there is. I am so happy that I have you guys to share this with. Not too many folks around here will even consider clicker training.

I took an empty wormer and applesauce out to the barn to work on worming Harley. This has been a major problem in the past. However, I brought him down to the arena and let him roll and kick around a bit (very little, I was wearing the apron). As soon as I presented the wormer to him he started backing away from me. I just stood there with the clicker in my hand (he looked) and his belly decided that it didn't look like a problem. He targeted, C/T. After he was doing that consistently, I started laying the wormer next to his mouth. This took a bit longer, but was accomplished. I then dipped it in the applesauce and actually inserted it inside his mouth in the position I would need to be in to give him the wormer. He began a bit uncomfortably, but within a couple of minutes, this was also no problem. Every once in a while he would regress and start backing up, but I responded by backing up too, which encouraged him forward. Throughout the entire process, he was at liberty in a huge roping arena. When I was packing up to go, he was reaching over to me and putting his mouth on the wormer and while still holding on to it, looking up at me with eyes that said "do me again!".

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