Horse Behavior - Catching a Horse and Spray Bottles


Recently, a good friend rescued a horse, Dodger, from a kill pen up in Pennsylvania, she lives in Maryland and had the horse shipped down to her. She planned to board the horse at a local prestigious hunter/jumper barn where she was taking lessons. This is her first horse, so as you can imagine, the process was not nearly as smooth as she expected. Upon arrival, they quarantined the horse, which had a fever, lots of scrapes and was diagnosed as having pneumonia and low pasterns. The vet who examined the horse didn't even take the blanket off or touch the horse for fear he had strangles (which was extremely likely). Anyways, $200 later and some antibiotics, the vet tells her that the horse can't stay at that facility and needs to be moved to a more appropriate place. The horse ended up at a rescue, where they had a great setup for quarantine, but it was with several horses, which of course, all had their own ailments. HIs fever was still high upon arrival, so the rescue lady, Sharon, administered banamine. (Note: if a horse is suspected of having strangles, banamine is not a suitable treatment, as it can cause strangles to travel through the body and potentially kill the horse. Bute will alleviate the fever, no other medication should be given, and a vet is only required if the horse stops eating or drinking, likely because its passages feel blocked. At this point a vet will need to drain the abscess. This is information from my experience and from my veterinarian.)

Within a couple of days, Dodger had his horseshoes removed and initial teeth floating. He has very angled teeth as if he were only chewing in one direction using the circular motion that horses use, so his teeth wore to one side. Two days later, Dodger showed severe lameness in his front foot. Again, she called the vet, who determined that his hoof was likely trimmed too short and he probably had an abscess. Another couple hundred spent. I arrived in Maryland from Texas, and wanted to meet Dodger. My friend had mentioned a few behavior issues and of course medical concerns and I was hoping to help her address them and show her a few things that might help save her some cash on vet bills in the future.


Catching a Horse

Upon arriving at the horses field, she warned me that although he has a halter on, he will not let us catch him. I pulled the old "I'm not paying attention to you, I want THAT horse over there" trick. This is where you walk out near the horse, don't look at him at all, and look in another direction, preferably toward another horse. When you sense that the horse is not feeling threatened, you might take a step closer to him, again, without looking at him. This takes time and patience. It took me about 3 minutes to catch him. Of course using grain is much easier and faster, but I think it is important that all new horse owners understand some horse psychology. You do this until the horse becomes curious. Perhaps put your hand out like you don't care what he is doing, because you are focusing on something completely different, another horse, a tree, anything but the horse. The horse will probably sniff your hand, and start looking for attention or affection. Perhaps pet him on the head, then catch him, but always let him come to you. Chasing a horse can be a daunting task

Spray Bottles

Another concern that my friend had was his cuts and scrapes. So she concocted a mix and put it in a spray bottle. She went to spray the horse and he took off. So I wanted to address the issue while I was here. It was as simple as being assertive, starting at the legs with a soft quiet spray and let the sound get louder and louder. Most people don't realize that it is the sound that concerns the horse, not the surprise of liquid landing on its body This is the complete opposite of a dog. So I sprayed his legs, moved on to his body and as soon as he showed signs of nervousness after 10 or so sprays, I stopped. I turn around and don't look at him. I wait for him to lick his lips, or blow, or chew. These are all signs that he has absorbed what you were doing, and has collected himself. He is now ready for round two. Continue doing this until he is letting you spray his entire body at a loud spray. Move towards his head once he is comfortable, but remember, no horse likes to be sprayed in the face, just like you wouldn't like that. So ALL horses will react to a face shot.

All training should happen like this, in small doses and with lots of breaks and chances for the horse to recoup. This will make him trust you and build his confidence, in addition to the learning of whatever activity it is that you are teaching him. Take your time when building a relationship and working with a horse.