The topic of training horses to be comfortable with routine tasks that must be done by a veterinarian came up on a facebook page I am on. We were asked to create a training plan for one of the many vetting tasks that horses need to be comfortable with. You can use shaping (where the horse willing moves towards the object as in receiving an injection), systematic desensitization (teaching the horse that what they perceive as a threat is a non-issue) and counter conditioning (horse learns to feel good about doing the behavior that they previously have negative feelings about) for any behavior. Below, I outline the steps needed as an example. Word has it, that if a horse is easy to handle, the veterinarian will come much more quickly and willingly (and may even charge less for the visit because it takes less time and is less dangerous).
Giving Eye Medications
Goal: Horse stands still for one minute with head at a height that is confortable for veterinarian to place eye medication in each eye and clean excess off.
Here are the objective behaviors at each level:
Horse stands still for 30 seconds with person standing on each side of head
Horse stands still with head held at required height for 30 seconds on each side
Desensitize horse to having hand come closer and closer to eye (start far away and move incrementally closer and retreat hand between each pass. c/t for staying calm, no flinching etc)
Repeat for other eye
Desensitize horse to clean finger gently touching both corners of both eyes with no flinching. (work your way touching from cheek & neck towards eye)
Desensitize horse to having eye drop bottle (or ointment tube) come closer and closer to eye (no contact though, as this contaminates the bottle tip) from several practical angles.
Put above behaviors together two by two, then in threes, etc until entire process is complete
Add a cue (to prepare horse for procedure)
Desensitize horse to tissue or cloth being rubbed around eyes (for excess goop)
Retrain from beginning with several strangers
A tip: warm up the drops or tube to body temp (with your hands) before applying. Horse will accept this better than cold drops or ointment.
Also if an ointment is used, if may be safer if you apply the ointment to your clean finger tip, then apply it to horse from there. There have been eye injuries sustained when the tip was applied directly to the eye.
What other routine veterinary procedures would it be helpful to train your horse to willingly do?
Opening mouth (for tooth insopection, tubing etc)
Soaking feet in a bucket for infection