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Desensitizing Horses to Needles

Most horses accept vaccinations and blood draws pretty well, but if your horse doesn't, there are ways to help desensitize him to the process.
syringe and horse

Most horses accept vaccinations and blood draws pretty well, but if your horse doesn't, there are ways to help desensitize him to the process.

Dogs either hate or love the vet. Some know from the moment the car door opens what the trip means. For the most part, horses enjoy the comfort of their home surroundings during a medical visit. Perhaps that is the reason horses have less fear of vets than dogs.

It’s somewhat surprising how well most horses accept poking and prodding for blood draws, vaccines and injections. But it’s not a positive experience for all horses—some are simply afraid of needles. In reality, it’s the lead-up to the poke rather than the jab itself that is problematic.

Like desensitizing a horse to loud noise, flags and tarps, it is possible to teach a horse to be less afraid. It takes patience and avoiding the temptation to rush.

Veterinarians are prepared to handle timid horses. Veterinarians and vet techs are accustomed to coming across a horse with a fear of needles. Often when multiple injections are needed, such as at annual vaccine time, the vet takes a minute to rub the horse’s neck, and helps the animal relax before the next round.

In between visits, you can help prepare your horse for his next veterinarian visit with these tips.

  • Identify the first part of the process that bothers the horse. Does your horse cringe at a syringe or is it when the vet reaches for the neck?
  • Pick a space where the horse feels comfortable.
  • Mimic the worrisome movement without giving an injection.
  • Rub your hand along their neck and offer a reward that fits in with your training program to instill confidence.
  • Repeat periodically between vet visits until your horse remains relaxed with the motion.

Some horses might never get beyond their dislike of pokes, but with continued practice and good experiences, an injection doesn’t have to be a fight every time. 

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