Deworming should be a worry-free, routine practice that takes place several times a year. Is your horse difficult to deworm? If so, he may have had a bad deworming experience. Or doesn't like the taste of the dewormer. You can train your horse to accept deworming calmly using Clinton Anderson's step-by-step technique.
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Top trainer/clinician Clinton Anderson explains that most deworming issues aren't the horse's fault, it's the owners' approach to the process. "Avoid sneaking up to your horse and jamming the dewormer in his mouth," he says. "Also, don't walk straight up to your horse, hang on to the halter really tight, then jam the syringe in his mouth. You'll make him defensive.
"Keep in mind that horses are prey animals," Clinton Anderson explains. "If you approach him and stick the dewormer in his face, like a predator, then he's going to stick it back in your face and say, Get lost!'
"On the other hand, if you walk up to your horse and kind of act casual about it, pretty soon, you'll notice that a lot of his defensiveness will go away and he won't be worried about getting dewormed."
A horse that's good for deworming will stand still with his head down, body relaxed, and readily accept a dewormer, because he realizes that you are not trying to hurt him. It is possible to train your horse to feel comfortable with deworming. Here's Clinton Anderson's step-by-step technique to train your horse to accept deworming.
Step 1: Desensitize the Air Space
Use the dewormer to desensitize the air space around your horse's head. If he won't accept the dewormer in the airspace around him, then he won't accept the dewormer in his mouth. Desensitizing works, because you're doing the opposite of what he expects you to do that is, he expects you to deworm him, but you won't in this step.
Stand on your horse's left side, so you're out of his way if he tosses his head or strikes at you. Wave an empty deworming syringe back and forth around his entire head and muzzle, keeping it eight inches away from his muzzle.
When your horse keeps his head still, immediately stop waving, retreat, and rub his head with your other hand. Repeat this step until he keeps his head still for the entire time that you're moving the dewormer.
"If he isn't relaxed at this point, don't go to the next step." says Anderson. "Your horse must be relaxed for this to work."
Step 2: Desensitize to the Syringe
Desensitize your horse to the touch of the deworming syringe. You want him to understand that he can be touched by the dewormer without actually getting dewormed.
Starting at your horse's withers, rub an empty deworming syringe all over his body. Work back toward his withers, and onto his neck and jaw. If he throws his head or moves away from you, continue rubbing until he stands still and relaxes, then retreat.
Rub the deworming syringe all over your horse's face, continuing to use the approach-and-retreat method. As he becomes desensitized, gradually rub the dewormer down and around his muzzle.
"When you rub the dewormer around your horse's nose and face, don't rub it real slow like you're sneaking around him hoping that he'll stand still," says Anderson. Instead, rub vigorously. He'll think, Man, you're an idiot, you don't even know where my mouth is.
When your horse relaxes, and keeps his head and feet still, retreat the dewormer, and rub his head with your other hand.
"You're trying to establish a starting point," says Anderson. "You want him to realize that the quickest way to get rid of the dewormer is for him to stop moving his feet, and to relax his head and neck.
"When he does so, take the dewormer away from him, and rub his face with your other hand. Keep doing this until you can rub the dewormer all over him, and he doesn't move."
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Step 3: Coat the Syringe
Repeat Step 2, then coat an empty deworming syringe with something sweet, such as honey, molasses, or sugar. This sweet coating will help teach your horse to accept the deworming syringe in his mouth it'll help him disassociate the bad taste of dewormer with the deworming process. (Give your horse a taste for the sweet coating by putting a little of it on his feed every night.)
Stand on your horse's left side, and ease the dewormer into the corner of his mouth. Keep the dewormer in his mouth; if he throws his head, raise your arms. If he steps backward, move back with him.
As soon as your horse stands still, lowers his head, and relaxes, remove the syringe and rub his face with your other hand.
Patiently repeat this step until your horse stands still.
Step 4: 'Deworm with Honey'
Deworming your horse with honey makes him think that whatever is in a deworming syringe tastes good.
Fill the empty dewormer with honey, then wave and rub the syringe around his nose to ensure that he's desensitized to it. Then place the honey 'dewormer' in the corner of his mouth, and slowly 'deworm' him by letting him lick the honey off the syringe.
Repeat this step over the course of several days.
Step 5: Deworm Your Horse
When your horse accepts the deworming syringe in his mouth, you can actually deworm him. Repeat Steps 1 through 4 until he shows no defensiveness towards the dewormer. Then get a real dewormer, and put a sweet coating on the outside of the syringe. Put the dewormer in the corner of his mouth, and empty the syringe. Wait for him to digest the dewormer, and immediately follow up with a honey dewormer.
"Always leave your horse with a positive taste in his mouth," says Anderson. "If you just give the bad-tasting dewormer and walk away, the last thing he remembers is a foul taste."
Step 6: Follow Up
Over the next three or four days, 'deworm' your horse with honey to remind him that deworming doesn't have to be a horrible experience. Be sure to desensitize him by waving and rubbing the syringe around his nose before putting the honey dewormer in his mouth.
Step 7: Repeat the Process
Deworm your horse with honey once a day for four days before the next scheduled deworming. Follow up by 'deworming' him with honey once a day for four days after the deworming. You'll then leave him with a positive deworming experience. In time, you should be able to just walk up, deworm your horse, and walk away.
Clinton Anderson grew up in Queensland, Australia, learning to ride as a teenager and training with many of his country's top horsemen. In 1997, he relocated to the United States to perfect his Downunder Horsemanship program. Under Anderson's guidance, horses learn to respect and respond to their handlers, developing willing partnerships. To learn more about Downunder Horsemanship, Clinton Anderson Walkabout Tours, and more, visit www.downunderhorsemanship.com.