Ground Manners to Prepare Your Horse for the Vet

Prepare your trail horse for the veterinarian with these lessons in ground manners from noted clinician Julie Goodnight.

If your trail horse is well-trained, well-behaved, and easy to work with, you’ll make your veterinarian’s job much easier and more effective. Even the best veterinarian must struggle to examine a horse that’s stomping, biting, moving away, or just not cooperating.

Here, top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight explains the manners your horse should learn to make veterinary exams a breeze. She believes you must be your horse’s “captain” at all times to gain and maintain his respect. If he knows that you’re the herd leader, he’ll look to you for guidance in any situation, even when he’s uncomfortable, hurt, or fearful.

Here’s how to teach your horse three lessons in ground manners: (1) hold still; (2) accept touch; and (3) place each step.

(Note: As you teach your horse these lessons, always stay safe; if you have any problems, ask a qualified trainer or certified riding instructor to help you.)

Lesson Prep

  • You’ll need: A rope halter (to place pressure on your horse’s poll and sensitive facial areas); a 12-foot-long lead rope with a knot to connect it to the halter instead of a metal snap (the knot will allow your horse feel a correction without causing undue pain); leather gloves.
  • Before you begin: Choose a time to work with your horse when he’s fed, rested and wants to move.

Lesson #2: Accept Touch

Your horse needs to learn that if he accepts touch, the touch will soon go away ? that it’s easier to stand still and accept the touch instead of fighting.

Don leather gloves, stand at your horse’s left side, and place two fingers at the left corner of his lip. He should open his mouth slightly. Move your fingers slightly back and into his mouth, avoiding his front and back teeth (Photo 2). He’ll most likely shake his head and pull away from your touch, but keep your fingers in place no matter where he pulls you.

Watch for an instant of relaxation. As soon as your horse lowers his head or stops resisting, pull your hand away. Keep up the pressure until he accepts it, then remove your hand immediately. Repeat the process until he allows you to open his mouth from both sides without resistance.

Use this same technique to teach your horse to accept your touch on other parts of his face and body.

Julie Goodnight of Poncha Springs, Colorado, teaches thousands of horse owners each year at horse expos, and clinics, and on her RFD-TV show, Horse Master. Heidi Nyland is a photographer, journalist and riding instructor based in Longmont, Colorado.

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