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Hates to be Wormed

16 August 2011 No Comment

Hates to be Wormed
Laura Phelps-Bell has over 25 years experience in the equine industry as a trainer and instructor. Her background includes successfully competing in dressage, on the “A” Open circuit in hunter/jumpers, showing in many western events, management of several large training/boarding facilities and teaching equine management courses at the college level. More about Laura

I have a 14 year-old qtr mare that is a pain to worm. We have even bought the easy wormer but that is a hassle too. I have resorted to mixing oats, applesauce, chocolate pudding (1 of the ones that comes in those snak paks)and Zimectrim. it takes her 2 days to eat the mixture and she doesn’t get anything else. I basically make her eat it before she is given anything else. I have tried the Tellington method of mouth massage but she doesn’t like her mouth messed with. Any Advice?

Hi! There are a few different approaches that you can take with your mare. You can avoid the difficult worming issue altogether by feeding her Panacur worming granules in some grain with a little vegetable oil mixed in to make it stick to the grain. Panacur is a flavored wormer and I have never had one single horse refuse to eat it in grain (I use it for the newly adopted Mustang mares that I haven’t “gentled” yet). Another approach would be to use modified clicker training. People will see my advice to use modified clicker training quite often for horses that have certain “issues” and negative past histories regarding certain things. I recommend it because it works. Modified clicker training is just a means of offering positive reinforcement to train our horses through certain issues or negative past histories rather then getting involved in a combative situation. Whenever we can avoid a fight, that will always be the best choice with horses. I can get rough with a horse, but being an intelligent person who realizes that horses are big and strong and I am not, I will always look for ways to accomplish things with horses that don’t involve size and strength. I prefer to be patient and consistent in my approach and also offer positive reinforcement whenever possible.

Modified clicker training involves offering a reward to a horse when they respond to something that you want in a positive way. I say “modified” clicker training because I do not use a formal clicker device (like the little frog clickers that you will see at kids birthday parties). Instead of using a clicker to “mark” the positive behavior that your horse offers, I use the word “good” and then offer a reward of either a food treat or a scratch in the horses favorite spot. As I said in the previous response, many people will try to tell you that this is a bribe any time you offer treats in conjunction with training, but it is only a bribe if the horse doesn’t have to do something that you want first before receiving the treat. You’re not bribing your horse by continuously giving them treats when they haven’t done something positive for you first. You’re only “marking” the behavior (saying “good”) and then giving the horse a treat (a reward) when she gives you a “positive” response first (like accepting the paste syringe by her mouth). You can carry your treats in a fanny pack worn on the front or in your coat pockets .

The way that I would proceed with your mare would be to get a 60cc plastic syringe and cut off the top to make the opening a little bigger. Then fill the syringe with apple sauce. Go out and halter your mare and also have some treats handy like carrot slices, grain, etc in your fanny pack or coat pockets. Start by introducing the syringe to her by letting her see it, smell it, touch it, etc. If she has a real aversion to syringes because she anticipates the worming, she’ll probably throw and toss her head, turn around and try to leave, maybe rear up, or even strike with a front foot (I’ve seen a lot of very interesting behavior through the years!). When she does any of these things, ignore the behavior. Stay out of the way of her front feet if she chooses to strike or rear and of course don’t let her turn around and leave, but otherwise, just patiently keep presenting her with the syringe. When she finally stops acting agitated, fearful, aggressive or whatever and she settles and stands quiet for even a second, tell her “good” and immediately offer the treat of a carrot slice or grain or whatever you’re using as a treat. After waiting a moment, offer the syringe again. She may demonstrate the same behavior and once again your response will be consistent and you will ignore the behavior.

When she settles again, say “good”, and reward her. If your mare has been demonstrating this negative behavior in regard to worming for a while, don’t expect that she will magically become O.K. and accept the syringe in one or two sessions (although, I’ve worked with horses using modified clicker training that came around very quickly on various negative behaviors and the owners couldn’t believe it!). Just be patient and consistent in your approach. As she realizes that being presented with the syringe is actually not hurting her and when she stands quiet she gets rewarded with a treat, she will look for ways to earn that treat by offering positive behavior. Gradually, you will “up the ante” and expect a little more acceptance before she hears “good” and gets her reward. You will expect that she will stand quiet as you bring your applesauce syringe to the side of her face and then to the side of her mouth, then inserting the syringe into the corner of her mouth but not pasting her with the applesauce and then finally actually giving her the applesauce. In between each of these steps, you will be positively reinforcing her good behavior by telling her “good” and giving her a reward. Each and every horse is different, so your mare might take 10 sessions to get to the point where you can give her the applesauce (which doesn’t taste bad at all when you finally do give it to her), or it might only take 3 or 4 sessions to get to that point. The “key” here is to learn to “read” your horse and know when you’ve done enough for that day. Always be patient and consistent in your approach and always end each session on a positive note. Don’t just keep forging ahead every time you get a positive response. Better to quit sooner-rather-then-later and be able to come out for the next session and make more positive strides. Too often, people don’t know when to stop and they push a horse past their attention span or learning level. Be patient. When you finally are able to consistently give her the applesauce in the syringe, then you will be ready to try the paste wormer. I would definitely use the Panacur or Safeguard flavored paste wormer the first few times I actually worm your mare. You may have to go through many of the same modified clicker training steps of “marking” positive behavior by saying “good” and then giving the horse a treat. When you do actually administer the paste wormer, “mark” the behavior by saying “good” and really praise your mare and have a good treat ready to give her to follow the wormer.

All of the horses that I have raised are absolutely wonderful for vaccinations and worming without even putting a halter on them, but for the horses that I haven’t had the luxury of raising, the modified clicker training works every time in reconditioning the horse toward positive behavior. Leave yourself plenty of time to spend on the reconditioning sessions, be patient and be consistent and I’m sure that your mare will come around in time.

Good Luck!

Laura Phelps-Bell

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