Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Deworming Dance

Yesterday was deworming day at In the Night Farm. One by one, I pulled horses from their paddocks for a little grooming, followed by a shot of pyrantel pamoate.

Acey is my only horse who objects to this ritual. I think it's the sensation of the tube in her mouth she hates, more than the actual paste. Either way, her eyes turn glossy and her chin tucks when she sees the tube coming. That, however, is the extent of her protest.

Not so long ago, deworming Acey was more of a project. Before she was gentled, I dewormed her by mixing the paste with a mash of beet pulp and oats. That worked well, but once she understood basic in-hand work, it was time to administer the dewormer properly.

The first time I tried, Acey raced backward in an effort to escape. Pulling on her would have done no good; in fact, it would have made her feel even more desperate to evade me. So I went with her -- and when she wanted to stop, I asked her to keep backing.

I asked calmly, just as though we were in the middle of a lesson on giving to pressure rather than attempting routine health maintenance. My goal was not to punish, but to show her that she had a choice: Stay and be dewormed in peace, or escape by working hard.

You want to practice backing up? What a good idea! Let's back up...more...keep going...good girl! Now, how about that dewormer?

I raised the tube. She backed away.

No? Okay, we can back some more. Let's go clear around the corral this time...good...very nice...ready to stop? How 'bout that dewormer?

Acey was blowing by now. Backing, even calmly, is hard work. I approached with the tube again. She eyed it and stepped back.

Really? Huh. Well, we can practice backing some more, if you insist. Let's go around twice this time...keep going...goodness, it's a long way...whew!

This time, when I slipped the tube between her lips, Acey didn't move. I dosed her, then scratched her withers while she swallowed.

There, wasn't that easier? Good girl!

Had Acey's deworming issue been more severe -- particularly if it had been result of a long and dismal course of oral medications -- I would have dosed her with something tasty, like applesauce or molasses, several times throughout a series of training sessions before administering the dewormer.

In Acey's case, however, that ten-minute lesson conveyed the message that will save us both a lifetime of headaches. Six weeks later, she backed only once -- quite a bit further than she'd planned -- before accepting her ivermectin. Six weeks after that, I watched the thought cross her mind, then vanish in the wake of a wise decision.

* * *
I wrote the above post an hour ago, and it's been bothering me ever since. Why? Because at deworming time, Acey's eyes still glaze over with the rainbow sheen that signals stress and resistance. I'm going to buy some applesauce for her, after all.

Also, the above method is one I would probably avoid using with a horse that has a tendency to rear. Backing can be frustrating for a horse, and the act of backing "gathers" him into his hindquarters, which makes rearing -- an extremely dangerous behavior -- all too easy. Turning a horse like this in tight circles instead of backing would accomplish the same objective; circling would also be a good alternative for a horse that isn't yet trained to back politely.

Want to read more posts like this one?
Subscribe to The Barb Wire


Susan Catt said...

Iuse the same method. You can also simply put the hors on the lunge line. I use it for everything so its not big deal andno hesitation to just send them out at the trot. Have your training aids (lunging up to the trot, backing, circling etc) in order before attempting other activies that may need disciplinary action. The training aids are the fundamental foundation to everything, the horses mind, his body coordination and stamina, his understanding of work is and his discipline.

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Susan -- YES. Having the aids set in stone before you really need them is critical.

Jonna said...

JB had a similar issue but his was more related to his mouth/muzzle area in general. Even touching that area with your hand , tube of wormer or not and it would send him into fight mode. He would move backwards some but with him, it was an offer of flipping his head faily violent in an attempt to push my hand out of the way and sometimes he would threaten to strike, which, with stallions is sometimes the more commonly seen response. I spent quite a bit of time just desensitizing that area by rubbing him there without anything trying to be moved into his mouth, then progressed onto sticking my fingers in and out of his mouth (on the side ofcourse where he could not chomp down on the fingers!) and eventually what I worked into was whenever he was given a carrot, I would slide it into the side of his mouth like I would a tube of wormer paste. Pretty soon he just accepted that sometimes I fed him carrots in a really weird way! He no longer cares what I stick in his mouth and now loves his chin and the sides of his muzzle rubbed. The point being, like you mentioned, it wasn't about distaste of wormer so much.

Ashley said...

I've had a similar problem with Mimi for years...she fiercely objects to anything nasty being syringed into her mouth. It took a lot of time with honey or molasses-dipped syringes, and cinnamon applesauce before she's accept a syringe around her mouth.

The "hard work or easy acceptance" didn't go over with her so well on this issue. It's worked for me on so many other things over the years, but this is one area where she is stubborn, and scared, probably from a very early on long round of oral medications. So we compromise, and she gets her applesauce syringe after worming.