Train your horse to take oral medication with R+

Train your Horse to Take his Meds with R+

Horses are wonderful, horses are fun and most often Zen, horses do get sick (unfortunately). How do you deal with oral medication when your horse is sick? Do you force feed it with a syringe? Do you trick your horse by mixing it in with his normal food? Or … (are you crazy?) and try to train your horse to take his meds with R+?
I choose the last option…

Teaching Kyra to accept oral medication syringes (dewormer)

I’ve trained Kyra to accept dewormers from a syringe. Antibiotics or bute are a bit different because you usually need to give them more often than dewormers. Also, the medication (taste or way to administer it) can get more aversive over time if you have to give it once or more times a day for several days. We -as owners- also can make the easy mistake to think it becomes easier for the horse, while for him it’s becoming less and less fun.

Traumatized by the taste of medication

When I was 8 I was in the hospital for over a week. Each day I got woken up at 7 (way too early for me back then!) and got an injection with antibiotics in my rectus femoris (thigh).

The first day was painful but the second day they gave me this injection at the same place. This was so much more painful! After 3 days I dreaded the morning nurse. On day 4 I refused to get poked by the needle! After a long discussion (in which I wouldn’t budge) I was allowed to make a choice between injections (they promised to alternate legs and make it more comfy) or an oral antibiotic paste (HUGE syringe) with the flavor of “oranges”. Guess what I choose…

Association

The first day it was like candy. The second day it already tasted rather badly and the third day I could puke if I just smelled it.

I still had a more days to go. I ended up with a trauma that caused me to pass on all candy (and some really great cocktails) that have the slightest hint of that fake “oranges” smell. It lasted for over 25 years. So, I do get the horse. I do understand that if they like the taste on day 1, it’s not a guarantee that they will like it the second or third time.

Train to accept oral meds with R+

It’s January 2021 and Kyra has an injury on her left hind leg and a hoof abscess in her right hind hoof, according to the vet. Both hind legs are painful and swollen. She can barely walk at this point. It’s heart breaking to watch. The vet prescribes painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics. That’s a lot to swallow!

I decide to train Kyra to take her meds. If they can train elephants and other wild animals to take oral medications voluntarily, maybe I can do this with Kyra’s meds too. I already have successfully trained her to take oral dewormers without a halter. >> Click HERE to watch that video <<

So after Day 1 I start to teach Kyra that licking, interacting, nibbling (hooray!) would lead to a click and a worthwhile appetitive (food without meds!).


At first it took me about 20 minutes and at Day 5 it was gone within 6 minutes. As you can see in the video: Kyra knows the drill very well: left hand is soaked beet pulp + antibiotics, my right hand serves grass pellets, which she loves very much.

This is a video of Day 5, where she happily eats her medication. I recorded all our sessions to see what I can learn from the process. When I started I had no idea this would go this way and would be a great success. I really had my doubts, but I kept my focus on my (HippoLogic) training system, that leads to predictable results.

Who said that you can’t Train your Horse to Take his Meds with R+?

In this video you can see the result:

Questions?

Let me know if you’ve questions about this process. I do offer online coaching and online courses. If you think that this topic will make a great online course: Teaching Your Horse to Take Oral Meds with R+, let me know in the comments.

I think this is a really great skill to practise before you need it: to teach your horse to eat something she doesn’t like or love. In the past I’ve successfully taught her to eat turnip. It gave me lots of insight how to go about this challenge.

Once you ‘need’ to administer medication, you don’t have much space for error and errors can be costly (it’s their meds!). So practising and learning as much as you can about your horses preferences and feedback is essential.

Happy Horse training!

Join my free Clicker Course ‘Click With Your Horse’

Click with Your Horse, an Introduction in Positive Reinforcement

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

I teach horse people to connect with their horse in training, so they get results and the relationship they want with their beloved horse. Make training win-win!


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