How To Hold Your Horses

How to hold your horses

Or equine restraint for beginners

How many new horse owners have problems holding their new horse for the farrier or the veterinarian? The owner may be nervous about holding the horse, and the horse senses that there may be a problem. The horse may start to act up, and then the owner gets more nervous causing a chain reaction of bad behavior for the horse. This article will try to give tips and information on how to safely hold a horse for the farrier or veterinarian.

There are three things to always consider when holding, or restraining a horse.

1. The safety of the handler (owner)

2. The safety of the horse.

3. Restraint of the horse for the intended purpose. ( Vet exams, new shoes, etc.)

The main concern with any horse is their legs. Horses can strike out with the front legs as well as kick out with the back legs. The front legs can be thrown out in a lightning fast manner called striking (This is illustrated in the picture above). NEVER stand directly in front of or behind any horse. If you have to move around behind a horse in a close situation, remember that a horse cannot see directly behind. You need to keep as close as possible to the hind end while passing around the horse, and keep one hand on the horse's rump to let him know that you are there. When holding a horse stand to one side to stay out of the way if a horse does strike. Always stay on the same side if the vet or farrier is working on the horse, this gives the horse a way out that will not get anyone hurt if he spooks. Stay close to the legs when along side the horse. The closer you are, the less momentum the horse has if he tries to kick, which means less damage to you if you are hit. The farther away front the leg you are, the more force and momentum the horse has to really hurt you or break bones. When catching a horse, approach from the side slowly and put a hand on the horse's neck to let him know that you are there. Put the lead rope around the horse's neck, so you have some control of the horse while you put the halter on. After the halter is on, check to make sure that the nose band is across the bones of the nose and not across the cartilage. When leading and holding a horse, ALWAYS fold the rope in an S shape. Do not coil it into loops. If a horse spooks, a coiled rope can trap your arm or hand and could break a bone, or worse the horse could drag you and step on you.

There are several ways to hold or restrain a horse. Some ways are easy, while others are hard on both the handler and horse. Horses and other animals resent excessive restraint and will fight back. The best policy to follow is to use the least restraint necessary to gain the horses cooperation. Start with light pressure and apply more restraint only when needed to maintain control.

There are three general rules to follow in holding horses.

1. Gain their attention.

2. Maintain positive and absolute control in all situations.

3. Make sure the horse understands that you control the positive or pleasant events.

You must out smart a horse rather than try to overpower them by brute force. A thousand-pound horse always wins in strength contests. Discomfort, such as twitching a lip, may occasionally be necessary; however, this discomfort should never be the main focus of restraint. Horses are social animals and have socially motivated needs like attention and food. If you attract a horse's attention by food rather than discomfort they will be much easier to work with and will perform better for you. As an example, I rescued a three-year-old horse that had little socialization with humans. The horse was trained for riding, but not trained to lead or stand for the farrier. The first time the farrier came out we had to use extra restraints like twitching and even leg tying to get her feet trimmed. With time and work, Lizzy now stands for the farrier very quietly with a bucket of food in front of her.

There are several easy ways to gain a horses attention. Food is a great attention getter, but cannot but used all the time, especially for sick horses or certain types of veterinary treatments and exams. In these cases other attention getters are needed. If you just need a mild distraction, rubbing lightly underneath the eyes just below the lower eyelid has calming effect on the horse. Sometimes a larger distraction is needed, so tapping gently on the forehead with your finger can also cause a distraction for the horse. Dr. R. M. Miller D.V.M. suggests another technique that is also a great distraction to horses. Place your finger just under the upper lip and place it at the spot where the gums meet the upper lip and gently massage that area. It has been suggested that this area when stimulated this area causes the release of hormones that help relax the horse. Just be careful to keep your fingers away from the teeth. I do not recommend this method for any horse that is known to bite, or is aggressive.

Twitches may be required sometimes as a method of restraint. The mildest form of a twitch is using your hand. You can grab a handful of skin in front of the shoulder and roll your hand over a little bit to get the horses attention. You can apply greater pressure when needed and relax the pressure when the horse complies. Some people may suggest ear twitching, but it is my belief that this form of restraint causes more harm than good. I believe that ear twitching can cause horses to resent having their head handled and may become head shy as a result. Nose twitching is less damaging and does not affect a horse's attitude as much. You can try using your hand to squeeze the upper lip, but this is for short term work. Your hand may get tired and if the horse pulls away, you may lose control of the situation. This violates the second rule of restraint. There are long-handled twitches that have a chain or rope attached to a wooden handle. This type of twitch if used should be used with extreme caution. Even in expert hands this type can become dangerous club if the horse ever pulls it out of the handler's hand. There are improvised twitches that can be found in the feed stores and equine supply center's that work very well and do not require someone to hold them.

Other forms of restraint include hobbles, stud chains and chemicals. I do not recommend any of these methods for beginner horse people because of the damage that can be caused with these methods. Even experienced horse people generally save these methods for severe situations. In addition chemical restraints like tranquilizers should only be used by a veterinarian or under the direction and orders of a veterinarian. Some horses may have reactions to tranquilizers, and others may have a high tolerance to the drugs. A tranquilized horse can be very dangerous, because the horse cannot control every moment it makes. When I worked as a veterinary technician, we had to stitch up a horse that had run through some barbed wire and had cuts on all four legs. This horse had a very high tolerance for any type of tranquilizers. The veterinarian decided that he would give the horse a very powerful tranquilizer that would cause the horse to lie down. This horse woke up in the middle of the procedure and stumbled around the operating area. The veterinarian tried to keep the horse still to let him recover from the tranquilizers. The horse stumbled and almost fell on the veterinarian, but the veterinarian's leg was in the way and horse fell on it and broke the leg just below the knee. This was not the fault of the horse because he had no control over his actions due to the drugs.

Just remember when holding or restrain a horse always use the least amount of pressure needed. Your horse will be a happier and more cooperative animal.


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