De-Worming – Good Horsekeeping, by Clinton Anderson
Worming is a basic element of good horse keeping that should be a worry-free, routine practice that takes place several times a year. However, for many people and their horses, worming time means trouble. The owner becomes frustrated because their horse is difficult to worm, and the horse becomes defensive because he’s previously had a bad experience being wormed or doesn’t like the taste of the wormer.
The majority of worming issues aren’t the horse’s fault ““ responsibility falls back to the owner who causes the problem to begin with. Most people have trouble worming their horses because of the way they approach the horse. They either sneak up to the horse and then jam the wormer in his mouth, or they walk straight up to the horse and hang onto the halter really tight trying to make the horse stand still and then jam it in there; both of these situations will make the horse defensive.
You have to remember that horses are prey animals. If you approach him and shove the wormer in his face, like a predator, then he’s going to shove it back in your face and say, “˜Get lost!’ If you change your approach, and instead casually walk up to the horse, pretty soon, you’ll notice that a lot of his defensiveness will go away and he won’t be worried about getting wormed. A horse that is good to worm will stand still with his head down, body relaxed and readily accept a wormer because he realizes that you are not trying to hurt him.
Step 1: Desensitize the airspace around the horse’s head with the wormer.
Use the wormer to desensitize the airspace around the horse’s head. If the horse won’t accept the wormer in the airspace around him, then he won’t accept the wormer in his mouth. Desensitizing works because you are doing the opposite of what the horse expects you to do ““ you are not trying to worm him.
Stand to the side of the horse so you are out of his way if he tosses his head or strikes at you. Wave an empty wormer back and forth around the horse’s entire head and muzzle keeping it a couple of inches away so you don’t actually touch him. When the horse keeps his head still, stop waving the wormer, retreat and rub his head with your other hand. Repeat this step until the horse keeps his head still for the entire time that you are moving the wormer. If he is not relaxed at this point don’t go on to the next step. The horse must be relaxed for this to work.
Step 2: Rub the horse with the worming syringe.
Desensitize the horse to the touch of the wormer so that he understands that he can be touched by the wormer without actually getting wormed. Starting at his withers, rub an empty wormer all over his body making your way down his back. Work back towards his withers and onto his neck and jaw. If he throws his head in the air or moves away from you, continue rubbing until he stands still and relaxes, then retreat. Rub the worming syringe all over the horse’s face, continuing to use the Approach and Retreat Method. As the horse becomes desensitized, gradually rub the wormer down and around his muzzle.
When you rub the wormer around the horse’s nose and face, don’t rub it slowly like you’re sneaking around him hoping that he’ll stand still. Rub him vigorously with the empty wormer. The horse will think to himself, “Man, you’re an idiot, you don’t even know where my mouth is.” When the horse relaxes and keeps his head and feet still, retreat the wormer and rub his head with your other hand.
You are trying to establish a starting point. You want him to realize that the quickest way to get rid of the wormer is to stop moving his feet and to relax his head and neck. You want him to stand still and lower his head, when he does, take the wormer away from him and rub his face with your other hand. Keep doing this until you can rub the wormer all over him and he doesn’t move.
Step 3: Teach the horse a cue to open his mouth.
Stand to the side of the horse, drape the lead rope over your right elbow and hold the cheek piece of the halter with your right hand. Insert your left thumb into the corner of the horse’s mouth where the bit would sit. Rub the roof of his mouth with your thumb until he opens his mouth. As soon as he opens his mouth slightly remove your thumb and rub his face. Continue to put your thumb in his mouth until he automatically begins to respond by opening his mouth.
Step 4: Coat the worming syringe with something sweet.
Repeat Steps 2 and 3 then coat the empty worming syringe with something sweet such as honey, molasses or sugar to help teach the horse to accept the worming syringe in his mouth. The sweetness will help the horse disassociate the bad taste of wormer with the worming process. Make sure that the horse already has a taste for the honey by putting a little of it on his feed every night. Stand to the side of the horse and ease the wormer into the corner of his mouth. Keep the wormer in the horse’s mouth; raise your arms if he throws his head up. Move back with him if he steps backwards. As soon as he stands still, lowers his head and relaxes, take the wormer out of his mouth and rub his face with your hand. Repeat until the horse stands still.
Step 5: Worm the horse with something sweet.
Worming the horse with honey makes him think that whatever is in a worming syringe tastes good. Fill the empty wormer up with honey then wave and rub the syringe around the horse’s nose to ensure that he is desensitized to it. Put the honey wormer in the corner of the horse’s mouth and slowly worm him with honey letting him lick the honey off the syringe. Repeat for several days.
Step 6: Worm the horse with a real wormer.
When the horse accepts that he likes having the worming syringe in his mouth, you can worm him with a real wormer. Practice Steps 1 ““ 5 until the horse shows no defensiveness towards the wormer. Get a real wormer and put the honey on the outside of the syringe. Put the wormer in the corner of the horse’s mouth and worm him. Wait for the horse to digest the wormer and immediately follow up with a honey wormer. Always leave the horse with a positive taste in his mouth. If you just give the bad tasting wormer and then walk away, the last thing he remembers is a foul taste.
Step 6: Follow up with positive reinforcement.
Over the next three to four days remind the horse that worming does not have to be a horrible experience by continuing to worm him with a honey wormer. Remember to always desensitize him to the honey wormer before putting the wormer in his mouth, by waving and rubbing the syringe around his nose.
Step 7: Repeat the process before the next scheduled worming.
Four days before the next scheduled worming, start the process again and worm the horse with honey. If you do this, you will always leave your horse with a positive worming experience. In time, you won’t have to do this and you should be able to just walk up, worm the horse and walk away.
For more info on Clinton Anderson and his training methods, go to www.downunderhorsemanship.com.
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