In 2013 the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) conducted a survey of equine vets which concluded that it was the most dangerous profession outside of the armed services. Every year, vets are seriously injured while dealing with difficult horses. We are often put in positions where personal safety has to be compromised for the welfare of the animal.
In response to the survey findings, BEVA acted to try to reduce injury rates in horse vets and nurses. One way of doing this was to offer more training on equine behaviour and in particular, dealing with stressed or difficult horses.
I attended a course last week at the Horse Trust in Buckinghamshire which proved to be a fascinating insight into how horses think and react to different situations. Various methods of training such as classical conditioning, positive reinforcement and overshadowing were discussed. I was surprised by how quickly some badly behaved horses had responded to these techniques. In practical sessions we used clicker training on a selection of rescue horses to teach them basic tasks. I would never have thought that you could train them within a couple of minutes to touch their nose on a traffic cone!
I learned some new techniques which will hopefully help me to deal with nervous or stressed horses in the future, but most of the way horses react to situations is influenced by how they are handled day to day, so we are still relying on you as the horse owner to manage and handle your horses in a careful and controlled manner which should result in them being less stressed and nervous next time they have an injection or a dental gag applied.