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How To Navigate Equine Vet Visits

Here’s how to prepare for and what to expect during routine visits from your equine veterinarian.
An equine veterinarian talks to a horse owner during an exam
Courtesy The Horse staff/Kevin Thompson

As a horse owner, there’s a good chance you’ll become well-acquainted with your equine veterinarian. That’s because horses are masters at injuring themselves and getting into things they shouldn’t. Equine veterinary exams differ from your dog or cat’s regular checkups, however. You’re dealing with a 1,000-pound animal that has strong opinions and sensitive body systems. To ensure equine vet visits go as smoothly as possible for all involved, here are tips for handling your horse before, during, and after the exam.

Prepare your horse before your vet arrives.

Don’t wait until your practitioner pulls in the driveway to get your horse from the field and clean him up. Arrive in time to catch him from the field (extra early if he can be difficult to catch!) and bring him to a well-lit, safe area for your vet to work, ideally away from farm equipment, pets, and frequently traveled paths (to and from pastures, for example). In many cases, a grooming stall or the barn aisle is a perfectly acceptable spot. Let him relax in his stall or the cross-ties until the vet arrives.

Also, if possible, have your horse well-groomed with his hooves picked. It will be easier (and less messy) for your vet to evaluate your horse and spot potential problems if he’s not covered in mud. Avoid getting your horse wet beforehand, unless your vet has instructed you to. For example, he or she might have you hose down an overheated horse or flush a wound as they’re driving to your farm.

Go with the flow.

A woman leads a chestnut horse in from the pasture
Bring your horse in from the field and clean her up before your veterinarian arrives. | Courtesy The Horse staff/Kevin Thompson

If your practitioner has a veterinary technician or assistant who helps handle horses during procedures or jog them during lameness exams, let him or her do so. Chances are they’re used to operating as a team and can do it efficiently, which helps your veterinarian best address the issue (be it diagnosing a lameness, evaluating a fever, or performing routine preventive care) and be on the way to the next call. An added bonus? If you’re not the handler, you can focus your attention on observing the exam and expanding your horse health knowledge.

If your veterinarian arrives solo …

Handle your horse with safety in mind.

Study results have shown that equine veterinarians have one of the highest risks of injury of any civilian profession (including construction workers, prison service employees, and firefighters). If you’re handling the horse while your veterinarian is working on him, it’s your job to help keep your practitioner safe.

Ways you can do this include:

  • Well in advance, train your horse to stand quietly and walk and trot when asked.
  • Stay on the same side of the horse your veterinarian is working on. If a horse moves, he’s most likely to go away from the handler; if you’re on the opposite side as your vet, that’s right into the person treating your horse.
  • Hold, don’t tie or cross-tie, your horse for injections, blood draws, and other treatments.
  • Focus on your horse—don’t get distracted by your phone or goings on across the farm.

Also, if you’re not sure how to do something your vet requests, ask for instructions. He or she will be happy to explain.

Let your veterinarian use restraint, if needed.

Another way veterinarians can stay safe on the job is by using restraint methods on uncooperative horses (whether they’re flighty, painful, or misbehaving). Common restraint options include sedation, a chain shank over the lip, or a lip twitch. He or she isn’t applying restraint to be mean to your horse—it’s a safety precaution.

Take-Home Message

Ensuring a successful equine vet visit extends beyond the checkup itself, requiring careful handling and understanding of your horse’s behavior. A calm and well-mannered horse not only makes veterinary procedures quicker and easier but also helps foster a more positive association with health checkups.

Related Reading: Horse Owner Etiquette When Working With Equine Professionals

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