How to Handle Your Horse When the Veterinarian Visits

Owner holding horse while veterinarian performs a procedure.
Owner holding horse while veterinarian performs a procedure. Mark Sellers

"In my years as an equine practitioner, I have found that knowing the number of horses I would be seeing, the procedures I would be carrying out, and having the client be well prepared for our appointment, was invaluable in making the farm call run smoothly, efficiently and cost effectively." - Kathy Williamson, DVM - Manager Veterinary Services for Purina

An equine veterinarian examining a horse

An equine veterinarian examining a horse

Being well prepared for a veterinarian's visit ensures that necessary procedures for your horse will be effectively completed, thereby saving time and money, plus horse, owner, and veterinarian will have a positive relationship moving forward.
© 2016 by Carien Schippers

Whether the call to a veterinarian is for regular exams or vaccinations for several horses or because of a sudden emergency because of a sick or injured horse, it is in the horse owner's and horse's best interest to have established a positive on-going relationship with the veterinarian who cares for and treats the horses on the owner's premises.

Having a good relationship with the veterinarian enables the veterinarian to be a positive contributor to better over-all horse health, and when an emergency arises, it makes it much easier for the veterinarian to determine if the horse owner can possibly treat the a sick or injured horse or if a visit to the horse is necessary.

In addition, a horse owner should be ready, willing, and able to physically help the veterinarian on a horse call with any assistance necessary for getting a procedure or treatment done effectively and promptly. An owner who knows the horse well and has established a leadership role with the horse can smooth the way for the veterinarian to gain the cooperation of the horse in spite of illness, injury, or during a routine health care situation.

Make sure the horse is prepared for the vet's visit

Veterinarians appreciate the horse owner who prepares the horse in advance for a visit. Not only does it help the veterinarian stay on schedule but it also provides an element of safety for the veterinarian and the other people involved in the situation. In general, it allows the veterinarian to provide the best care for the client's horses.

If the visit is for routine health care, make sure the horse is where the veterinarian has ready access to him. Don't wait until the vet gets there to catch the horse and put him in a safe area.

Horse ready for vet's visit

Horse ready for vet's visit

Veterinarians appreciate the horse owner who prepares the horse in advance for a visit. Not only does it help the veterinarian stay on schedule but it also provides an element of safety for the veterinarian.
© 2012 by Artist Name

Make sure the horse is relatively clean and free from mud or diet that might hide conditions such as skin issues or swollen limbs from your vet. Also, if vaccinations or other injections are to be given that day, starting with clean coats will save time and reduce the chance for infection at the injection site.

From the get-go, a horse owner should make sure that each horse has been trained to be cooperative with the humans who work with him, whether it is the owner, a rider, a veterinarian, an equine dentist or a farrier. Some horses are cooperative and mild-mannered. Others are just the opposite.

Horses that have become used to human contact from the time they are foals and are used to being touched and handled are usually more cooperative than those that have little human contact outside of their work schedules.

Knowing the temperament of a horse before making a visit, allows a veterinarian to be prepared to deal with that particular horse more effectively. The veterinarian can be prepared if the horse is prone to misbehavior, is headstrong, or if the horse will need special treatment or the use of restraints.

A horse that has positive experiences with his handler including everything from clipping and working from both of his body to cooperating with farriers and equine dentists usually maintains a calm attitude when a veterinarian visit is necessary.

Have horse health records readily available

Maintain good records related to the care of your horse. Although your veterinarian will likely have a list of medical procedures performed on each horse, it is wise to maintain your own records as well. This is especially true in an emergency when a veterinarian may go directly from another appointment to care for your sick or injured horse.

How do I train my horse to be a perfect citizen for the vet so that he gets gentle handling and is well-liked (and well-treated) by my vet?" Teach your horse to "hold still, accept touch, place each step, and match pace." - Julie Goodnight

Make sure to have vaccination, farrier, dewormings and teeth check dates, medical history and a medication and supplement list at the ready when your vet arrives. You should also remind your veterinarian about any allergies or reactions your horse has displayed in the past to medicines or vaccinations.

In many cases, discussing your horse's feeding schedule, including amounts and types of grain and hay fed, might also be pertinent. Your veterinarian will appreciate the memory refresher since they see many clients in a day.

If your vet has this information there will be no need to administer unnecessary vaccinations or perform other routine procedures if they have already been done recently, which will save time and money.

Taking a few minutes to go over your horse's records with your veterinarian offers a great opportunity for you to ask questions and take notes too.

Anticipate what the vet will need to get the job done

For example, if a lameness exam is needed, have an area free of obstacles with good footing available for the veterinarian's use. If the visit is likely to include radiography or ultrasound exams, have an accessible power supply available. If breeding work is on the agenda, warm water will be required.

Have your barn aisle, small pen, or area around the horse clear of obstructions that could harm the horse or humans if the horse moves quickly during any necessary procedures.

Have a halter and lead rope available for the veterinarian's use. It is a good idea to have both a regular lead rope and a lead with a chain to choose from as well as a twitch if you own one in case the veterinarian finds it necessary to restrain the horse.

Quite often, the veterinarian will need your help in holding or restraining your horse depending on the procedure and your horse's temperament. Follow the vet's instructions about where to stand or sit and how best to hold the horse.

In addition, Julie Goodnight, an internationally respected trainer and clinician with experience in many types of training, has some very good advice for horse owners in her blog "Ground manners for the veterinary visit" as she addresses the question: "How do I train my horse to be a perfect citizen for the vet so that he gets gentle handling and is well-liked (and well-treated) by my vet?" in which she discusses getting your horse to "hold still, accept touch, place each step, and match pace."

After your veterinarian has diagnosed or treated your horse, make sure you understand the situation by asking questions about the diagnosis or treatment and what you should do in the future as far as caring for your horse both to advance horse health and to address preventative care.

Be prepared to pay for the veterinarian's services.

Know your veterinarian's requirements for payment for services. Most veterinarians require payment at the time of service, unless other arrangements have previously been made. Have your checkbook or credit card handy so your vet can be on his or her way to their next appointment on time. Some veterinarians or practices may offer discounts for payment at the time of service or for non-credit transactions.

Be gracious and thank the veterinarian for services rendered whether it is treatment for a major injury or illness or a routine visit to take care of deworming or to keep the horse up-to-date on his vaccination schedule. Being an equine veterinarian is hard and sometimes dangerous work. An appreciative "thank you" along with any help needed to enable the veterinarian to move on to the next appointment is always appreciated.

Consider this:

The offer of a cold, refreshing drink on a hot day or of a cup of coffee or hot chocolate on a cold day can help make life more enjoyable for you, your horse, and certainly the veterinarian or other equine professional that provides you with valuable horse care.

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.