A horse’s head and mouth are some of its most sensitive areas. It’s no wonder so many problems evolve with deworming horses. Much like horses that become hard to bridle, you’ll need to be smooth and conscientious in this area. Hopefully you’ll be proactive enough in your horsemanship that issues like worming and bridling will never come up, but if however you’re like many others that have inherited less than desirable habits in a horse and/or are not yet savvy enough to head off problems, you’ll find this article and its contents important for filing away in your horsemanship tool box. Horses that boarder on being extremely difficult to worm or bridle, please see Help For the Head Shy Horse and The Difficult To Bridle Horse, as the steps to take with these horses are a little more in depth and should be considered for safety reasons.

© The Horse Match Maker

The first thing you’ll want to do...

The first thing you’ll want to do is teach your horse to accept you handling his face. Make sure your horse trusts you to touch him around his face, ears, between and over his eyes. Remember to be smooth and careful in your approach. Some horses really like to be scratched on the face by the eyes, on the checks and under the jaw. Find out how and where your horse likes his face scratched and do this often. This can be very beneficial in building trust between you and your horse. Tame his tongue. Make a habit of petting it. You can slip a finger in the corner of his mouth and gently touch and rub it for a moment. This teaches him that it isn’t unusual for you to on occasion handle his mouth, and he won’t be as concerned about it when it comes time to medicate him if you make a habit of this during times that you don’t need to deworm him.

Teach your horse to lower his head...

Teach your horse to lower his head. Whether you’re short and your horse is tall or vice versa, it is important to have control of your horse’s head. There are all different ways to accomplish this. What you mainly want your horse to understand is how to follow a ‘downward feel,’ that way when your hands are full and you can’t take a hold of him in one specific place, he’ll know what you mean. However, when you first start out, you may have to make it obvious for him by taking a hold of his lead rope and applying some downward pressure, then just hold and wait. The moment your horse searches for a way off that pressure, even if it’s so small you wander if it really even happened at all, release and ask again, and build upon this. Your horse will get so good at this that you’ll be able to sit on the ground and ask for him to lower his head, but this obliviously isn’t where you’ll start. This will come in handy whether you’re deworming or bridling him.

Never tie your horse for deworming’s...

Never tie your horse for deworming’s. This can be dangerous, especially if your horse isn’t yet gentle in accepting deworming’s. Even seasoned, well behaved horses should be handled in hand for such things as deworming. Something unrelated could startle him during the process and cause a problem he didn’t have before and now does. Having your horse in hand gives you both the ability to drift which will allow you to quietly regain control of him.  Horses can learn to ‘pull back’ and many other things you’d want to avoid while being tied for something like this. So have control of your horse on the ground ‘in hand’ before you proceed.

When you’re ready...

When you’re ready, bring out the wormer but don’t be in a hurry. Take a deep breath and exhale in an attempt to relax. If in the past your horse has been difficult, expect him to be good, but be ready to correct him while you keep your emotions under control. Your horse feeds off of your emotions more than you think. Give him a good example to follow.

You’ll want to stand off to the side of your horse between his head and shoulder much like the position you take when bridling. If your horse has learned a head slinging habit in an attempt to avoid deworming’s, you’ll want to be especially vigilant in keeping a close eye on how close you allow your head and face to get to your horse’s. For those of you ‘right handers’ hold the halter in your left hand just to keep a good contact with your horse and help steady him while you hold the wormer in your right hand (assuming you’re working from the horses’ left side, if you’re working from the off side it could be opposite). The real point here is to handle the wormer in your most dexterous hand.

Rub the wormer all over the horse’s face...

Rub the wormer all over the horse’s face. If your horse tries to take his head away and you can manage, hang in there with your horse by keeping the wormer in place against his face until he settles, at which point you’d want to release by taking the wormer away. This teaches your horse he can’t evade you and the situation. You’re making the wrong thing difficult for him and the right thing easy. Give your horse several moments to think about what’s happening when you release him for the right thing. If your horse needs to move his feet, don’t be afraid to drift with him while staying calm and in position. Work on this until you can rub him everywhere including around the mouth and the horse is comfortable to stand and is offering to be a part of the situation without too much of a troubled expression. You’ll see signs of acceptance when the horses lowers his head and neck, licks his lips, blinks his eyes, sighs, yawns, or shakes his head while blowing through his nose. These are all good things that let you know you are on the right track. Rub your horse. Let him know you are pleased.

Be smooth...

When you are ready to slip the wormer into the corner of your horse’s mouth, be smooth. Whatever you do, don’t jab him! If he protests to the wormer slipping into his mouth, try to hold your position until he relaxes and lowers his head at your suggestion, at which case you’d remove the wormer and after a moment of release try again. You are working his emotions in this way and teaching him to be accepting of something that isn’t a big deal. As long as you don’t make it a big deal, he won’t perceive it as one.

When the horse feels solid enough...

When the horse feels solid enough and you’re ready, smoothly dispense the medication into the cheek pocket alongside the inside of the mouth, outside the top row of teeth (feel free to work with an empty dispenser just for the sake of training anytime you feel it’s necessary and not just when it’s time to deworm). I like to give my horse a small treat fed out of my hand after I deworm him as a “job well done.” This is more involvement with his mouth, and a nice reward to kick out that icky taste that I suspect all dewormers have, even the ones labeled ‘Apple Flavor’.

Make sure you offer lots of rubbing, reassurance, and praise...

Make sure you offer lots of rubbing, reassurance, and praise during the process when you see your horse searching for the right answer. If you follow these steps your horse will be a cupcake during deworming’s and chances are he’ll be good to bridle too. If your horse is still not cooperative after taking these steps please resort back to the above mentioned articles.