Injection Shyness in Horses

May 29, 2007 (published)

Do you have a horse that will not allow injections to be given or is afraid of other veterinary procedures? If so, I am going to give you the basics of a training program developed by Dr. Sue McDonnell that works on the premise of positive reinforcement to retrain these horses. I say retrain because horses are not born afraid of injections, but it is a learned response. Because of this, they can also learn to tolerate or even like most procedures. All that is required is a 3-foot lead shank, a small amount of sweet feed in a bucket, and the item that scares the horse, such as a needle. First of all, for horses that do not like injections, use a small needle. Work in an open area and you need to determine at what point the horse becomes afraid. Is it when he sees the needle or when you touch his neck? Regardless, as soon as the horse begins to resist, a small reward of grain is offered while the procedure is continued. The grain is not given until the horse allows you to perform the initial step of the procedure, such as unwrapping the syringe. After this same procedure and reward is given ten times, you can then move on to the next step of the procedure such as using alcohol to wipe down the injection area. Eventually, you can get to the actual injection and teach the horse he will get a reward for tolerating the procedure and he learns the procedure is a positive procedure and not negative. You can usually tell when it is time to go from one stage to another as the horse drops his head and relaxes. This technique takes some time but is very rewarding.

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.