Magic Mustang Tamer

Training for Medical Behaviors

Even the wildest mustang can learn to participate in its own care (if it is not really painful). The trick is to make the motivator motivating enough that the animal wants to earn the food, then starting out with simple approximations of the behavior that the animal can handle. Getting them to lean into a damp sponge is usually not too difficult. If you can’t get near the wound, start where you can work towards it, but have an extra sponge that won’t be used on the wound itself, since it will get dirty on the way.

We have had to treat a lot of ear wounds. I never want the scrub water to run down into the ear, so I try to use a second sponge to absorb any run-off. I train the animal to lean into the absorbing sponge while I do a countdown from five. This gives me a measured time to wet and wipe the area. If I can be extremely predictable with my behavior, including how I rinse and squeeze my cleaning sponge, the animal will usually stay. A second person is really valuable if they can quietly keep delivering treats during the process.

Debriding wounds is important, especially in a dirty environment that has flies. It takes about 20 minutes of soaking to start to soften up mats and clots. Be patient. Never use hydrogen peroxide outdoors in the sunlight because will destroy healthy tissues. Clip away any excess hair. A&D Ointment will soften scabs, but it also makes the horse lose its hair/fur where it touches the skin.

We generally wash with a betadine solution that has been diluted to the color a cup of tea. I make the water lukewarm and set it where hay will not accidentally fall into it. When you are working alone, you will have to figure out how to keep a dry feeding hand and a wet sponge hand from contaminating each other. It’s not easy!

In the video, Carson has arrived at Mustang Camp with a wound on his forehead, running with pus, and matting his forelock. He was a very reactive animal and it took all five trainers to carefully separate and confine him in a pen without causing him to panic. We limited him to food only coming from the trainer. You never want to require 100% hand-feeding for an animal or yourself because it is so time-consuming, but sometimes it’s a necessity.  I handed him every bite he got and as soon as he could stand and feed, he was in sponge training. By his first morning, he was eager to work and by mid-morning, we had a wet sponge soaking his forelock. Needless to say, all other training responsibilities get suspended during a medical training emergency. It took one day of intensive training then he was able to get all of his medical attention once a day with his taming.


One thought on “Training for Medical Behaviors

  1. Abby Reeves

    Great content and something good to keep in mind. You never know what you’ll have to deal with so better be prepared.

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