Clicker Training for Needle-Shy Horses

Did you know that equine vets have one of the highest injury risks of all civilian professions? One of the risky scenarios we find ourselves in is trying to inject needle shy horses. This is a difficult and dangerous problem for owners, vets and horses.

Luckily, by understanding equine behaviour and learning we can quickly teach our horses that vets and needles are not that scary! Our training goals are:

  • To reward the correct behaviour (standing still) through positive reinforcement
  • To habituate the horse to a scary stimulus (needle or vet)
  • To reduce the expression of flight response (running away, kicking, biting, shying, etc)
  • To help the horse to have good associations with needles and the presence of two people at their shoulder

 

Positive reinforcement is giving a reward to increase the chances of the horse giving a response. In this case, we can use food (e.g. carrot pieces) to reward the horse when he stands still. However, we need to ensure we don’t accidentally reward the wrong behaviour by delaying the timing of the reward. The reward needs to come at EXACTLY the moment of the correct behaviour (not even a second later) or you will reward the wrong response! The easiest way to get this right is to use “secondary positive reinforcement” which means using another sound as a marker of the correct behaviour, then giving the reward soon after. It’s like saying to the horse: “Yes! Love your work, I have a treat coming!” A clicker makes a characteristic sound that is perfect for using as the marker.

Things you will need:

  • A handful of desirable treats, e.g. carrot pieces
  • A clicker – you can buy these from pet stores or online. We have some in the Vet Cross Petstore in Bundaberg, or we can send one out to our Gin Gin or Bargara clinics for you

 

Ideally an assistant to hold the horse while you do the training – this also gets the horse used to having two people around it

How to use a clicker to desensitise a needle-shy horse: 1) With a helper holding the horse, place your hand on his shoulder. Click and step back when he stands still, then give him a reward. Practice this until he doesn’t move when you place a hand on his shoulder. 2) Once he is happy with a hand on his shoulder, gently pinch some skin. When he stands still: click, step back and reward him. 3) Gradually start increasing the size of the skin pinch, then place your other hand next to the neck pinch, as if you were going to use a needle. 4) Eventually, you can practice holding an empty syringe (or a pen!) next to the skin pinch and even pressing this against his skin to get the horse. Some tips: • Be careful not to click or step back and release the pressure if he is moving away or showing other undesired behaviours. • If at any stage he gets anxious, go back to an easier level of the task until he is relaxed again. • When teaching horses new things, keep training sessions short. Ideally finish with a train of three improved repetitions. • If your horse is not very food motivated, or is TOO food motivated (i.e. they mug you for food), then you can use a scratch on the base of the wither instead. Horses find this particular spot very relaxing. Remember to SCRATCH, not PAT. • Let us know you’ve been using clicker training when we arrive – then we can fit in with your training and do a few easy repetitions to get the horse’s confidence before actually giving him the needle. This video gives a great demonstration of this method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRAIdnQmzak

Dr Sarah McCabe - BVSc

Veterinarian

Sarah graduated from James Cook University in 2023. Sarah’s enthusiasm for animals knows no bounds, extending from small domestic to large farming animals to the intriguing world of exotics.

This diverse interest certainly keeps things lively and engaging. Outside of her veterinary duties, Sarah shares her home with two beloved cats, Cricket and Remmy, and a golden retriever named Chester.

Ashleigh Hendersen

Ashleigh Hendersen

Veterinary Nurse

Ash is one of our multi-skilled nurses, with a love for anything from horses to small animals. She enjoys the amazing variety of patients in our mixed practice clinics, and goes from anaesthetising a cat for surgery to wrangling a lame goat without skipping a beat.

She joined us in 2017 with a wealth of knowledge, having worked for Veterinary Specialist Services as an oncology nurse. Her dogs (Reeva and Ralph) and horses (Holly and Dolly) keep her busy outside of work.

Andrew Marland

Dr Andrew Marland     BVSc (hons)

Practice Principal

Growing up on a local cattle property Andrew developed a love of animals and desire to become a veterinarian at an early age. After graduating in 2000 he entered mixed animal practice in western Queensland before working in the United Kingdom for 2 years.

Andrew is an Australian Cattle Vets accredited Bull tester and National Pregnancy Testing accredited examiner. Although spending much of his time working with cattle and horses Andrew enjoys all challenges of mixed animal practice.

Susan Carroll

Dr Susan Carroll     BVSc (hons)

Senior Veterinary Associate

Susan joined Vet Cross in Bundaberg in 2004. After graduating in 1998 Susan started her veterinary career in a country practice in regional Queensland later travelling overseas. After the birth of her 2 children she has continued studies and has now completed a course with the Centre for Veterinary Education in animal ultrasonography.

Kate Schroeder

Dr Kate Schroeder     BVSc (hons)

Veterinarian

Kate grew up in Bundaberg and studied at the University of Queensland, Gatton. Kate loves all aspects of mixed practice, in particular equine medicine & surgery. She has a passion for horse training, which comes in handy with her more fractious equine patients.

She enjoys spending time with her gorgeous Labrador, Walter, her many horses and accidentally-adopted cat, Gizmo.

Meghan Schibrowski

Dr Meghan Schibrowski     BVSc PhD

Veterinarian

Dr Meghan graduated from the University of Queensland in 2005 and started her career working in general practice and veterinary livestock consultancy. In 2015, Meghan completed a PhD investigating the epidemiology and pathological agents involved in the bovine respiratory disease complex in feedlot cattle and returned to her family’s property in Childers. Meghan joined the Vet Cross team in early 2020 after returning to general practice.

Meghan is an Australian Cattle Vets accredited Bull tester, holds PennHip certification, is a ParaBoss WEC QA Service Provider and is an Accredited Veterinarian with Animal Health Australia for provision of Market Assurance Programs including GoatMAP, SheepMAP and AlpacaMAP.

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Dr Jacqueline Greiner     BVSc

Veterinarian

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Dr Alanah Evans     BVSc

Veterinarian

Georgia Taylor

Dr Georgia Taylor     BVSc

Veterinarian

Dr Georgia studied at JCU in Townsville and moved to Bundaberg with her sister Kate and their cavoodle Spock.

Lilli Glass

Dr Lilli Glass     BVSc

Veterinarian

Doctor Lilli is from Harvey Bay and studied at JCU in Townsville. Dr Lilli has a keen interest in cattle reproduction and pretty much all aspects of the veterinary industry. In her spare time Lilli loves going to the beach with her beautiful boy Lenny who is pictured here with her.

Amy Cox

Dr Amy Cox     BVSc (Hons)

Veterinarian

Welcome Dr Amy. Dr Amy studied at UQ Gatton and graduated in 2017. Amy started working at a clinic in Maryborough before moving here in 2022. Dr Amys special interests are surgery and cattle.

Anna Logan

Anna Logan     QVN (Cert IV)

Senior Nurse

Anna has been working as a veterinary nurse for the Vet Cross team since 2008 graduating as a qualified veterinary nurse in 2011. Anna is a key team member being actively involved in training junior nurses, 2013 saw Anna take time off to start a family. Anna has a dog called Moose who is a rescue dog.

Amy Jensen

Amy Jensen     QVN (Cert IV)

Senior Nurse / Practice Manager

Amy has been working at Vet Cross since July 2009 and qualified as a Cert IV veterinary nurse in January 2014. Amy is a talented nurse and is often found helping clients on the phone or at the front desk. Amy is an asset to the Vet Cross team. She has a Shih Tzu called Penny and a Labrador called Norman.

Bec Nicholson

Bec Nicholson     QVN (Cert IV)

Senior Nurse

Bec joined the Vet Cross team in 2015. She is most happy nursing for our bovine patients, with cattle medicine and surgery being one of her passions. She also enjoys being able to provide physiotherapy for our small animal orthopaedic patients. Bec has been in the veterinary industry for 9 years, having started as a kennel hand when she was 14 years old. Bec successfully completed her Certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing in 2016. Outside of work she is kept busy with her hobby farm and dogs as well as her 2 sons Charlie and Tommie.

Sarah Manderson

Sarah Manderson     QVN (Cert IV)

Senior Nurse

Sarah is our resident ‘Crazy Cat Lady’. She joined the Vet Cross team in 2016, having been a qualified vet nurse since 2012. Her special interests are radiography, orthopaedic nursing and anything feline, with a special ability to calm even our most anxious kitty patients. Sarah has two extra fluffy, extra lovable cats, Felix and Cooper, and enjoys playing the cello.

Courtney Milne

Courtney Milne     QVN (Cert IV)

Veterinary Nurse

2021 was a busy year for nurse Courtney, she finished her studies and became a qualified veterinary nurse (QVN) and gave birth to her and her partner Mat’s first child Hailey. Baz the cattle dog and Jax the Border Collie are very excited about their new sister.

Brooke Jackson

Brooke Jackson

Veterinary Nurse

Brooke is currently studying her certificate 3 in veterinary nursing is looking forward to starting her cert 4. Brooke has 2 very energetic dogs named Maloo and Maggie.

Dr April Fegredo - BVSc (hons)

Veterinarian

Dr April pursued her studies at UQ in Brisbane, earning her degree in 2023. Her professional interests span a wide spectrum, with a particular focus on behavior, emergency and critical care, neonatal care, soft tissue surgery, and weight loss consultations.
Sheridan Philips

Sheridan Philips

Veterinary Nurse

Sheridan started with Vet Cross in October 2020. Sheridan is born and bred in Bundy, her family have been living in the area for over 130 years. Growing up on a hobby farm Sheridan has had many different pets over the years and enjoys riding the family horses. Sheridan’s most treasured pet is Annabelle the 14 year old Mini Foxy.

Brooke Land

Brooke Land

Veterinary Nurse
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Sarah Boersch     QVN (Cert IV)

Veterinary Nurse
Leah White

Leah White

Nurse

Welcome Nurse Leah. Leah and her Husband Blake moved to Bundaberg from North Brisbane in 2022. Leah has been in the veterinary industry for 2 years and is currently studying her certificate 4 in Veterinary Nursing. She is the loving fur mum of Cinders the Bull Arab X.

Rachel McGregor

Rachel McGregor

Veterinary Nurse
Rachel is a Bundy girl and her family have cattle properties out at Mt Perry. Having grown up with large animals Rachel has a keen interest in them and is looking forward to starting her studies in 2022.
Amanda Polizel QVN

Amanda Polizel

Nurse

Amanda Bickmore

Amanda Bickmore

Marketing / Receptionist

Amanda started her Vet Cross journey in 2013 as a receptionist. However, she soon demonstrated her creative talents and is now primarily our marketing manager. She loves the ability to tell the stories of our furry and feathered friends, as well as being able to inform and educate clients, both old and new.

She has a Labrador named Molly.

Jo Logan

Jo Logan

Gin Gin Receptionist

Jo is the face of Vet Cross Gin Gin. She loves being able to greet our clients and is always up for a chat. She joined us in 2011 and she has become a massive part of the Gin Gin family.

Jo is kept busy by her three big dogs Ruby, Zip and Zeus.

Jackie Sergiacomi

Jackie Sergiacomi

Receptionist

Jackie Joined the Vet Cross team in 2016. Jackie has over 24 years experience and says she couldn’t imagine her life without the excitement and satisfaction that comes from being in the veterinary industry. Jackie’s experience has ranged from a nurse right through to accounts and management. Jackie has been competing in endurance racing for the past 30 years and loves that the sport takes her to beautiful parts of Australia that otherwise she may have missed.

Jess Raines

Chloe Hancock

Receptionist

Chloe joined the Vet Cross team in 2018. Chloe and her now Husband Guy were married in May 2019, they moved here from Ballarat. Chloe has a Foxxy named Maggie and a ginger cat named Milo.

Jade Switzer QVN

Jade Switzer QVN (Cert IV)

Veterinary Nurse

Jade has been with Vet Cross since August 2021 but her career in the veterinary industry started 24 years ago. In that time Jade has worked as an equine nurse and has experience with all large animals. Jade has a particular interest in working with anxious dogs and loves providing physiotherapy to small animals.

Kirsty OG

Kirsty Jansen

Receptionist

Kirsty splits her time between our Bundaberg and Bargara clinics. At home, she’s the proud companion of Nudge, a delightful character who wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea of a photoshoot. In her spare time, you’ll find Kirsty behind her hooks, enjoying knitting and crocheting.

Jess OG

Jess Raines

Receptionist

Before joining us, Jess embarked on an adventurous journey, exploring every nook and cranny of Australia for a whole year. On top of her wanderlust, Jess proudly calls herself the parent of a charming cockatiel named Monty. In addition to her love for travel and animals, Jess is a keen runner and trains most days.
Tammie 2

Tammie

Melbourne

Tammie joined Vet Cross in 2022, bringing with her a rich farming background. Over the years, she has cared for horses, cattle, and pigs. Currently, Tammie is the proud owner of two horses, Mia and Nikki, as well as two dogs, Gordo and Ruby. On weekends, she enjoys taking joy rides on her Vulcan 650 Cruiser.
Tim Hill

Dr Tim Hill     BVSc MACVS

Practice Principal

Tim graduated from University of Queensland in 1993 and, because of his interest in soft tissue and orthopaedic surgery, gained Membership of Australian College of Veterinary Scientists in Small Animal Surgery in 2006.

Tim completed the PennHip certification in 2009 enabling accurate assessment and evaluation of hip screening, he also has a diploma in animal ophthalmology. Tim travelled throughout Australia and the United Kingdom and gained extensive experience in mixed and dairy practices.

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