Sooner or later you’ll have to give your horse an injection. Yikes! You can do it and here are five tips to make it easier. The first four apply to any horse and the last one is especially for the horse that has developed a phobia about injections.
Visualize success. Horses take all kinds of cues from us. If you’re nervous about giving injections, your horse will pick that up and reflect it right back at you, which, of course, will make you more nervous. The solution is to not act nervous. You do this using positive visualization. Put a vivid picture in your mind of giving the injection calmly and your horse accepting it calmly. Note that I said vivid. Imagine how this experience looks, how it feels, how it sounds, even how it smells. The more senses you involve in visualization, the more effective it becomes. You’ll know you’ve done this enough when the first picture that comes to mind when you think about giving the injection is this positive picture. It’s almost like you’re remembering something that really happened. In fact, in a nutshell, that’s why this works. You’re programming your subconscious mind.
Desensitize injection site. First, let’s be clear that I’m talking about intramuscular injections, not intravenous injections. IM injections such as vaccinations or antibiotic shots need to go in a large muscle. Some people prefer to inject in the middle part of the large neck muscle a couple inches forward of the shoulder blade. The skin here is loose, so you can pinch it and create a little numbness in the area. Inject at the base of the pinched area and rub it when you’re through. All better!
Other people prefer the butt area for injections. As a reference, think halfway between the top of the tail and the point of the hip, and four inches off the center line. Anywhere in this general area is fine. The skin is tighter here so you’ll desensitize by thumping firmly with rhythm - one, two three - and injecting on the fourth beat. I’m going through this quickly because there are several YouTube videos where you can see techniques for injecting in the neck or butt. These videos also show how you load the syringe, get rid of air, and back the plunger slightly after injecting to be sure you don’t see any blood. Do all that stuff.
Safety position. In the positive visualization I mentioned earlier, be sure you visualize standing in a safe position. If you’re injecting in the neck, I recommend facing the side of the horse so your left elbow can come up quickly if your horse swings his head around. This is the same position I recommend for the cinchy horse. In either case, when the horse makes an aggressive move toward you, he runs into the point of your elbow, the hardest part of your body. He teaches himself that’s not a good idea! If he’s tied or his lead rope is being held by a helper, having your elbow at the ready isn’t as important but it’s still a good habit to develop. For injecting in the rear end, face the rear but stand as far to the front of the horse as you can, and and lean toward his butt. This makes it harder for the horse to “cow kick” you. Again, see the YouTube videos if this isn’t clear.
Jabbing. This may be counterintuitive, but you need to inject with a bit of a jab. Don’t belabor this part. Just stick it in and move on! Remember, you’re acting like this is no big deal. You’ve been rubbing, pinching, thumping or otherwise desensitizing the area. If the horse does feel a prick, it’s over so quickly he thinks nothing of it, especially when you don’t telegraph that it’s coming..
The needle-shy horse. Okay, here’s that special technique I promised for the needle-shy horse. Do all of the above. That’s it. That’s the fix. Pay really special attention to how you act around the horse. Remember, you are the calm, confident, highly experienced horseman your horse dreams about. This is just another day at the office for you. There is nothing the horse can do that will surprise, frighten, or hurt you. You have your syringe ready, you’re in the correct position, you’ve been touching the horse and projecting your own calmness on him. Giving that injection is just another task on your to-do list.
You want something more? Okay, spend a little more time on the desensitizing. Rub, brush, scratch, pinch, inject, rub, brush, scratch, pinch, and so on. More? Go through the whole thing with a dummy syringe (no needle) before you use the real one. This is totally about you getting comfortable with a procedure that is really not that big a deal to the horse.