How Touching the Target Can Lead to Calmness Around Wound Care

Well, the time came when one of our animals needed advanced veterinary care. We were boarding our two horses, Benny and Flicka, on a farm. They shared a pasture with small herd of Scottish Highland cattle. (We had naively trusted the farmer who said he’d had many horses in with the cattle and had no problems.)

One afternoon, I found Benny standing on the far side of a pasture with a large puncture wound in his right flank. It didn’t take much imagination to know a horn caused this injury – especially since Benny had chosen to stand in a spot as far away from the cattle as the pasture would allow.

Benny’s wound was impressive, but not life threatening as the horn had traveled up along his ribs – and thankfully not deep into his body. But, I summoned a veterinarian immediately. She arrived at the farm after dusk.

As the farm had no barn with lights, we had to doctor Benny in a pasture…with headlamps. Benny – trained mostly by Gene – can be a flighty horse who snorts, and even shies, at anything or anyone new in his world. So, I had little faith Benny would tolerate a new person approaching him after dark with strange equipment. I had less faith this person would be able to touch him and examine his wound.

Fortunately, I was proven wrong – very wrong! Although Gene and I had never trained Benny to accept veterinary care, we had trained him to touch a target for up to 30 seconds. So, the veterinarian worked in 30 second intervals, probing Benny’s wound, administering pain medications and antibiotics, doing a complete flush of the wound (at least 8 inches deep), and cleaning it thoroughly.

Benny accepted all the treatment as if he was a seasoned “been there, done that” pony club horse. We did not have anything on him other than a web halter – and we had a loose lead rope during the whole veterinarian session. He was in a pasture, able to swing in any direction and bolt off at any moment. But, after an hour of probing, washing, and getting shots, Benny stood next to me wanting to keep playing the target game!

Once we returned to our farm in Vermont, we took time to video Benny’s daily cleaning and temperature taking session. As you can see, we are able to doctor him without any force or pressure. Benny’s wound eventually healed up perfectly. We are once again so grateful for this method of training and look forward to helping others learn more about positive reinforcement/marker based training. To cooperate with such a magnificent animal on his terms is an amazing experience.

Clicker Training for Calm Wound Care from Kinna Ohman-Leone on Vimeo.