Tips and Tricks for Giving a Horse Medicine

When you have treats in your hand, your horse is most likely right in your pocket, but the minute you have medicine, he becomes a giraffe! Most horses don’t care for medicine, but there are a variety of ways to get them to take it anyway, such as disguising it in an alfalfa hay cube mash or using applesauce to train them to take medicine from a syringe. Here are a few tips and tricks to make medicine time go a little easier.

Disguise It with Food

One favorite way for horse owners to give medicine is to disguise it in the horse’s favorite food. Mashes are beloved by most horses, and are therefore usually the first and best thing to try. Simply make a mash with beet pulp, oat bran, alfalfa hay cubes, or anything else your horse really loves, and hide the medicine in the mash. If you’re giving pills, you might try also adding some grain or small treats so the horse doesn’t detect the texture difference and pick the pills out. You can also try mixing powders into applesauce or putting medicine in carrots.

The Over-the-Nose Hold

If your horse still won’t take the medicine willingly, you may have to use a syringe to get it into his mouth. Syringes can be easily used for liquids, gels, and pastes. Pills can be crushed and mixed with applesauce or apple juice to be fed by syringe.

The problem is, once your horse figures out that bad-tasting medicine comes from syringes, he’ll simply toss his head or put it high in the air to try to prevent you feeding it to him. Standing facing the horse, perhaps holding onto the halter, will give you little control over the situation. Instead, stand next to his head, facing the same direction as the horse. Take your hand closest to the horse and hold his head over the nose, as if hugging his face. If he lifts or tries to toss his head, tighten your hold, putting pressure on his nostrils. As soon as he relaxes and holds his head lower again, loosen your hold to reward the compliant behavior (but don’t let go). Once he stops fighting you, slip the syringe into the corner of his mouth and give him the medicine, being sure to praise him once the job is done.

Practice with Applesauce

If your horse fights you even with the over-the-nose hold, you may need to do a little work to convince him not all syringes are evil. Fill a large syringe with applesauce and behave as though you’re giving your horse medicine. He might fight you at first, but will stop once he realize it tastes good! Do this as many times as it takes for him to accept the syringe without fighting. The next time you give him medicine, he’ll be much less likely to immediately assume the syringe contains something gross.

Use the Carrot and the Stick

It may seem impossible to convince an animal six or seven times your weight to do something it doesn’t want to do, but it can be achieved with a little ingenuity and a lot of persistence. Remember to think in terms of carrots and sticks: Make it easy for your horse to choose the right thing, and hard for him to choose the wrong thing. For a feed your horse won’t be able to resist, such as our alfalfa hay cubes, contact Sacate Pellet Mills at 602-237-3809.