Trypanophobia is the fear of needles — and while I’ve yet to meet anyone who is fond of getting poked, some have more of an issue with it than others. The same goes for horses. Some hardly blink. Be it IM or IV, you’d be hard pressed to get a reaction out of our more stoic residents. But with others, you’d swear they could smell a needle they way they react.
As is standard, the anticipation of the thing is typically worse than the thing itself. Based on my own experience, the way the horses play with one another (e.g., rough), and the size of the needle, I really can’t imagine that a shot is very bad at all. But for those who cannot be talked out their fear, however irrational, a little rewiring is in order.
Exposure therapy may have different names and applications in the horse world, but the idea is similar. For Bandit, perhaps our most needle-adverse horse at the moment, she was in need of a little help ahead of an upcoming vet appointment. Lucky for Bandit, we learned a trick from our vets to help our horses overcome their fear.
A simple pen, the clicky kind. A crude replica of the sudden prick of a needle. Even the pen tip itself is enough, when the horse is reactive enough, to send them flying. Bandit is one such example. The very idea of a poke on the neck sent her snaking around, and with the vet on the other end of the line, forget it. So we have been practicing, helping Bandit to overcome her fear by writing little love notes on her neck — not actually, of course, but in theory. We might never be able to help Bandit love needles, but our goal is to make them far less terrifying for her than they started out.
And it seems to be working! With every click of the pen, Bandit gets less and less anxious about something touching her on the neck. We work at both IM shots and IV, both poking at that nice V of muscle and squeezing her neck and poking at where the vein lives. When we started, even just your hand on her could be enough to elicit a reaction, but now she stands quite well, perhaps not loving the ordeal, but certainly much more tolerant than she ever was in the past. The true test will be to see how her next vet visit goes, but I would bet money her fear levels will be reduced. Stay tuned!