Q: My horse is very nervous about fly spray. He always spooks when I try to spray his legs. He spends a lot of time outside and is very bothered by flies, so I want to do something for him. Should I try putting him in a fly sheet and leg wraps instead of spraying?
Yet if your horse will wear a fly sheet strapped around his body and wraps on his legs secured with crackling Velcro, he should accept being fly sprayed. A horse that’s a little spoiled or pushy will dance around and misbehave, knowing that if they cause a scene their handlers will give up. Naughty ground manners require an approach that includes constructive (not abusive) discipline before the behavior escalates into even worse vices. But since it sounds like you’re confident that your horse is truly suspicious of fly spray you can try a non-assertive approach to desensitize him. It’s probably the unnatural odor that initially startled your horse. Once he made that association he’s programmed to become apprehensive whenever you try to apply it.
This desensitizing project includes a series of steps using pieces of carrots or your horse’s favorite treat. Start with a non-descript spray bottle containing plain water. It’s important that this is a new bottle without any previous odor inside. Plan a day when you have time to bathe your horse. As part of the production you’ll spray your horse’s legs with water from the hose. Then nonchalantly pick up your new spray bottle with one hand, feed a treat to your horse with the other hand, and spritz some of that water on his shoulder and side. (Typically those are the least sensitive zones on a horse). Then feed him another treat. Repeat the process a couple more times and be done.
Next, integrate the spray water bottle into your grooming routine. Again, don’t treat the water bottle as anything but a grooming tool, and stick to spritzing your horse’s safety zone. Feed a treat, spritz, feed a treat. Eventually, using your horse’s body language as a signal, expand your spraying area. Never try to calm him with a treat; that’s rewarding bad behavior. He only gets a treat when he’s exhibiting the desired behavior. Once you’re able to spritz clean water onto his legs for a couple of days without him over-reacting, you can move on to real fly spray.
Perform the sniff test on various brands to find one with the least taint of chemicals to its scent. Of course you’ll have to empty the water from your horse’s “magic bottle” and replace it with the fly spray. Have your treats handy and simply spray during your grooming time as if it was the plain water. Your horse should accept it willingly. If he demonstrates a mild objection (like turning to look at the bottle or flaring his nostrils) just ignore him and finish spraying; then give him the treat. If he over-reacts or resorts to his previous behavior, then it’s definitely time to ask a professional trainer for some help or insight.
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