Force-free, Fear-free, LIMA, Emergencies

As R+ trainers we often get asked “but what will you do in an emergency?” Just because we try to avoid the use of aversives in our training doesn’t mean we won’t do what’s necessary in a real emergency. However, there are some options we can look at first. This is a summed up, easy list of options shortened from our larger post on dealing with emergencies (here). It’s important to remember these are techniques we can use when presented with an urgent health or safety situation we were not prepared for. This is not to make up for proper training and taking the time to prepare our horses for what they may experience in life.

1) Protected Contact
– the horse lines up against a fence
– using a thin path of fence panels for the horse to stand between
– using a half wall, stall door, or fence panel inside a stall
2) Continuous Reinforcement
– feeding continuously while the horse tolerates or cooperates with a procedure
3) Arranging the environment
– use whatever you have in your environment to block off risks and make the right answer easier for the horse
4) Breaking it down
– you can break down your goal into achievable steps, reinforcing and working your way towards the goal
– you can chunk quicker to the end goal in the emergency and clean up the training later
5) Targets and stations
– using targets and mats as stations and tools to guide the horse to help them understand what we need
– targets and stations can also help with impulse control with horses who are over threshold to have a visual goal
6) Gentle restraints
– preparing our horses to be comfortable with gentle restraints can be hugely important, such as:
– holding their head still with a halter
– holding them from moving their body with a halter and hand on their chest
– holding the horse near or against a wall
– holding a leg up to reduce likelihood of kicking with another foot
7) Sedation
– remember, once sedated don’t use food rewards as the horse can easily choke!

Most importantly, when an emergency is over, learn the lesson and prepare for it to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Take the time to prepare your horse with R+ for all the things they may experience in their life. Here’s a nice list of things we should all be working on to prepare our horse for regular care.

1) Tolerate body handling/manipulation
– be able to touch and manipulate the horse’s face, ears, nose, lips, neck (pinching up the skin like for a needle), torso, rub belly, clean udder/sheath, tail and so on
2) Targeting/Stationing
– the horses should be able to follow a target
– send away from you to a target
– station on a target
– even target different body parts
3) Hoof/leg handling
– hold their legs up for farrier/trim/inspection, and extend forward for stretching or filing
4) Injection prep
5) Thermometer prep
6) Syringe medicine
7) Hose/washing prep