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I was in two articles in WH’s April, 2011 issue. One, which I authored, was about WH’s founder and late editor, Dick Spencer. Dick mentored my avocation for writing and cartooning in the 1940’s, before I started vet school. In subsequent years, by publishing my work, WH helped finance my education, along with the GI Bill. The second article was a review of my new book, Handling Equine Patients: A Handbook for Veterinary Students and Veterinary Technicians. I wrote it as a textbook the veterinary profession, but also with recreational horse owners in mind (for more information, see below) A reunion for WH’s contributors will be held in Colorado Springs, where WH is based, in July 29-31. Debby and I will be there, and look forward to reconnecting with old friends, and making new ones. Thanks, Western Horseman, for all of the information you’ve provided me, for helping finance my education by publishing my cartoons and writing, for publishing my books, and for your friendship.

We just returned from the fifth annual Light Hands Horsemanship clinic, held at Intrepid Farms in Santa Ynez, California. The event was sold out with 140 attendees. The word is getting out as we had attendees from 10 different countries this year. The learning opportunities from clinicians like Jon Ensign, Richard Winters, Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Lester Buckley, Jack Brainard, Sheila Varian, Ernie Morris, and Rick Lamb, combined with the gorgeous scenery made this the highlight of our year.

Please send any comments or suggestions to  Have an idea for a cartoon?  Send it to , or visit our site and store,

I wrote my newest book, Handling the Equine Patients, A Handbook for Veterinary Students & Veterinary Technicians as a veterinary school text book, as well as for horse owners who occasionally must treat their own animals. Although it’s being used as a textbook at various veterinary schools, we’ve been very surprised to learn that the book has been so widely accepted and acclaimed by recreational horse owners. Most horse owners have to do minor doctoring at one time or another: treating an eye or wound, administering worm medication, changing a bandage, or giving an injection. Unless you do these things all of the time, they can be challenging tasks, and a fearful horse can be a real problem. Although the book is aimed at professionals, we’re pleased it’s proving helpful to so many horse owners.

Handling the Equine Patients, for veterinary students & technicians

Click Here and use Coupon Code “HANDLING”to receive a 10% discount on Handling the Equine Patients, for Veterinary Students & Veterinary Technicians.

If you breed mares, even if it’s just one, you should have a palpating chute so she can be examined with minimum physical restraint.

Most mares are examined for pregnancy in the spring. Get your mares used to a chute before the vet arrives to examine them; it’s easy to do. Just quietly lead them up to the chute. Coax them in gently, using food treats. Don’t use force. Don’t ask them to necessarily go all the way in at once, but reward every small effort. Be patient. If they want to back out, allow it! Only reward them when they go in, or take a step forward. Do not lock them in until they have gone in and out many times, and are comfortable there. It’s much the same as trailer loading.

Because so many horses were not properly or adequately desensitized, they will not permit their head, ears, or mouth to be handled. This is a problem for veterinarians, who must often examine and manipulate the head.

Frequently, the owner will apologetically explain, “He was abused by a former owner.” I learned that if I asked, “How do you know that he was abused?” that it was usually an assumption.

A horse does not have to be “abused” to become headshy. If, early on, someone touched the green colt’s head, an ear, or perhaps just moved a hand towards the face, and the animal jerked away in modified flight reaction, to the colt, that movement “saved” him from injury.

If the same type of scenario repeated itself, even months later, and then a third time, the reaction becomes fixed. It is now a conditioned response, fixed with negative reinforcement (escape from a perceived discomfort by a behavioral response). Horses learn with three or four experiences. During the 50 million years they have existed, slow learner—and slow responders—did not survive to reproduce their genes. They were eaten.

So, bad behavior is more often the result of poor training, rather than deliberate abuse.

Headshy Horse

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Q. I’m confused. Some trainers advise teaching horses to back from the ground before they are even ridden, and believe that it’s an important foundation to further training. Other trainers say backing is the last thing they teach. Which is correct?

A. I believe that next to teaching a horse to lead gently and quietly, teaching them to back on command is an important prelude to further training. I teach horses to back differently than most trainers do. I do it from the horse’s shoulder, facing the same direction as the animal (just as I would if I were riding).

I do this using a halter, and, if necessary, intermittent pressure applied to the chest using something like a dull hoof pick. As always when training horses, if there is the slightest response to pressure in the desired direction, reward the animal instantly by removing the pressure and using praise and gentle stroking.

Mark Your Calendars!

Interested in catching one of Dr. Miller’s winter or spring lectures?

Robert M. Miller, D.V.M.
  • July 16-19:  AVMA Convention - Symposium on the Art & Science of Handling Horses.  For the first time AVMA will include a 2 day symposium on equine behavior.  All Students planning to do equine practice, and all veterinarians who see equine patients cannot afford to miss this rare opportunity.  The speakers include experienced private practitioners and people from academia and the insurance industry who will explore the many aspects of the subject. Click Here for details.

  • Don’t miss Dr. Miller at the Hawaii Horse Expo, August 5-7, on the Big Island:
    This annual event features workshops, presentations and exhibitions from the nation’s leading clinicians and equine industry experts. For info, go to, or call organizer Nancy Jones at (808) 887-2301.

For information on appearances and other dates and locations in 2011, Click Here

Coming in our September newsletter: “Tools of the trade: spurs, whips, and bits.”

Interested in booking Dr. Miller for a lecture, demonstration, or book signing?

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