Voluntary Worming!

Posted in: Equine Training, Positive Reinforcement Training, The Academy of Positive Horsemanship


That horrid thing that we have to do to our horses at least once a year. It’s often a really unpleasant, aversive experience for them, especially if they have suffered force previously to get the job done.

Hardly surprising really given that worming paste tastes pretty awful! Most horses will do their utmost best to avoid it, whether that is simply lifting their heads up high, or more dramatic avoidance behaviours such as rearing or pulling and trying to bolt away.

We can help our horses to participate in this process though – as my horse demonstrates here in this video. We can do this by using Systematic Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning – where we begin with very small exposure to the aversive stimulus (systematic desensitisation) and pair it with something very rewarding or aka appetitive (counter conditioning).

Because most horses have had (often very strong) prior learning that syringes are very nasty indeed, we often need to begin this process by systematically desensitising and counter conditioning them to the contextual clues which predict that worming is about to happen – things such as where we usually do the worming, the presence of the syringe itself, the experience of the syringe in their mouths and the feeling of the paste being deposited in their mouths. And of course that needs to be done slowly and gradually over time – well before the actual worming date.

However, if we do this without causing them to feel overly anxious or fearful, they will be well prepared for the actual wormer and voluntarily participate through the process as well as being happy to accept the slightly aversive and unpleasant worming paste…because it gets them an exceptionally rewarding jackpot.

And all with cooperative participation without the need for any force or coercion.

Learn more about training your horse for husbandry and medical procedures, behaviour problems, training groundwork and ridden behaviours with a focus on a straight skeletal frame and much more using reward-based techniques by joining The Academy of Positive Horsemanship

“I still sometimes cannot believe, not only the change in her, but the change in my ATTITUDE towards her since I joined your Academy. Best decision of my life after buying THIS horse! I am not scared of her at all anymore. Instead of a dangerous horse out to get me, she is now just a scared baby horse, and even THOSE instances are VERY few and far between (I can actually not even remember the last time she had to tell me she’s scared and needs to escape a situation).

Our journey with +R is 9 months old now, but without joining the Academy, and learning about relaxation around food and body language etc etc, I don’t think it would have lasted and I would probably have sold her and missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime, bonding with a horse on a level you cannot describe to someone who hasn’t been there…”

– Ilene Barrington, South Africa