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12 horse barn vet visit etiquette and safety no-no's

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A dozen don’ts for horse boarders when the veterinarian comes to call

Equestrian boarding facilities can be busy social centers, as well as horseback riding venues, and that’s not half bad. But what happens when the equine veterinarian is on-site, working on a fellow boarder’s horse?

Certainly, friends and horse-loving colleagues may be genuinely interested in the equine’s well-being and may sincerely wish to support the concerned horse owner. Still, certain basic caution and conduct guidelines might help smooth the entire vet session considerably, minimizing stress and discomfort for horse, owner, and veterinary professional. Such principles of politeness might make both routine and emergency veterinary sessions calmer and safer for everyone.

Sometimes, well-meaning individuals can simply muck up the process.

Take a look at these 12 horse barn vet visit etiquette and safety no-no's.

Anyone who has spent considerable time in the horse world has likely encountered all of these potentially dangerous and generally intrusive scenarios. Frequently, folks allow these situations to go on without ill intentions, simply through unawareness that these may make life more difficult for the veterinarian and his or her client.

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Many of these unfortunate scenarios also occur during equine chiropractic, farrier, massage, and other professional procedures. It need not be so.

1. Loose pets

Imagine what could happen if an unleashed dog raced suddenly down the barn aisle and under a cross-tied horse, while a vet crouched underneath the equine, setting up x-ray equipment. It’s always a good idea to tuck pets away while the vet is working.

2. Kids underfoot

How many barn horror stories start with little ones, scampering underneath horses? Add a veterinary professional, working on an anxious equine, and the perilous possibilities may multiply. Polite and safety-conscious parents are extra vigilant during vet calls.

3. Commotion and noise

Horses are fright-and-flight animals. They may be easily startled, especially by sudden noises or sights. During a veterinary examination or treatment, the professional and the horse owner likely need to communicate clearly and quietly, while keeping the animal as calm as possible. It surely helps, if the rest of the barn crowd gives them the opportunity to do so.

Loud music, leaf blowers, and animated conversations are best kept away from the spot where the vet action occurs. This concern is heightened when a horse is extra anxious, or if the vet is sedating the animal for a procedure.

4. Constant pass-throughs

In some cases, equine veterinary procedures may be performed in horses’ own stalls, grooming stations, or wash bays. Often, however, these patients may be cross-tied or held in the main aisle. Ideally, fellow boarders will make every effort to minimize walk-bys, particularly once the vet-work is underway.

When a horse is trotted in-hand, either in the riding arena or barn aisle, it’s best to cede the space as much as possible. This process generally only takes a few moments, and a startled or spooking horse pretty much defeats the purpose.

5. Crowding the vet

Caring and curiosity frequently peak when an equine vet is on the premises. Barn staff and fellow boarders tend to congregate and watch. Often, however, this adds to owner stress and may even distract the veterinarian. What’s more, the equine patient may have trouble settling, if humans bunch all around him or her.

Providing personal space is polite.

6. Nosy questions

If a horse owner chooses to confide in barn buddies, that surely is his or her prerogative. But it’s impolite to ask about tests, diagnosis, or treatment. Wishing one well is one thing, but asking probing questions is another altogether.

Humans are accustomed to a certain level of confidentiality about health and medical matters. Why would folks not extend the same courtesy, when it comes to horses?

Here’s an even bigger no-no: asking the veterinarian about someone else’s horse. A truly professional vet will refuse to answer such queries, even from barn management. Disclosure is up to the owner, except in certain cases of infectious disease epidemics, which must be reported.

7. Interrupting the horse owner or vet

This is astonishing, but it happens. Occasionally, a curious onlooker will actually jump into the vet-and-owner dialogue to interject with his or her own comments or questions. Another might plunge right in, unbidden, to recount his or her version of what happened to the horse in question.

This would be unthinkable in the arena of human medicine. Who could imagine a person stepping into an exam room and entering the doctor-patient conversation? But this happens often in the horse world.

8. Unsolicited advice or critiques

Every horseman or horsewoman has vet stories, both humorous and horrific, as well as personal ideas of how best to care for horses.

Another person’s vet visit is not the time to share these. If a fellow boarder scheduled the barn call and is paying for the professional’s time, it’s best to save the personal anecdotes for another occasion.

9. Chatting up the vet

Likewise, the veterinarian is not on-site for a social call. It may be OK say hello briefly and perhaps to walk the fine doctor out to his or her vehicle afterwards, but it’s not alright to step on someone else’s appointment.

10. Lingering and loitering

Horse people are a curious lot. We love to look and listen and learn. Mostly, that comes from an innocent desire for greater horse knowledge and experience. However, this insatiable interest can become somewhat daunting, when it comes to a vet visit.

What horse owner really wants an audience lining the arena fence, while the vet tech jogs a horse in-hand for a lameness exam? Worse, who needs a gallery of spectators, while a horse is being euthanized?

Yes, this sort of gawking actually happens all too frequently. Sure, the horse owner may ask an equestrian trainer or a trusted friend to watch and offer a skilled opinion during a vet procedure. But unsolicited onlookers? That's a horse of a different color.

11. Last-minute add-ons

Veterinarians appreciate their office staffs for good reason. Skilled secretaries set up vets’ daily schedules.

Except for rare on-the-spot emergencies, it’s a sure breach of etiquette and a generally unappreciated curve ball to ask a vet to examine or treat another horse during a fellow boarder’s appointment. Sure, that might allow both owners to share the barn call costs, but it also may reshuffle the professional’s day. Plus, the request puts the professional in an awkward position.

Here’s a better solution. It is perfectly acceptable to telephone the veterinary office, while the vet is on-site, and ask if it’s possible to add one more patient to the docket. The office will page or call the vet and set it up, if it’s feasible.

12. Blocking the veterinary vehicle

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it happens. The veterinarian may be called to treat an emergency colic or another life-threatening situation at another farm. What if a parked car is in the way?

Common sense and courtesy can count for a lot with equine care.

Standing by as supportive friends sometimes means taking a step back when the veterinarian is around, until or unless the horse owner invites involvement.

As horsemen and horsewomen gain experience, most learn (one way or another) about these sorts of situations. Courtesy surely extends in both directions, as horse lovers graciously help one another to gain understanding of better horse care, safety, and barn etiquette.

Writers: Want to learn how you can join Examiner as a columnist in your choice of cities and topics? Email me for details.

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