Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ear mites

For the last week or so, my horse has been shaking his head a lot, like something has been bothering him. I pointed it out to my trainer today, and sure enough, she discovered that he has ear mites.

She suggested that I take a warm, damp cloth and try to clean as much of it out as I can. Unfortunately, that didn't go so well. Like many young horses, Panama has been rather ear shy in the past. He was getting better about it until recently, probably when the ear mites showed up.

Panama and I had a big battle over whether he was going to allow me to clean out his ears. He was stretching out his halter from the head tossing, and being WAY disrespectful of me (trying to hit me in the face with his nose, pin me against his stall wall, etc.). Punishing him for the behavior didn't seem to work.

Finally I decided to try a different approach. Instead of punishing him, I made my voice low and gentle, with just a bit of an edge when he'd get too rough. I started out touching the outer edges of his ear, praising him when he held still for me, and slowly worked my way in. Rather than yelling at him when he tossed his head, I used a low "Hey" or "Easy."

Once he let me touch within his ear, I started all over with the washcloth — first on the outer edges, then inside, and finally using the washcloth in a gentle rubbing motion. Even though I wasn't able to clean all the ear mites out, I stopped as soon as I got him to the point where I could rub gently with the washcloth without him tossing his head — I wanted to reinforce the good behavior before he got worse again.

Sometimes I forget that for whatever reason, whether because of his traumatic childhood or just because that's the way his personality is, Panama responds to coaxing and gentleness much more readily than he does to getting into trouble. An attempt to force him to do something almost always causes him to rebel. The ear mites incident today and Friday's worming are both good reminders of this!

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