How Medical Training has changed our relationship

I’m Katharina Röpnack and Medical Training is what I enjoy most right now.
What sounds like an advertising slogan is actually a very serious one.
To cut a long story short, I am a horse trainer and completed my training as a training specialist for horses with Nina. I am also a rocking trainer and medical trainer in training and have taken part in the chicken camp for beginners.

Besides my cool Shetty Hagrid I have a South German coldblood named Sir Quickly (18 years old). He is a sceptic: “Huuuu, the leaf on the ground could perhaps eat me…”.
Through the clicker training I have already been able to help him build up more self-confidence, develop more curiosity and be brave. So a power box by the wayside is no longer a scary object, but an object worth looking at.

The training with Nina as a medical trainer is totally exciting and full of knowledge to improve your own trainer skills. Simply structured and well thought out. Training on a scientific basis with clear goals. The “class” is friendly throughout and it is great fun to learn together. Due to the pandemic situation right now, the training has changed from face-to-face to online seminars. The big advantage is that I can always look at the recordings of the webinars and coaching sessions.
So in the training we learn how to help horses, owners and handlers to make the examination and treatment as stress-free as possible.
I started the training with motivation. First of all I had to find a co-operator.
What is that … a co-operator?

cooperation tool for medical training
cooperation tool for medical training

The horse learns to lay the lower jaw branches on a padded board. e.g. on a stand and to keep still. This is the cooperation signal. Only then do I start to perform a manipulation or a stimulus, for example lifting the upper lip.
As soon as the horse moves or raises its head, I stop the manipulation. I wait until the horse puts its head down again and holds still, thus again showing the cooperation signal, and if necessary I apply a weaker stimulus.
If the horse is able to withstand the stimulus/ manipulation, there is click and feed. In this way the horse can communicate with me. It shows its willingness to cooperate and tells me: I am ready.
Or even: “No, I cannot put my head down there. The last step was too scary, uncomfortable or hurt me.”

Surprisingly, my horse linked up very quickly what the job is. Otherwise it usually takes him a long time to process new impulses and trust them.

I never had a big problem with Sir. It was easy to give him a worming treatment, for example, under pressure or he was handy even when he was rinsing his tear ducts. When he injected, he bent one or the other needle, but drawing blood or 20 minutes on the drip, worked.
But my conscience hurt and my pity was very great. I felt that trust was crumbling and that next time his discomfort was greater. I didn’t want to exert any more pressure or compulsion. I did not want to make him feel at the mercy of the situation. If a tiger would voluntarily let himself take blood without sedation… then surely my domesticated horse would be able to do the same.

The medical training with the co-operator has opened my eyes once again with regard to voluntariness and the subject of “endurance” and has paved a way for us to even have fun. Here is an example:

I was ready and could fold up the upper lip of my horse and touch, scratch or tap the gums and also teeth with my finger.E.g. important for the capillary refill time; part of the general examination at the vet.

Now there was a situation where I had discovered a stalk between two teeth and wanted to remove it. So on the one hand, the stimulus lasted longer than the training step actually allowed and maybe it was unpleasant. So he moved his teeth, tongue and mouth and finally took his head from the co-operator. I stopped, of course, but was still full of ambition… the culm now has to get out of there. So I waited for him to take his head off again. Fortunately that happened. So I put my finger on his nose, thumb on his upper lip, lip up and then my finger towards the tooth… and the lip just snapped down. It was a very funny situation and I had to laugh out loud. In Sir’s face you could see that he apparently liked it too, that I was happy. The next time I was allowed to touch the gums with my finger again. But I adjusted the training step accordingly. So really only touch them briefly. Because he had clearly shown me that he felt that the toothpulling was too much for him. During the training session, however, I was still able to remove the stalk by training in small steps. This type of communication is so valuable and important.

Sure, I could have grabbed him by the halter and got the straw out of there quickly… but voluntarily, without holding on, without coercion and with the cooperation of my sceptic, it was worth so much more.

Meanwhile, Sir is muttering and is happy when I set up the co-operator. He really likes the training. Probably because he can decide for himself what he can stand and I listen to him consistently. He is allowed to say “no” and then I just have to think about how to build up the training so that he can say “yes”. And you get better and better. Creative ideas bubble out of my head much faster than before.

So it happened that during a photo shoot for an article about medical training I started the syringe training without further ado and within 10 minutes he learned to leave his head on the co-operator, I could squeeze the vein and press the syringe (without a needle) to the neck. This was not possible before without tension in the neck, white in the eye, kicks backwards or sideways. And these feelings of happiness make the training so wonderful.

medical training with cooperation tool
injection training with cooperation tool, photo: Lena Kriebel

Small-step training ensures success – success provides motivation and a good feeling. For horses as well as for people.

I can only recommend everyone to get involved in medical training. The horse not only learns how to undergo examinations and treatments without stress, but you also learn a lot about sustainable training and about the limits of each horse. You become creative and learn to help your horse to be a hero without saving it.

Katharina Röpnack
www.motivierendes-pferdetraining.de