Major Breakthrough - Clicker And Injection Phobia



Rio has always been a fabulous horse, safe, kind and reliable, with one exception - booster time. Her previous owner didn't bother, and when the vets gave her her first shot after the vetting I found out why, she had a serious problem with it. At first we got round it using a twitch but as often happens she got wise to that and the vet resorted to jabbing her very fast by surprise with a large bore needle. We managed that way for several years, but he is now retiring. I've tried very hard to simulate things, but add a real vet and a real needle to the equation and we were always back to square one. Last time out, in February, he made it clear he wouldn't be coming back, and had been prepared to let me try and give the booster myself. I asked him for some needles, which he was happy to supply and have set about trying to implement a strategy I read about.

It basically involves using clicker training and simulating each stage of the injection process, all the way up to and including the actual injection, and clicking and treating to create a postive association with the process. I've been doing a few minutes every few days since February and it would appear that we're really starting to get somewhere. Rio knows the score with clicker training and enjoys it, I've also made it easier for both of us by working on her off side where there aren't any triggers to set her off. I did start by working on the shoulder muscle, but she did a lot of twitching when the needle touched her skin, so I've moved up to the neck and we've really made some progress. She now appears to be completely unconcerned at the touch of the needle and the other night she moved at the wrong moment and it went in. There was no reaction, just a look round for her treat :) I still have another 6 months to get this perfect :D

This is the last great challenge for us, if this is fixable then I would say almost anything is given enough time and the right approach :)


Learning all the time
Jul 18, 2005
North west
Oooh this is really interested - I may now actually go the vaccine route with madam, which means daily injections - I cant catch her now, but if we can clicker it, then perhaps it mightn't be so bad?? :D


New Member
Aug 6, 2007
Well done

Sounds like there are a few of us having problems.

Our vet cant get near Kayla and when she went to Liverpool the vets had terrible problems.

Last time the vet used a 1 metre tube between the syringe and the needle, jabbbed the needle in her shoulder when she came to to the door and just pressed the plunger from where he was when she went up and back. Not pretty but it worked. I will ask about some needles to try your idea next time I see him


Well-Known Member
Oct 13, 2004
On an island
I had no idea some horses took such great exception to the procedure. That is good news for you Yann, sounds like its working.


The path of progress is never straight :) The other night I went on her 'bad' side to try and assess whether what we'd been doing was having any effect there, and she was far less comfortable about the whole idea after that, started twitching her skin and moving away even on the good side. Time to go back a step and try again :)


Active Member
Oct 5, 2008
Collier Row, Essex
That's brilliant!

My friends use clicker to such good effect.

I went with her and her horse for x-rays at the vets. He had to stand on wooden blocks, very still, while the x-rays were taken. He stood like a statue due to my friend clicking and treating. The vets were so impressed and it made everyone's job so much easier and he was completely chilled.

It is something I want to use with my horse and am currently swotting up on the subject.

Skippys Mum

New Member
Nov 25, 2007
Yann, do you actually have to get the bad side sorted? Is this maybe something that even if its just one sided, its better to be 100% on it rather than risk upsetting the apple cart?

I'd be terrified to undo all the good progress so far:eek:


No, the bad side can stay bad, but foolishly or otherwise I wanted to know for future reference whether what I was doing was making any difference there. That's obviously not the case although I only invoked worry rather than panic which is something :)


Just thought I'd update this, I gave Rio her annual booster myself last week quietly and without any fuss with her standing loose in the stable, it worked :)


Active Member
Apr 25, 2008
It's funny isn' it. My boy needs to be sedated to have his teeth done.

Now I mentioned to the vet that it was a good thing that he wasn't scared of injections too as that would be a bit of a problem but the vet said that he didn't come across any horses scared of the injection, just the owners LOL. I did laugh. I'm sorry.

Glad you have had a breakthrough though :dance:

Funny that my horse would rather have the injection than have the gag put on which in reality is just a rather large bit to him but he is terrified. Strange how horses react to things.
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Jane&Sid these days!
Apr 30, 2010
Surrey Hills
I am very impressed to hear how successful this was. Zig's clicker training is suspended at present while I get on with something else, but since he has many phobias (not including vets) I am sure I will be able to put it to constant use!


New Member
Aug 15, 2002
Visit site
Ben had an aversion to injections late last year. I was having to inject his antibiotices daily for 2 weeks via IM. It was 10ml going into the muscle so actually can get quite sore after a couple. We had to rotate areas. I guess it's quite a bit different than booster shots as his ones actually hurt him and became very sore and tender to touch.

Ben took a long time to trust me by his neck again and still recognises our vet as the needle lady and really dislikes her.

This is a good story - might try the positive association with the injection... Ben likes treats ;)
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Flipo's Mum

Heavy owner of a Heavy
Aug 17, 2009
Perthshire, Scotland
Yann, I started my clicker training and wasn't blown away with the response I was getting (or lack of!) but persevered because of your example. I now get it - I was just making things a little too complicated. Thank you for the inspiration.
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