“How do you get a horse used to a vacuum?” – Janet P. from Denver, CO

A vacuum can be a very useful piece of equipment in the barn. It helps to speed up grooming, as well as removing much dirt and dander and parasites that can cause some horses skin irritation problems. For those living in sandy loam areas, vacuums are great for removing sand from the coat, which can sometimes play a big role in reducing skin conditions caused by fungus organisms in the sand.

There are various makes and models of vacuums from the Electro-Groom Vacuum, the hand held Vac n’ Blo Pro as well as some people using the regular shop vac from home depot!!! Which ever you decide to use you need to be careful when first introducing this equipment to your horse. Some horses will not be bothered by the look of the equipment or the sound, however for others the fear instinct will automatically be switched on!!!

It is important to use these pieces of equipment in a safe environment. The grooming stall should be clutter free (no brooms, buckets or pitch forks should be located in the area). This minimizes the risk of the cord or hose getting hooked on items and then pulling them over and frightening the horse.

It would be nice to have an electrical outlet on both walls so that extension cords do not have to be used. If this is not the case then ensure the extension cord is long enough so that it does not get wound around the horses feet.

First Timers

First let your horse get use to the sight of the equipment prior to using it. If you have a grooming stall then place the equipment close to the area for a couple of days, maybe across the aisle. Carry on with your normal grooming routine and take note of your horse’s reaction.

If he appears unreactive, then place equipment in the location that you will be eventually using it. Do this for a few days so he becomes accustomed to it. If he becomes nervous, place the vacuum further away until he shows no reaction.

For extremely nervous horses, try just holding the horse in the grooming stall and do not put him on cross ties. When he appears to relax reward him with a treat or pat on the neck. You will want to repeat this step everyday until the equipment does not produce a reaction.

The next step is introducing the noise. You should place the vacuum away from the grooming area. Just hold your horse in the grooming stall (not on cross ties) and have someone turn on the vacuum. To start, literally run it for 5 seconds so your horse gets use to the sound of it turning on and off. Reward him for no reaction. When relaxed, let the vacuum run for longer. Again rewarding him for good behavior. Now you can move the equipment to the grooming stall and repeat the process. Should he show fear then go back to where it was originally placed and repeat the on/off process.

Once your horse is comfortable and relaxed with the sound of the vacuum, have a handler hold him for this next step. Taking the hose, DO NOT turn on the vacuum, talk calmly and move slowly towards your horse. I like to let them sniff the hose and relax before touching his body. Again a reward will go a long way.

Starting at the shoulder, slowly move the nozzle over your horse’s body working towards the tail (again, leaving the vacuum off). To start with, try to avoid sensitive areas such as the flank and lower legs. Contact should be kept between your horse’s coat and the nozzle at all times. Continue to do this until your horse is relaxed. The moment he relaxes, he might take a deep breath or chew, remove the nozzle pressure and reward him. Repeat this process every day until it causes no negative reaction from your horse.

Remember to reinforce the noise aspect by running the equipment first and then turning it off when introducing the pressure of the nozzle. Once all this causes no reaction you can move onto actually vacuuming your horse. Start with the lowest speed and ensure that the suction is not so strong that it frightens your horse. Cover the large muscles groups first, adding pressure where he will allow. Eventually you should be able to “massage” the hindquarters to get the best cleaning effect. Along the flanks and upper legs go with the direction of the hair.

Quick Tips

  • Ensure you have the time to work with your horse daily. The whole process could take 10 minutes to one month depending on your horse’s temperament.
  • If you have a very nervous horse, keep sessions 10 to 15 minutes long so that your horse does not become agitated.
  • Remember, you are aiming for no reaction. Work, move, and talk calmly.
  • Reward your horse when he shows no signs of fear.
  • Keep the work area clutter-free.
  • Once the process is second nature, you will need to maintain it at least once a week, maybe bi-weekly so your horse is always relaxed around the vacuum.

Happy grooming and happy holidays.