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Letter to the Editor AQHA Journal

Of Mice and Horses

The American Quarter Horse Journal
Annual Halter Issue
January 2006

Animal handling is a big part of my life from the horses I care for and train to the mice and rats of the research lab where I work. As a licensed veterinary technician since 1986, I've spent the last decade training hundreds of research scientists how to handle rodents. I've found that mice and rats respond to handling very much the same as horses. The handler's attitude has a direct effect on the animal.

I repeatedly demonstrate proper mouse handling techniques and get complete cooperation from the animals. However, when the same techniques are attempted by a handler with a fear of mice, the animals' reaction are often quite different; they become uncooperative, agitated and sometimes aggressive.

One of my current responsibilities includes training research investigators how to measure blood pressure on mice. In order to obtain interpretable blood pressure measurements, mice must remain still and calm while situated in a clear plastic cylinder. Their tails are surrounded by a cuff that is programmed to inflate and deflate (similar to the blood pressure stations found in local pharmacies). For 15 minutes a day, three days in a row, mice are trained to enter the clear plastic cylinders and accept slight pressure on the tail from the cuffs. If the mouse handler is not patient and calm during the training process, mice frequently become agitated and may produce nothing but poor, indefinable, blood pressure measurements on the day of testing.

Horses, once as wild as mice, are just as sensitive to the attitudes of those around them. If the handler is not patient and calm, horses may become uncooperative, agitated and sometimes even aggressive.   It is important for handlers to realize how their attitude and behavior directly influences the attitude and behavior of the horses thy work with.

Owner/Trainer, Equine Charm School
Grass Lake, Michigan