This article appeared in the June 4, 2014 edition of the Ag Report.





     By Steve Jensen, Office of DoAg Cmsr. Steven K. Reviczky



With one of the highest per-capita horse populations in the nation, it seems inevitable that a town animal control officer in Connecticut is eventually going to be called on to deal with one in some sort of emergency.


But many local officers do not have horse-handling as part of their regular training. That is why the Dept. of Agriculture (DoAg) offers a free course designed to prepare them to respond to calls ranging from how to catch one gone loose to recognizing signs of neglect or disease.


“The animal control profession has become much more than just dealing with dogs,” said Ray Connors, Supervisor of DoAg’s Animal Control Division. “This kind of training gives municipal animal control officers the skills to react to any situation involving horses and other large domestic animals.”


DoAg animal control officer (ACO) Barbara Godejohn started with the very basics during a course last week at the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard facility in Newtown, attended by about 10 ACO’s from towns across western Connecticut. She is also a Lieutenant in the Horse Guard, and has nearly three decades of equine experience.


“When you approach a horse you don’t want to come right at them directly,” she said, slowly sidling up to the left shoulder of Custer, a stocky bay Mustang who is part of the Horse Guard herd. “You want to put yourself a little bit sideways so you’re not so threatening.”


Godejohn’s next lesson was how to capture a horse with a lead line. Custer was having none of it, however, and scampered away to another part of the paddock.  So out came the best horse-lure there is – the feed bucket.


“If you get one loose out on the highway, they usually respond to a bucket,” Godejohn said, especially one filled with sweet feed that is like candy to a horse.


With no feed immediately at hand, she demonstrated another trick – putting a rock in the bucket and shaking it around so it sounds like it contains food. Custer was eventually reeled in and calmly cooperated as the officers lined up to take their turn looping a purple lead line around his head, earning him a biscuit treat when the lesson ended.

The ACOs also learned how to use a portable “pocket halter,” that can be kept on hand and placed on a horse after it has been captured. The pocket halter controls the horse by its nose, which is extremely sensitive.


“This works on every size horse,” Godejohn said, relating how she had used one the previous weekend when DoAg seized two horses being neglected in Middlefield.


DoAg, which has seven ACOs on staff, assists local officers in dozens of cases per year. It also operates a large-animal rescue and rehabilitation facility at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic.


Feed is another part of the class, which took the group inside the feed-storage room of the enormous white barn that anchors the Horse Guard facility. Local ACOs might have to know what and how to feed a horse in cases of neglect while awaiting the arrival of a veterinarian or other DoAg personnel.


“You’re better off feeding them hay instead of grain - it’s easier for them to digest,” DoAg ACO Nancy Jarvis said while explaining the difference between various feeds. “And if a horse is emaciated, it took months to get that way so you have to feed it in very small doses. You can’t bring it back around in a few days.”


Being improperly fed or a sudden change in feed can also lead to a horse contracting colic, a painful and potentially deadly abdominal condition. A horse that is continually lying down is a signal that it might have the affliction, which requires immediate attention. 


“Colic is the number one killer of horses,” Godejohn told the group during an earlier classroom session. “The horse lies down to try to get away from the pain. So you want to get it up and moving as quickly as possible to increase circulation.”


Moving a horse by hand may seem intimidating, but Godejohn demonstrated how easily she can manipulate one by pushing it with her hands on its upper flanks.


“They move away from pressure,” she said as she directed a brown gelding named Morgan around the paddock. “I can push this 1,000-pound animal around anywhere I want.”    


The course also covered obscure details of horse-handling that DoAg’s ACOs have learned through many years of experience, such as the type of gloves to wear when handling a horse on a lead line that can quickly burn the hands if the horse bolts.


“You want mule skin gloves,” Rich Gregan, a DoAg ACO for 30 years, told the group. “They’re also good for catching cats,” he added with a chuckle. “You don’t get all scratched up.”


 Gregan also showed the group how to calm a horse by rubbing on its “mother spot” – an area of the neck where mares typically nuzzle their offspring. During instruction on how to inspect a horse’s hooves, Godejohn demonstrated how an uncooperative animal can be made to raise its hoof with a gentle grasp between the ankle and knee.


“If they give you a hard time just squeeze right there,” she said as Custer the Mustang responded just as she predicted.  


Debbie Gath, an ACO in Torrington who is also dispatched to surrounding towns, said she has no doubt that the skills she learned will come into play on her job, probably sooner than later.


“We’re covering more rural towns now so the chances are pretty good that I’m going to be dealing with a horse,” she said. “Before today I wouldn’t have even known how to put a lead line around one.”


ACO Gregan said that while dealing with horses is a complex and nuanced challenge, the first lesson an officer should learn is very simple:


“There’s a lot of power in that animal,” he said. “The most important thing to know about them? Don’t get kicked.”