Q: My overweight, easy-keeper gelding should wear a muzzle most of the year. The problem is that he is very crafty at getting the muzzle off his head. He has used a hook and the fence to catch and rip off muzzles, destroying them in the process. His latest scheme is having his herdmate grab onto the muzzle with his teeth and pull it off. What can I put on the muzzle to deter his buddy? Is there something that would taste bad but not be harmful to the skin or the horse if he ate it? Any help would be appreciated as I don’t want my guy to founder or colic.
A: Muzzles that limit or prevent grazing are important to protect the health of many horses and ponies, but they are a hard commitment for us humans. Good for you for persisting!
One effective way to help keep a muzzle on is to add a browband and throatlatch from an old leather bridle. For safety, these should be breakable in case your gelding really does get hung up on something. I would suggest using high-visibility tape to hold those parts to the headstall of the muzzle and also to help with your search in case of failure.
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As for your question, yes, there are nasty-tasting things you can apply to repel your gelding’s accomplice. I would suggest bitter-orange- or bitter-apple-flavored liquids that you can get from many small-animal veterinarians or pet stores. Be sure it has dried completely before you use the muzzle so that the liquid doesn’t get in the wearer’s eyes. And be very careful not to get any close to the actual bucket area of the muzzle—that would be a strong deterrent against him putting his head back in there again! I would also suggest waiting until a time when there is no rain in the forecast during turnout times for a few days, just to be sure the repellent cannot wash down into the muzzle.
I would avoid the products sold to put on wood and stall surfaces to protect against chewing—these are so strong that they might add to your horse’s motivation to lose the muzzle for himself, and for some individuals they can be skin irritants.
If these strategies fail, and a dry lot is not an option, you could consider muzzling your horse’s buddy, too. Good luck keeping the muzzle on! I am sure your horse would thank you if he really understood the stakes.
Melinda Freckleton, DVM
Firestar Veterinary Service
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #450, March 2015.
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