Updated: Mar 15, 2019

Equine handling experience

Back in November 2018, I had the first exam of my postgraduate studies, the observed structured practical exam (OSPE). There were two elements, equine and canine, and for both I was required to demonstrate my ability to handle the animal in a competent and safe manner. These exams are important as the skills are essential when working out in clinical practice, as well as throughout the rest of our studies (McGreevy et al., 2014).

In the build-up I was extremely nervous, despite telling myself that I knew I could carry out the tasks with ease – I have spent most of my life handling horses and dogs day in, day out – why was I suddenly so nervous?

I think that overthinking the elements made me panic that I would forget the simplest of tasks, such as forgetting to close the door; a simple factor to forget but could compromise the safety of the animal.

During practice I noticed that I put the bridle on differently depending on the horse, so I knew I would have to make a conscious effort to complete the task the way it had been demonstrated. These were tasks that had become second nature many years ago, which suddenly became so much more difficult now I had to take a step back and think about what I was doing.

On the day there was a lot of waiting around which added to my nerves, but once the exam was underway I started to relax – I knew how important it was to take my time and think it over.

I felt more comfortable and confident in the equine exam, which was reflected in my feedback; this was to be expected due to my experience working with such a large range of horses for so many years. I feel as though I have developed competent skills when dealing with horses. I was more nervous for the canine exam, I feel horses tend to be more obliging (and less excitable to see people!) whereas dogs can be distracted more easily. I also found out that the dog I had been given had never been used in an OSPE, so I was a little apprehensive as he was not aware of what was required of him. However, despite this being a challenge I took it as a positive as animals in practice may be in the same situation. I am pleased to say he was very well behaved, despite needing encouragement back into the crate. I knew I needed to be as calm as possible so that neither animal picked up on my nerves (Rushen, Taylor and de Passillé, 1999). The horse I had been given was also very well behaved and performed each part of the exam with ease.

Canine handling experience

Another element that I was apprehensive about was being the handler for the student who followed my equine exam. I was not exactly sure what was required of me although I knew I had to only do what she told me, but I did find this difficult as these are tasks we do every day. Since the exam I have participated as a handler/videographer for other student groups during their exams, so I now have a better knowledge of what is required of me when I come to take those exams.

I am pleased to say that I passed both sections on the first attempt, both with good feedback from the examiner. This has certainly given me confidence in my skills going forward into the future.


McGreevy, P., Henshall, C., Starling, M., McLean, A. and Boakes, R. (2014). The importance of safety signals in animal handling and training. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9(6), pp.382-387.

Rushen, J., Taylor, A. and de Passillé, A. (1999). Domestic animals' fear of humans and its effect on their welfare. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 65(3), pp.285-303.

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