Ever since a good old boy farrier lost his patience with my nervous Palomino quarter horse gelding and slapped him in the ribs with a rasp, I’ve been very interested in barefoot farriery. I had to be, because there was no way that knuckle-dragger was going near my horses again, and what I saw of local farriers’ work did not impress me. I don’t mean to make out like I’m a hoof expert. Oh no far from it. Or that I disapprove of shoeing horses. I don’t. I have as good a grasp as anybody of the interior hoof mechanism and the exterior hoof anatomy, and I can spot a crappy shoeing job from a mile away.
After scrabbling around for someone to put shoes on my horse and finding no one I’d trust, shoes were pulled and Mother Nature’s horse shoes (the natural hooves) were allowed to do the job she designed them for. I was very lucky that another boarder at the stables located Anne Buteau, the lovely and very patient woman who now trims Maira’s hooves every five weeks. Anne is a hoof care instructor for the Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices. Under her care, my horses’ feet have become healthy, tough, and able to withstand the rigors of fox hunting and trail riding. After a couple of years’ good fortune with barefoot and healthy horses, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to shoeing, but that’s not the subject of this post.
While Anne trims my new horse Maira’s feet, we often chat about horses and the different ways people expect their horses to behave for the farrier. When Maira first came to me in October of 2007, she was unable to lift her feet for more than a few seconds without fearing for her balance. Slamming a foot down was not an act of disobedience, but her effort to stay balanced. Horses, like people seem to prefer standing in balance. Raising and holding a leg off the ground is not a natural movement for them, and it’s only natural that it takes some practice to perfect. I have seen owners “get after” their horses for failing to stand stock still with a foot raised. I have seen farriers do worse things to horses than that guy did to my Palomino. After taking care of the pre-farriery basics every horse owner should do to ensure a safe experience for the horse and the farrier, it has been surprisingly easy to help Maira stand for trimming, and thus to be a thoughtful farriery client.
Most of what we ought to do to prepare our horses for the visit from the farrier/trimmer amounts to common good manners.
• First, I always make sure the horse is brushed and that I apply fly spray so that Maira will not be tempted to kick at a fly and accidentally take Anne out. Or swish her tail in Anne’s face. It’s basic good manners.
• More in the good manners department is to clean the exterior hoof wall, wipe off the fetlocks, and pick out the horse’s feet carefully so you don’t add that task to the long list of things your farrier has to do. I don’t hose them off, because it’s harder to rasp and file wet hoof than dry. Also, it’s nice to tie your horse’s tail up so that your farrier does not have to dodge it as she does the hind feet.
• I always have someone present to hold the horse for the farrier. I think it’s really rude to ask your farrier to hold your horse and do their job at the same time. Having a horse trimmed in cross-ties is fine if he’s an old hand at standing in balance for long periods without interaction with his front end. But not all horses are. A halter and a short lead can provide just enough stimulation and contact to keep your horse occupied. Having his head free will also allow him to use his neck and head to balance himself better, hopefully cutting down on those slam-downs.
If a horse needs it, there are many things you can do to help your horse stay in balance and behave quietly while getting a trim while you are there. I consider myself a part of the farriery team, and my trimmer considers me a thoughtful client.
Sometimes basic preparation is not enough, and you need to take a careful look at the reasons your horse is snatching his foot away, losing his balance, dropping his head, etc. Most often, it comes down to trying to maintain balance. Here’s what I have done to begin helping Maira stand quietly for the trimmer:
• Stroking with the TTouch Wand Since Maira appears to have little awareness of her hind legs and feet when anxious, and trimming time is anxiety time, I use the Tellington TTouch® wand on her legs to both calm her and bring her awareness to her legs. Research has shown that moderately firm stroking with the wand from throatlatch to hoof has a calming effect. Regular stroking with the wand (wanding) helps increase a horse’s awareness of her body. During trimming, wanding her legs had the effect of “grounding” Maira, of connecting her feet to the ground, and focusing her attention on her front legs while her hind feet were being trimmed, and vice versa. Distraction via focus! This was the first TTouch tool I used on her, and the first time I did it, it cut trimming time almost in half. I can’t say how it cut Anne’s frustration, but I know she left smiling, whereas the previous time, she was frowning and stiff from wrangling with Maira’s legs.
• Hoof Tapping According to Linda Tellington-Jones, Maira’s hind legs have poor neurological connection and she lacks significant awareness of her hind legs and feet, both proprioceptively and in space. Part of my “befriending the farrier” campaign will be to do daily hoof tapping. With the ball end of the wand, I will tap firmly all around Maira’s coronary band and hoof walls. I would like to remind her that her hooves are there. I would like to remind her how her hooves feel when someone touches them. I would like her to know that she doesn’t have to lift her feet every time someone touches her feet.
• Leg Circles and Other TTouches for the Leg Another tool in my Farrier’s Friend Toolbox is the Leg Circle. Increasing Maria’s balance and proprioception by lifting her legs about 8″ off the ground, and circling them in each direction a few times, and then placing them down gently, will help accustom her to having to lift and hold her legs up, and to learn to keep her balance while doing so. Octopus TTouch is also very useful for increasing horse’s perception of their legs, and it seems to feel very good, too.
• Back Lifts Teaching Maira to lift and engage her back will both strengthen her and enable her to steady herself during trimming.
More common sense good manners to put you on the farrier’s friend list: During the shoeing/trimming, I stand at Maira’s head, with a lead. I hold a few treats hidden in my pocket for random dire moments. I carry a fly whisk and swish away the flies so that she won’t be tempted to, and I keep Maira’s head up and straight ahead. If I do TTouch ear work and TTouch her face, neck and head, and throw in some hair slides on her mane and forelock, I can use this time for communication and bonding. Granted, this means I can’t jabber mindlessly with the trimmer. But since I’m her new best friend, she often takes me out to lunch, and we can chat there.