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11.4.13: Hooves and footwork

 

Work on haltering on our wild Sorraia-Mustang foal, Alegria, continues, and the big breakthrough this week is that I have managed to get her to accept a rope around her neck, and even to lead her a couple of steps with it. I was delighted. Then one of the others came up behind her, pushed her out of the way, and the rope somehow flipped out of my hand and startled her. Then I was back to just rubbing her with the rope, and winning her confidence back.

 

Oh well, there are always setbacks along the way! I think this is something that's really important to keep in mind when working with horses. It's never a smooth curve. There are good days and bad days, and sometimes something unexpectedly goes very well, and sometimes there are setbacks. It's all part of the journey!

 

Playing "footsie"

 

Talking of things going unexpectedly well, yesterday we did some "farrier practice" with the adult Sorraia Mustangs. In the past, they have proved difficult on some occasions, so the goal now is to get them more comfortable with the whole process.

 

Claudia, their owner, has been working on this for over a year. She says "Annie hadn't had any trimming or anything done to her hooves for around 15 years before she came to my ranch. it took me 3 months (not training every day of course) until she trusted me enough to let me pick up her feet without kicking at me, pulling the foot away, moving around etc., and for her to trust a different person with her feet was another issue again. When the farrier came, I needed to stay with her during the trim, take breaks, walk around with her, spend some time with her alone so she would calm down again. The way she behaves now when the farrier comes is the end result after one year at my ranch. I also practiced with Levada and Tocara in the last half year. they wouldn't let anybody pick up their feet before."

 

I've practised picking up their feet as a part of this process of helping them to be comfortable  with other people, and that has been going very well, so yesterday we started with the tools.

 

I think we often take for granted how easily most domestic horses allow their feet to be handled. It is, in fact, quite a big demonstration of trust in the handler as anything that could compromise or damage their feet is potentially life threatening. With wild horses, it's to be expected that they will be warier again. Therefore, it's very important to make sure they are comfortable with the process and to take a few sessions just getting them used to the tools without the pressure of having to do a "full service".

 

Margot is not a professional farrier, but she has the basic tools which she uses for practicing with her own horse, Crystal, who is very insecure about her feet. Having worked with Margot on Crystal, and having done some preparation with the Sorraia Mustangs, I was pretty sure the wild horses would be easy in comparison - but they might well show some issues along the way.

 

First for her "pedicure" was Annie. As the oldest and most experienced, I was expecting her to be the easiest, and once we had "set the scene" she settled down well. This involved providing hay for the others on the other side of the fence so they would stay there and "keep her company. We then found that parking the barrow in front of Annie worked a treat, and while she certainly registered what Margot was doing, she was happy to cooperate.

 

With some hay and a little preparation in picking her feet up, Annie was perfectly relaxed with the procedure

 

Unfortunately, Annie had quite a deep cut in the frog on her left hind that needed trimming and cleaning out, but even though it must have been a little uncomfortable, she barely flinched and was easily settled with some scratching on her shoulder and withers. These are important areas that have been shown to help reduce heart rate and stress in horses.

Annie had quite a deep cut leaving a flap of tissue in the cleft of the frog. This needed trimming to ensure it didn't get torn and cause an injury that could become infected.

 

 

Next up was Levada, who is less of an "old hand" and had proved difficult in the past. However, with taking it slowly and not asking her to hold her hoof up for too long, it went very well indeed - and although she didn't really need any work doing, Margot was able to do a little "dummy" cutting and rasping - that is to say using the knife to trim a minimal amount of frog, and very light rasping, to give the feel without taking anything significant off the hoof.

 

Finally, it was Tocara's turn. As the rest of the group wanted to wander off by now, we just did a quick practice of picking up each foot and handling it with Tocara. She will be first next time, so we can give her some proper practice with the tools.

 

Lessons learned

 

All in all, the session went very smoothly and despite a small interlude when the group decided to wander off, and I had wade through the end of winter slush and mud to go and bring them back, they all cooperated calmly.

 

I think the main thing with any horse, when practicing for the farrier, is to take it in small steps. Some people take the attitude that the horse "must learn" to keep the foot up, and try to hold it up by force. However, I think this often sets off a loss of confidence where the horse thinks it's losing its balance and starts to panic. If you built it up, just a few seconds at a time, the horse gains confidence in its own balance, and is much less likely to have problems. Each time we tried to put the hoof down before the horse felt it needed to take it back. However, if the horse did try to pull away, we just held on for as long as it took for the horse to relax, and then put it down. That's a crucial piece of timing. If you can manage not to release while the horse is pulling against you, and to put the hoof down as the horse's reward for relaxing, the horse will want to relax. The more it relaxes, the less it will need to take the hoof away.

 

 

Holding the tip of the hoof makes it much harder for the horse to pull away, It may try, but it will not have much power, as the tendons needed to kick are fully flexed. This grip means Margot can control the hoof until the horse relaxes, and then release at the right moment.

 

You can see the procedure I use for preparing horses for the farrier on the "Thinking Horse" DVD. Although I demonstrate with a domestic horse there, the process is exactly the same. Whether the horse is domestic or wild, you need to take things at a pace the horse can deal with, and break each part down into very small stages. That way, you are setting up a whole series of successes, rather than one big event that might success or might fail.

 

As always, do feel free to post any comments or questions on the Thinking Horse Facebook page!


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