Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Training a Horse to Stand for a Pedicure

First off, I don't know what the heck happened to the header on my blog.  I guess it's time to start searching for a new look.  (Sigh.  One more thing to do.)

In other news, I am watering my pasture because despite us have freezing temperatures at night and on some days, we still haven't received any precipitation that has stuck around for a while.  You might think, "That's great!  You can ride your horses."  Not exactly.  The sun is so low in the sky throughout the day that the only way I could ride without being blinded and crashing into things is to find enough space where I can head north and only north.  When I drive a car south, I pull down the visor and just look down at the road, but the visor on a riding helmet doesn't help all the much and the horses would appreciate having visors themselves.  I've noticed that anyone who does ride around here does it after sunset, but by then the temps drop down below freezing and I just can't stand being outside.  I'm a winter wimp.

The horses had their hooves trimmed today.  I came to the realization that my farrier is scared of Gabbrielle after that fight he had with her at the training stable to get shoes on her feet.  He was expecting the worst from her.  We did the other two horses first and had our usual friendly conversation, and then as soon as I brought Gabbrielle in to be trimmed, my farrier suddenly changed his demeanor.  He started in with his insults about how I don't have control of my horses and he talked about other customers who do whatever he says to control their horses, but he didn't give me specific examples of what other people do to get their horses to stand.

I was thinking, "Say what?  I don't have control over my horses?  Didn't I just hold two horses for you and weren't they perfectly well behaved?"

So, he picked up Gabbrielle's front hoof and I didn't see any issues.  She wasn't rearing or kicking or doing a dance or leaning on him. She was just standing there.  He suddenly jumped up, grabbed the lead rope out of my hands and started yanking and jerking it, forcing her to back into the railing.  Then he pulled her forward, handed the lead rope back to me, picked up her hoof, again I didn't see any problems, and he dropped her hoof, jumped up and started jerking her around again.  She was pissed and had her ears pinned back.

I said, "What is she doing that is bothering you?  I'm not seeing it."

He said, "She's resisting and pulling her leg."

I said, "Then you need to tell me when she does that, and I will correct her myself."

He agreed, but then repeated the process of yanking her around.  I could see that he was doing nothing beyond ruining his relationship with my horse.  She used to adore my farrier, but I could see that after all this yanking, she didn't want him in her space anymore.  So, this time when he tried picking up her feet, she evaded him by moving away.

I halted her from moving away from him in one stern look and word without having to jerk her around.  She was now nervous and mouthing my jacket and the lead rope each time he took hold of one of her legs.  I said to Gabbrielle, "You don't need to be nervous."

The farrier said, "If you baby her, she will get worse."

I rolled my eyes.  I've tried a lot of techniques with horses over the years and I have never found that simply talking to them and communicating with them has ever had negative consequences. 

I said, "You need to tell me as soon as she starts pulling her leg and be ready for her to react to my correction, because if I just correct her like this..." -- I gave her lead rope a yank and she jumped while he was holding her leg, which resulted in him jumping away from her -- "...then you could get hurt."

He agreed to tell me, and then I looked into Gabbrielle's eyes and realized that she was remembering that terrible experience at the training stable in which both the farrier and the trainer ganged up on her and yanked her all over the place to get her to hold still to have her shoes nailed in.  I said to her, "Don't worry.  You are just getting a trim.  No shoes today."

Remembering what Temple Grandin says about animals thinking in pictures, I telepathically passed an image to her of her feet being trimmed and some horse shoes being thrown in the trash.  I'm not kidding -- she instantly dropped her head, let out a huge sigh of relief, and the farrier said, "She's being real good right now.  I'm proud of her." 

We did not have to correct her once after I let her know that she wasn't going to get any shoes today.  So, I'll have to remember to try that same technique next time she gets trimmed, and correct the farrier right off the bat if he starts up with negative expectations.  They need to heal their relationship.  Of course, if Gabbrielle does need shoes in the future, I'll have to figure out some way to make her comfortable with it.

How about you?  What techniques have you had to use to get a horse to hold still and relax for the farrier?


Mikey said...

I think you did just right. Horses are very sensitive, and your thoughts and demeanor go a long way. I talk, talk, talk :)

appydoesdressage said...

I had a "fun" time getting my donkey to stand for the farrier, she had a serious Lack of Farrier Disease with slipper feet when I got her. It required having a farrier that was very patient and calm to start. I also used Calm and Cool with super results for the first half dozen trims so she didn't flip out. A half dose of Ace works really well too, you just want to take their edge off.

Another trick is making sure she was completely, 100% comfortable with where she was being trimmed. Three times we trimmed the donkey in her stall and stood her in front of a hay bag (plus Calm and Cool) to try to keep her anxiety down. Later it became ear scratches in her stall and then out of her stall. We can now trim her like the horses, in the "aisle" on a mat and she will willingly stand but it took almost 10 months.

I would recommend mimicking the farrier with her, picking her feet up, banging on them with a small hammer or rock, rasping with a fine wood rasp or harsh sandpaper. Extend her leg all the way forward and backward and make her keep it there for at least a few mins. It takes time but you can get her back. Good luck!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I don't have any problem working on her hooves. It's just that the farrier kind of ruined his relationship with her, so he makes her nervous. Every time I walk out into the paddock, I pick up her feet, bang on them, stretch her legs... I'm talking about keeping a horse calm while the farrier does the job when the farrier makes the horse nervous. I don't really need advice. I just was curious what others have gone through.

Anonymous said...

Patience and repetition are the only things that have worked for me. And honestly, Arabians just don't respond well to getting handled roughly and getting jerked around. I use mental imagery a lot and positive projection works well, just as well as negative bites you in the ass!

fernvalley01 said...

I think you are fine , and the farrier was being pretty reactive. Usually if a horse is resisting you can see it and if it is that minor that you couldn't see it , he should have been able to correct that form his point of view with a word or a growl. Not to say the farrier is to train your horse but you can only correct what you know about . Someone in bloggerland made a comment about "the horse you have today " work with what you have right now , not who they were or who they could be (I am probably butchering that quote but...) the point being , just because she was bad once his expectations should not be telegraphing through him to the horse .They live in the moment and so should we . I like that you talk to your horses keep talking

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

You did the right thing. Sounds like the farrier has some baggage surrounding Gabbrielle and needs to get past it, so he doesn't live in the past with Gabbrielle.

like many trainers advise, it's never a good idea to pull out the big guns with horses right away. It's better to start off small with communication and corrections with horses. Your farrier is going right into big, without trying to use any other form of communication.
Of course, if he would just trust you, communicate clearly with you and allow you to handle your horses, then things will go smoothly.

Apache has always been well behaved for my farrier, and he is a very good, kind farrier, too.

The things I do to keep Apache relaxed while her feet are trimmed are rubbing her cheeks, her poll and ears, and that low area just behind her nostrils. If she ever does get a little impatient, just my voice, lowered disapprovingly, gets her back to behaving.


strivingforsavvy said...

I think I would look around for a new farrier! I'm glad you were able to calm her down. Good job!

Dreaming said...

How incredibly cool that your visualization helped Gabbrielle.
Luckily my horses have no issues. The only problem I've ever had is that their first farrier, who they had for almost 2 years, fed them cookies; 8-10 of them each trip. So... Pippin, who is mouthy anyway, became a cookie monster the minute the farrier drove up. While the farrier was bending over to work on the front feet, I had to struggle to keep the horse from nuzzling, snuffling, chewing and biting on the farrier's pockets!
I did some work with "Whoa" and making him stand and that helped a bit.... but, with him, it's just too hard to overcome the food fetish!

Tina said...

More likely than not, she wasn't pulling and only tensing up and that is why you couldn't see what was going on. If he'd just shown a little patience and held her leg until she stopped she would have relaxed faster. All it would have taken was a little patience and a calm, low tone of voice. Good farriers are scarce and getting scarcer.

Brett Rodgers said...

Thanks for this post it was very helpful. My family and I are pretty new at this whole horse game and its hard to get our arabian to do what we want it to do. Hopefully this will help. Best of luck to ya!

Linda said...

Being wild, Beautiful was extremely scared of the farrier, but I had him break up their (all our horse's) appointments so that he was here once every month and on the days he wasn't trimming her, he'd go into her stall and pet on her. She got to liking him. But she hadn't had any bad previous experiences.

Cheryl Ann said...

My current farrier sings to the horses! He has a very sing-song voice which is VERY soothing!!! Sometimes he almost lulls me to sleep! No wonder they are all good for him. Even Sunni trusts him now! Interesting about communicating through pictures. I did that once with Sunni, when he was balking at gates. After several tries, I put a picture in my mind of us walking through and yup...that's exactly what he did the next attempt! I'll have to read up on that.

achieve1dream said...

Wow, how incredibly unprofessional of him!! Not to mention just rude. Too bad the mental imagery doesn't work on humans. He needs a chill pill lol.