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Preparing your horse for "life"- including not killing the farrier
As a trainer who over the years has gained a reputation unintentionally for working with horses often after the "mainstream" ways of training have not worked, (think big, dramatic and dangerous horses,) I receive many requests for help after all else has "failed." Many unwanted behaviors arise during the handling of horses in everyday scenarios. Two big challenges for many people is trailer loading and having their horse stand well for the farrier. Yesterday I had the farrier out. He has a soft touch, truly likes the horses, and is empathetic in how he handles them. He makes adjustments when/how he holds a horse's hoof depending on what makes the horse most comfortable. He is slow when needed. He has no ego about shoeing. He is not looking to pick a fight with the horse. And he spent years riding roughstock bucking horses, so dramatic movement does not ruffle him. As we talked and caught up about winter challenges he had faced with a multitude of horses, here is some of what his recent experiences were: A horse grabbed him by the muscle above his collarbone, picked him up like a ragdoll, threw him to the ground, and then proceeded to strike at him with his front legs. Working with new client's horses that obviously had been manhandled, the horse would double barrel kick when attempting to get near the hind feet. Horses that had a "time limit" and if the shoeing job wasn't done within that time, they would get big and dramatic trying to get away. Horses that had "never" done _______, (i.e. bite, kick, rear up,) before... You get the idea. Unfortunately for a lot of farriers, especially in remote areas such as where I'm at, however quality their horse handling skills may or may not be, they also wind up becoming "trainers" to through a trim or shoe job. They arrive and find out: Can't catch the horse. Can't tie the horse. Horse is defensive to someone standing in a certain place. Horse is concerned about picking up his feet. Horse is physically unreasonable when concerned... And the farrier shouldn't have to "deal" with any of this.
And on the other hand, no horse should be asked to trust the farrier without proper preparation so that the horse can be mentally present in the experience to be able to think through and try what is being asked of him. If the horse shows concern in a scenario, there should be a handler helping support him, so that the farrier and handler are working together to build that horse's trust even if a situation is unfamiliar. The encourages the horse to learn to try and that there will be a release of pressure. But as most with most things that make folks uncomfortable, the approach is usually, "This could be stressful, so let's just hurry up and get this done as soon as possible." This creates rough handling of the horse, making him contain his fear and stress. And where does that leave the horse for the next time the farrier shows up? What does that teach the horse about when he is concerned? So for that all the posts when I write about the quality of the Conversation, starting from the catching, haltering, leading, going out the gate with the horse, just remember, YOU are setting the standard for when the farrier has to get under your horse. Think of each thing that will be asked and imposed upon the horse when the farrier is working with him. If the only time the horse is exposed to it is when the farrier is underneath him, not only is unfair to your farrier and the horse, it leads to dangerous behavior that could have been dissipated through intentional Conversations. If you are going to expose and ask the horse to do completely unnatural things, such as stand on three legs and trust someone hammering foreign objects into his hoof, please prioritize building a quality foundation based on specific, intentional, and clear communication. This helps the horse learn to mentally, emotionally, and physically engage in a calm, reasonable, and confident manner, such as when a farrier is working with him.