Natural Horse World

Ask Cynthia – ‘Hoof Handling Problem’

I wonder if you can help me. I have been practising natural horsemanship for over 5 years and am learning everyday. I have overcome some huge problems with emotional abused and damaged horses, but am stuck on the current one. I normally allow a horse to chill a bit and settle into my routines, whilst doing some fundamentals of round pen, leading, respect etc and in time they have all become loveable, well rounded horses that respect me. However this one is in desperate need of getting his feet trimmed so I cannot afford him the luxury of “just chillin”.

He is a 16hh, 5 yr old Luisitana gelding (cow hocked), backed in Portugal by tying legs up to the saddle! Have had the chiropractor out which has made him more comfortable and the dentist has sorted the teeth, I am trying the methods I have applied before of stick and string all over, hands all over, working the muscles to soft and asking him to ‘give’ me the foot. He can now (very different than a week ago when we started) ‘give’ me all of his feet and is just, and only just tolerating me brushing, rubbing and tapping the front feet. Even then, he just has to snatch them back after a very short time.

Normally, I would hold on and move with him until he can soften, then release the foot gently onto the floor. Bearing in mind his history would this be the right thing to do as his fear is of not being able to get his foot back when he wants it. Also he is so adamant to get that foot back that it is proving difficult to hold on. He will allow me to tap, brush and rub his hooves for ages whilst they are planted on the ground and the holder can even get the head low and ears relaxed whilst I’m doing this.

I would really appreciate any help and advise you could give. This poor chap has had such an unfair start in life and deserves to have his feet trimmed comfortably, before coming to me he had been twitched, sedated and chiffney bitted to try and achieve this, all to no avail. Jacqui.

Hi Jacqui,
It sounds like you are doing some good things to help horses so well done for persevering with the difficult ones – I know what that is like as I have 3 who have come from abusive backgrounds too.
They do eventually trust, but as you know it takes a long time and in the meantime, you just have to go with where the horse is mentally.
If I were in your position, I wouldn’t worry about your gelding having to take his feet back – it sounds like he is trying really hard and that is all you can ask of him right now or risk the trust you have built so far.
Think of it like trailer loading a scared horse – we allow them to come out of the trailer as often as they like but then ask them to go back on until they can trust enough to stay there.
It can be the same with the hooves – let him have the feet back as often as he needs so he trusts that he can always be safe with you, but ask for them back again and don’t let it bother you too much.
If you ‘go with’ a horse like this rather than try to hold on and ‘stay with’ him, you will find that he makes faster progress.
I know this makes it hard to trim but doing a little without having to put the leg between yours is safer and less traumatic for him.
Also, just do a little bit on each hoof at a time – don’t try to get all 4 hooves trimmed in one session – he won’t die from having bad feet or if his hooves are different lengths for a day or so – although you should at least make sure each individual hoof is kept in balance.
You might start with just doing one front hoof the first day or cleaning out and scraping away dead sole on each front hoof on the first day then using the nippers to cut the wall on the second day and rasping on the third.
Try to think of the trimming as part of his training rather than the end product that has to be achieved right now.

There are a couple of other things you could try to help him be braver – by lifting his legs with a rope around the pastern you can stay with him if he wants to put the foot down without him feeling too trapped but also letting him know that he is not able to completely get away from some pressure.
Get to where you can lift the leg in a rhythm first with him remaining relaxed before you ask for him to hold it up for any length of time.

Another tool I would also try is ‘clicker training’ where you use a positive reward for holding the leg up for increasingly longer periods of time. If you haven’t had much experience with this, read Alexandra Kurland’s web site on Clicker training to get the basics going.
I’ve found this to be a real help with very scared horses as they have rarely had positive reinforcement before.

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