Avoiding The Tug Of War: Schooling Horses For The Farrier - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Avoiding The Tug Of War: Schooling Horses For The Farrier

Every horseman has had a horse that pulls his groom and the farrier down the shedrow when it's time for new shoes. The problem usually can be traced to a bad experience, or perhaps the horse wasn't schooled properly as a youngster.

“The owner can't expect the farrier to school the horse every four to six weeks to solve the problem,” said Danvers Child, a certified journeyman farrier who has been shoeing horses of various disciplines for 48 years. “Like everything else with horses, it's a matter of dealing with it every day. It requires persistence and good horsemanship.”

Child, who operates Foxtail Forge & Farriery in Lafayette, Ind., regularly offers horseshoeing clinics and is a frequent speaker at horsemen's events, including the International Hoof-Care Summit in Cincinnati Jan. 24-27.

Child said it takes an astute horseman to recognize what is at the core of the horse's bad behavior and devise a strategy to address it. Is it pain, fear, or ignorance of what is expected?

“I have to be able to rule out fear first,” he said. “Then I have to be able to rule out pain. A lot of times you get an arthritic horse or one that is compromised in some way, and it hurts. Once I'm able to rule both out, then I can say, 'This horse is just being recalcitrant.' At that point I expect the owner to discipline the horse.”

For horses in pain, Child will do a little work on each foot, switching feet until the job is complete, rather than asking the horse to hold up the same foot for an extended period of time. He said sometimes the problem is how the farrier “gets under” the horse. An apprentice may not have learned how to hold a horse's foot in a way that is comfortable for the animal. With mentoring, a young farrier will learn the proper techniques.

When fear is an issue, the horseman must desensitize the horse so it loses fear. Fighting with a frightened horse usually adds to the trauma and makes the situation worse. One way to desensitize a horse is to simulate what a farrier does, such as tapping on its foot lightly with a hammer.

“Anything you can do to put the horse in its comfort zone is going to make your life easier,” Child said. “A lot of babies, and even a lot of nervous older horses, I'll do them in their stalls where they feel safer and more comfortable.”

Another tactic is to distract the horse's attention to ease anxiety.

“Distraction is a wonderful thing,” he said. “I'll let them chew on a lead rope, or I'll hang a hay bag and let them eat. Sometimes I'll put a stud chain in their mouth and let them chew on it. It's like a pacifier. Another way to distract them is to have the handler tap lightly on the horse's head between its eyes.”

Child said tranquilizing is acceptable, but it can be tricky. Each horse and each situation is different, so there is no universal dosage. The same dosage may make one horse wobbly and heavy to hold up, but it may have no effect on another. Even with a veterinarian administering the ideal dosage, the horse will learn nothing from the experience because most tranquilizers have some ability to cause amnesia of the incident.

“If the horse can be given just enough tranquilizer to take the edge off, but it will not have the amnesiac effect, you're better off,” Child said. “The best vets will give a slighter dosage each time so the horse learns something.”

Proper Early Schooling

Prevention is always better than trying to reverse bad habits, so Child strongly suggests horsemen start schooling a horse for the farrier when it is a foal. This involves more than picking up the feet during each daily grooming.

“One of the things people don't think about is that a farrier pulls the foot forward and puts it on a stand,” he said. “They'll tell you, 'I've worked with this baby'—and it will be relatively easy to work with until you start to pull that foot forward. It's not a natural movement, and they start to panic on you.”

hoof-trimming blacksmith farrierHe suggested the owner incorporate the movement into daily stretching exercises, extending each foot forward to create suppleness and teach the horse to relax and cooperate without apprehension.

Another helpful lesson is to hold the young horse's foot between your knees, just as the farrier does, so it learns not to be afraid.

“Horses panic when they feel trapped,” Child said. “You can hold the foot up and they'll respond completely different than if you have their foot clamped between your legs.

“If it's a baby, I will typically try to put the foot down before they try to take it away. But if they try to take it away, I'll let them have it. Then I'll gradually give more resistance, because I don't want to reward them so they think, 'If I tug, he'll quit.' That's where your horsemanship comes in. You have to be able to read whether the horse is panicking or just irritated. If he's panicking, you give it back and calm him down. If he's irritated, he has to learn how to accept it.”

He advised horseman not to get into a tug of war with the horse, starting a fight the horse usually will win.

“When you pick up a horse's foot, especially a hind, they will very often pull back forward. I see people fight that all the time. But if you'll just move with it and sway back into it, and then take it back again, you'll be okay. But the minute you clamp onto a foot and say, 'You're not moving,' you're asking for a fight. You have to allow them a little bit of give.”

Child added this important safety point: The handler always should stand on the same side of the horse as the farrier, except when the farrier is pulling a front foot forward to work on it. Then the handler should stand on the opposite side, not in front of the horse.

He explained, “Your first instinct as a handler when that horse blows up is to protect yourself, and you're going to pull on that lead. If you're on the opposite side from the farrier, you're going to turn that horse's butt right over the farrier. But if you're on the same side, that will turn the horse's butt away from the farrier, and you'll both be safe.”

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