Tuesday, 4 November 2014
Farriers and other caregivers
I feel compelled to write about the people you hire to give additional care to your horses.
Allow me to begin by saying first and foremost it is the horse owner's responsibility to ensure that their horses have been taught to pick up their feet for the farrier, the hoof trimmer in our case since our horses won't be shod.
Many trainers teach the horse to pick up their feet by taking the foot either by surprise or by force and not giving it back until the horse stops struggling.
My way has always been to a) make the process part of the bigger process of the daily grooming so that it is 'no big deal' and simply what we do as a natural progression and b) take the foot and give it back immediately.....this reinforces in the horse's mind that this is not forever....but rather very temporary and c) to make certain that whoever I hire to perform the service is considerate of my ways and my horses. Period.
At no time can this event become a battle or a venue for punishment.
Some years ago I had a middle aged boarder who had a farrier visit the barn to shoe her mare.
He was likable and seemed skilled at his craft.
The horse owner held her mare for the farrier and I noticed she held her with a strong grip directly on her halter which was irritating the horse. The mare began to wriggle around and shake her head in response to the unusual contact.
The farrier without a word or hesitation wheeled around with his metal rasp in hand and whacked the mare hard and fast along her rib cage.
To say I was shocked is an understatement.....but what was more shocking was the mare owner's lack of concern or response. It was as though this was expected. Common. It's what farriers do to get the horse to stand still.
I offered to hold the mare and took the lead rope from her owner.
I gave the mare some slack in the lead and helped her to relax as I picked up a conversation with the farrier during which time I accomplished several things...1) I redirected energy through my body to send it to ground in order to assist calming the overall feeling that had come up among the group. 2) I learned that the farrier had just returned to work from a 'bad back' injury that he attributed to a run in with a horse 3) I showed the owner through action or rather 'no-action' that the mare did not need to be restrained in order to be shod.
The shoeing was a non-event from that point onward.
The farrier left and I asked the mare owner about her lack of care or concern regarding the farrier beating her horse....and she looked surprised that I found it odd.
She told me that she thought all farriers hit horses with their rasp to teach them to stand still.....and that she thought it was okay as long as it worked.
What I failed to mention early in this post is that this particular woman truly loved her horses and provided over the top excellent care in all other aspects...which is what made this event all the more perplexing to me.
....and that was my introduction to what we as horse owners consider normal.
For many years I was married to my late husband George who along with being a horse trainer, breeder and shower was also a farrier. Together we traveled on his shoeing routes and it became my job to hold the horses while he trimmed or shod them.
It made his work easier.
We both 'had a way with horses'.....and he was often called by other farriers to shoe horses that they couldn't.
We had a reputation for being able to get along with difficult horses whether it be for shoeing, training or trailering.
It was through this partnership that I received an invaluable education regarding handling skittish, frightened or angry horses. It was through his patience and his love for all horses that I learned the concept of 'take the foot briefly and be the one to give it back'. He showed me time and time again that anger develops over time among 'the smart' horses regarding the backwards method of taking the foot until the horse complies......smart horses survival instincts are strong and compliance is not among their vocabulary. Smart horses will retaliate at some point and will often wear a label or vicious, stupid, dangerous....
The fillies currently at the farm here will all pick their feet up willingly.
When they arrived as weanlings this became part of their daily grooming routine.
This also became an important part of our trust relationship.
If the horse can trust you with its feet you will have gained trust in its heart and mind.
I teach the babies to lift their feet for me by first 'running the film in my mind' of them picking up a particular foot. If it is a front foot I support 'the film' with an action of lightly running my hand down from the shoulder to hoof and if by then the foot isn't rising I'll support further with an action of putting pressure on the front of the hoof wall with my cupped hand.
I do not squeeze tendons or push the horse off balance to pick up a foot.
When you squeeze tendons you are saying to the horse that you are a predator. Although horses will learn to pick up their feet in this way (and most if not all farriers are taught that this is an effective and correct way) it inevitably reinforces in the prey animal horse's mind that you are indeed the enemy he must get along with in order to survive.
Smart horses will rebel at some point.
I have gone through a few farriers since moving to Vancouver Island.
The first one did an amazing job, however no matter how many times I told her not to squeeze the tendons, the habit had become so ingrained that she couldn't not to do it. I gave her plenty of tries....and had to let her go.
The next one was a fellow who is also a well know 'natural' horse trainer...who seemed to want to train my horses without having been asked to do so.....he would hold the foot after being trimmed 'until the horse would struggle....wait for the horse to give in (comply) and then he would put it down. I thought that perhaps if I talked to him, gave him some information that he could change his mind about the need to control in such a way and I was making progress until.....
He had one of the fillies in the barn aisle with one of her hind legs raised ready to trim. I noticed her other hind foot was too far under her and was about to ask him to pit the foot down so she could rebalance when....he hiked the foot up higher....and she lost her foot on the other side completely and in order 'to save herself' she pulled the foot he was holding away. He immediately swung around with his rasp held high in the air threatening her....and kicked her in the belly as hard as he could with his steel toed boot....out of anger.
He was angry.
He had no concern for the scenario that led up to her feeling she needed 'to save herself'.
In my mind I had to make a split second decision.
She was the last of five horses to trim.
He was working on her 'last' foot.
I kept quiet.
He finished the trim.
And I fired him.
I sent him an email later that evening with a full explanation as to why so there would be no mistake about it.
We've since been blessed with an amazing young farrier who is a very well balanced and grounded energy herself !!!.... so that when she arrives in our facility the horses don't feel a need to work on her energy system the whole time she is here !!!...as they have done with the others.
You have choices.
Don't be afraid to speak up for your horses.
You are the only voice they have.