In this month’s article, we will cover how to prepare your horse for the farrier. This is not focused on fixing a horse that has problems with having his feet handled, we are just going to cover some exercises that will make your horse easy and pleasant to shoe. I firmly believe that it is your job, and your responsibility as a horse owner, to have your horse trained to stand quietly and politely while his feet are being trimmed and shod. Your farrier should not have to train your horse.
For these exercises, you will need a halter, a 12’ lead rope, and a lariat rope. You may notice that I usually specify a 12’ length for the lead rope. This is because that gives me enough rope that I can work my horse around me while staying safely out of his way and I also have enough rope available that I can use the tail end of the rope as a motivator to move my horse forward if I need to. At the same time, a 12’ rope is short enough that I can handle it easily and I am not tripping on it or getting tangled up in it as I work.
You can start with either the front or hind feet. Most people start with the front since those feet are easier. I like to start on the hind feet because once you have done that the front feet are usually quick and easy. With your horse haltered, run your hand over his hip and down his leg. Start by running it just a little ways down the leg and each time move a little farther down until you are all the way to the hoof. Make sure your touch is firm and doesn’t tickle your horse.
There are a few things in relation to safety that I want to mention. One is the way you stand while you are starting to handle the hind legs and feet. You should stand with your toes pointing out at a 45 degree angle away from your horse. That way, if he kicks you, he will buckle your knees and may knock you down, but he won’t be likely to blow out your knee joints. If you are standing facing in towards your horse and he kicks you in the knees you are likely to blow out the joint. You should also stand close to your horse at all times, so if he does kick he pushes you more than hits you hard with a lot of wind up. The other thing I do for safety as I begin handling the hind feet is I always keep my lead rope in my outside hand. Don’t leave too much slack in the rope in the beginning (just enough so you are not pulling your horse’s head around towards you). This is so you maintain control of your horse’s head. That way, if he does move to kick you, you can pull his head towards you, which will automatically swing his hind end away from you. These safety steps should help you to feel calm, which is very important. If you are nervous your horse will be nervous and jumpy too, and you will have a very hard time getting him to stand still and relax through these exercises.
If you are working with a horse that you really think is going to kick you, you can use your lariat in two ways. First, when you are sacking out his hind legs, you can use the coiled lariat instead of your hand. This will allow you to stand by the horse’s girth area while still touching his hind legs, keeping you farther out of kicking range. The other thing you can do is use the lariat rope to sack out his hind legs by putting it around his belly, then dropping it around his hind legs and running it gently up and down. Then try to get him to step one foot out of the loop and run the rope gently up and down each leg separately. Keep the lead rope in your hand at all times.
Once you can run your hand down your horse’s leg and he will stand, run your hand down to the cap of the hock and squeeze. You want your horse to shift his weight off that foot and eventually pick it up himself. I like my horse to pick his foot up, not take the weight off it and make me pick it up for him. When he takes the weight off that foot, release and reward him. Build on your success until he progresses from taking the weight off that foot to lifting the heel, to lifting the entire foot. When he picks up his foot, hold it for a short time at first and progress to holding it longer and longer. At first, I like to bring the foot forward toward the horse’s belly, because that is more comfortable for him than having his leg stretched out behind him, and it’s also safer for me. Once he is relaxed enough that you can move his leg freely as you hold it, then you are ready to start bringing his leg out behind him.
Once he will allow you to bring his leg out behind him, hold the hoof and simulate as much of what your farrier will do as you can. Bang on the hoof with a stick or a rock, scratch things over the bottom of the hoof to make a noise like a file, and so on. Remember to release and reward your horse regularly. As you become more comfortable, you can put more and more slack in the lead rope. My ultimate goal is to be able to drop the lead rope and be able to pick up each of the four feet while my horse stands still.
Once you can work with both hind feet, you are ready to start on the front feet. Rub down your horse’s shoulder and leg and pinch the chestnut to ask him to pick up his foot. Work with him till he is relaxed enough to let you move the leg freely and shake it gently. Repeat the banging and scratching exercises you did on the hind feet on each front foot. Be careful not to twist the horse’s knee by bringing his foot out towards you. That is uncomfortable for him and therefore will make him less likely to cooperate. Try to work with his leg under him where it naturally falls and where it will be comfortable for him.
If you take the time to work your horse through these exercises before the next visit from the farrier, shoeing will be an easy and stress-free process for your horse, you, and your farrier.
Enjoy your horses and until next time, may God bless the trails you ride.
For more information on Ken McNabb’s programs call us at 307-645-3149 or go to www.kenmcnabb.com.