This is Missy at her last trim. I was just finishing up trimming, taking post trim photos, as she calmly stood and watched. She’d been an absolute star throughout the trim. Somewhat different from other trims we had, when she was keener on returning to grass and equine company than on staying still until her trim was done. What had changed?
When horse owners get a hoof care professional out to attend to their horse, chances are some level of stress is involved. Our own human time constraints make us rush to the yard or worry about getting away again in time. We potentially remove our horse from their usual environment; the field or stable they are in, their herd members, and upset their routine. And here I come, the Equine Podiatrist, who smells of other, strange horses and with all my unusual gear. I require them to lift up one of their feet, when they really want to have all their feet on the ground, just in case. They won’t know how long this interruption will be and what it will involve – as much as there is a routine to trimming, elements of it may change. Or they may not have seen a trimmer in several months (or even ever), and all is very worrying to them. When these triggers add up on a trim visit, it gets all a bit too much for the horse very quickly.
Older horses or horses with an injury, historic or current, will most likely have weak points that makes lifting certain feet or keeping one leg up for a prolonged period of time uncomfortable. Some horses, especially young ones, will not have learned how to balance on three feet. If a horse has sore feet – suffering from laminitis or another issue – having to put their weight over three rather than four legs can make all the difference. Holding on to a foot at that point will cause further discomfort and give the horse reason enough to think that lifting a foot and holding it up for me isn’t really such a good idea.O
Oh, and boredom
We ask horses to stand still for prolonged periods of time, so I can trim their feet. I lift up their feet and have an idea in my head how long this will take; the horse however does not know that. For all that the horse knows, I could be holding it up and repeatedly lifting it forever. Realistically, if someone asked us to stand patiently like this, would we comply happily? I think I would be very bored pretty quickly.
What can you as an owner do?
Please tell me if your horse has had an injury; a lot of the time it ties up with the willingness and ability of the horse to lift up certain legs. Knowing this can help me greatly to be extra sympathetic and careful.
Please tell me if your horse suffers from separation anxiety or will get nervous if taken from its herd. As long as I can have some access to hard standing for some time of the visit, and you bring a stable mat or similar to stand on for the rest of the trim, I am happy to trim in the field or next to the field, as long as it is safe; and we can make sure your horse doesn’t feel anxious. Or if your horse does need to come into the yard area or stable, you could bring your horse’s friend in from the field as well, to keep your horse company. If there is a place that your horse feels especially relaxed in (in its stable, in the yard overseeing the comings and goings of everybody), let me know.
Please tell me if your horse has other behavioural issues, previous bad hoof trimming experiences etc. I am an experienced positive reinforcement trainer and we can work on issues together to make hoof trimming a nice experience for your horse again.
If your horse is allowed to have them, keep some treats ready. A hay net is also a great way to keep a horse happy and entertained; (a hungry horse is often a grumpy horse!) access to forage or treats can help make the horse feel more contented to remain with us and create positive associations with hoof trimming.
You can practice “hoof trimming” between visits. Instead of a quick brush over the hooves with the hoof pick, hold the foot up a bit longer (you want to increase this in small increments). You can give your horse forward leg stretches (be aware of its physical limitations); horses don’t often assume this position outside a trim. If you make this part of the routine, you will find your horse will quickly become more accustomed.
Bring cookies. Yes, for the trimmer too. Some positive reinforcement while working hard goes a long way, for humans too!
What can I as a trimmer do?
If your 18hh hand horse needs to have his foot trimmed nearly on the ground because their physical ability requires this, then we can do that. Do let me know!
If we need to take it slowly with your horse, we can do that. I would rather visit twice and make each one a nice experience for your horse than rush through it in one visit. All three of us will profit from that the next time I am out.
If you know your horse cannot hold up one certain leg or gets nervous when their foot is in the air too long, let me know and be assured I can work with that. Knowing they can have their foot back when they need it can give your horse more confidence and willingness to actually lift the foot.
If your horse’s feet are sore standing on hard grounds, let me know and we will find a place where (s)he is more comfortable.
My priority is to make your horse comfortable. This involves the trim and physical comfort, but for me the emotional component is of great importance too. A content and confident horse will be easier for me to trim and for you to hold – I’m more than happy to listen to both you and your horse about how to achieve this and help with any suggestions and training advice.
We can work on creating a trimming environment that our horses feel calm and confident in and that is as stress free as possible for all involved.