Thursday, July 9, 2009

Maisie and the Farrier

Maisie is a very sweet mare - very willing and kind. She's great with other horses, and for the vet. But she has always been very, very bad for the farrier. When I used to tell my farrier that she was one of the kindest, sweetest horses we had, he didn't believe me - she was a beast for him. She would fight having her front legs held up, and she would fight and even try to kick when he worked on her hind feet. Every farrier visit was an ordeal. Dawn, on the other hand, is an angel for the farrier, even though she can be hell on wheels at other times - my farrier doesn't believe this either since she's so good for him.

My history with Maisie started in the summer of 2002. Even though I was an experienced rider, I really didn't know very much about horses - I certainly didn't understand very much about the ways horses can be uncomfortable, due to things like saddle fit, muscular/chiropractic issues, etc. I knew about making sure a horse's teeth were done, and basic things like worming. As soon as I got Maisie, and I mean immediately - I think I got to ride her once or maybe twice - she incurred a low suspensory injury on her right hind. Then we got to enjoy about a 6-month period of stall rest followed by hand walking - although sometimes the walking involved all four feet leaving the ground simultaneously even with sedatives. Then there was some turnout, and then I started riding her again. For a period of about 3 more months, she would appear to be sound and then I would start riding and she would be unsound again, followed by more rest, and then repeat.

Finally I was riding again. But she really didn't move all that well - and I didn't have much of a baseline since I'd ridden her so little. She went around on the forehand, leaned on the bit and wanted to rush, and would buck if you attempted to slow her down. Even though she seemed to be a sweet horse inside, I couldn't work with her and I began to really hate her. I only began to understand what was going on with her when I took her to a Mark Rashid clinic in an attempt to solve her problems, and he showed me her serious soreness by mirroring the footfalls, and watching her move from behind to see how her back and hips were moving. (See my post "Dawn Steps Up and No Slow Steps" if you're interested in reading more about seeing lameness and soreness.) He said that there wasn't anything we could do from a training point of view until her soreness, which may have been due in part to compensations in her body for the earlier suspensory injury, was fixed. So he refunded our money - all of it - and I took her home.

After a few false starts, I found a good chiropractor. Over the next year or so, we worked on getting her fixed. There was a lot wrong from stem to stern, with her most serious issues involving her back and sacral area. It's really no wonder having the farrier work on her feet hurt! The interesting thing was that, although we had succeeded in getting her pretty well fixed up to the point that a lot of her issues went away and others could be addressed by training, she still was not good about having her feet handled. She's one of those horses that, once she learns something, she's really learned it - so perhaps she had it in her mind that the farrier hurt, even though it probably really didn't anymore.

Through training, I got her to the point that she could at least tolerate the farrier - she still was far from perfect but the farrier wasn't at risk working with her. But then something very interesting happened yesterday. The farrier came, and Maisie was good for him! She only tried to take a front foot away from him once, which was a record, and didn't give him any trouble with the hinds at all. I had given her some bute before he came, as I always do, so that wasn't it.

I think she figured out some things. One, I have been really insisting on good behavior, since she isn't really sore any more and it's just a training issue. Second, she may have finally caught on to the fact that it doesn't really hurt any more - last time the farrier was here, when she was getting over her laminitis attack and got her shoes back on, she was on Banamine so she probably felt no body soreness when he worked on her. But I think something even stranger may have happened - I think she felt so much better after he put her shoes back on last time he was here that she may have changed her mind about him, and may now think of him as a "good thing". Three interesting observations I made yesterday: first, she usually wants to paw when he's not actually holding a foot - she hardly did this at all; second, she usually head-bobs a lot to express her displeasure and has a sour expression on her face - this was completely absent; and three, although Dawn was screaming so loudly for her you could hear it from 100 yards away, Maisie didn't call back or look as though she wanted to get back to the herd.

It'll be interesting to see what happens next time the farrier visits!


  1. I am pretty certain horses learn quickly from experiences that make them feel better. I know it was so with my guy after his first acupunture treatment. He had to be tranquilized, but after about two times, he just stood and as years went by, he got so he actually stuck his head out of the stall, craning his neck to look for my vet's arrival in the barn.

    Bug Armor is all over the Internet. Cashel Bug Armor. Jeffers Equine has, I think one of the best prices. I also have gotten it from eBay.

    I've never seen it in the local stores around here but have always purchased on line. I just got a set for my friend Stacie and her new horse. I also buy the Absorbine or similar face mask with ear covers. That way my horses are fully protected.

  2. Good example of how bad behaviour often have a physical cause.
    I wish more people would take the trouble to make a thorough check to see if something physically is wrong when a horse is misbehaving. Often you find something.

    Re. your prevous post: we had a mare in the stable that was close to unrideable when in heat. They put her on Moody Mare which helped a lot.

  3. Hey, great post! It sounds like it's been a long road with Maisie. Good for you for sticking with her and working so hard to find a solution. I look forward to hearing how she does next farrier visit!

  4. Katharine - I stuck with her because I felt there was a good horse in there somewhere - a lot of her behavior seemed inconsistent with her sweet personality. It took us a long time, but we got there!

  5. Wow, that is fascinating. I love when horses teach us new things about themselves. They really are amazing creatures.

  6. I think Maisie may be turning over a new leaf and giving the farrier a second chance. I'm one of those people who think horses actually know when someone has helped them just as they know when they have been mistreated by a certain person. So now that her feet are feeling much better she may attribute it to him. Hope she continues to improve with her shoeing. I also see the inside goodness in my horses and try to work with them so it shines through.

  7. This post strikes a chord with me. My mare Anky has had issues with the farrier, but the same as you we have discovered a physical reason for this.

  8. Really interesting - and I wish I was closer to WI, I'd be taking in one of Rashid's clinics. I'll have to check his schedule and see if he'll be coming this way at any point in the near future.

    It's amazing how some experiences do stick!

  9. My donkey used to be terrible for the farrier. The farrier didn't like him just because he was a donkey and tended to be impatient and rushed with him. Fast forward to the last few years with my awesome farrier Gwen, who loves Sparky and was really patient with him, and now he is awesome for her. He hardly moves, just stands there with his feet on the stand making doe eyes at Gwen. He recognizes her truck and will come to the gate when he sees it. So yes, I think our hooved friends can learn to treat the same situation differently if you address the reasons. Sparky's wasn't physical but still the same idea.

  10. By the way I have some new pictures I need to send you! Hopefully I will get that done tonight.

  11. A friend of mine has a mare who due to bad experiences is down right aggressive to the point of sedation to the vet. She had a horrific back injury during an event and since then has hated any vet (and she can tell from a distance!) According to my friend she was apprehensive about the chiropractor but now nickers to him when his truck pulls up and really lives up to her name when he is around (Angel) Horses have an amazing memory but their ability for forgiveness is even more impressive. Hopefully this means your girl will be better for the farrier from now on!

  12. Wow you are a loyal horse owner! I dont know many people that would have stuck through with a horse like that. Good for you. I am sure Gracie is thankful for it, some people would have made her work through the pain and punished her for resulting behavior. We can be so cruel to our horses sometimes and it is always nice to see somone who had their horses "back"...

    You asked if I knew any books or websites on color genetics... I know of a few but I find that a lot of sites get way to technical and just make things more confusing. I did do a post a while back on color genetic that I HOPE is simple and to the point. I'm no expert but here it is...


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