Yesterday our barn had two separate farrier visits, one in the early morning at feeding time and one in the early afternoon. Three horses got done in the morning - Fred, Fritz and Misty, and three in the afternoon - my three: Dawn, Noble and Maisie. Misty's owner came to hold her and Fred does great on cross-ties, although he has a bit of trouble balancing with one hind leg up due to his hind end weakness. Fritz's owner, who also owns Fred, usually comes to hold Fritz, but she couldn't make it this morning.
So I was there to be with Fritz. He's been having some problems with the farrier. These problems started at his last barn - he'd always been fine on cross-ties and with the farrier, and the farrier was the same one so that wasn't it. His owner said he never really settled in at the last barn - something about the whole thing made him nervous and he stayed that way. He developed a habit of sitting back and leaning on the cross-ties until they broke - he did it every time. The farrier says that he was always careful to lean back slowly - he didn't run or fly backwards, and said that he thought the horse might have perhaps have had a fall when put on the cross-ties by the barn help. Anyway, a persistent problem had developed.
Today I decided to put him on cross-ties but also have the lead rope on him and stand by his head, to see how he would do. He wanted to paw, but this time I tried something different than I have done before. Usually when a horse wants to paw, I have stopped them by snapping the lead, repositioning them - backing up or moving forward, or reprimanding them verbally. This usually didn't work very well, and we usually had a cycle of paw, reprimand, paw, repeat, with the horse never really calming down. After reading the book I reviewed yesterday, I think what was happening was that although the horse stopped pawing (briefly) with each reprimand, I never got the horse to stop thinking about pawing. I had an idea after reading the book, and I tried it out on Fritz. I wanted to offer Fritz a real choice, so that he could change his thought - himself, rather than my making him change his behavior, which did little or nothing to change the thought. So each time he started pawing I would jiggle (not jerk) the lead rope while he pawed and stop immediately when he stopped. I wasn't correcting him with the lead rope, just slightly irritating him with the jiggling, which wasn't very hard, so he could decide to stop the jiggling by deciding to stand still. After a few times - each time he responded more quickly - he stopped pawing. He had chosen to stand instead of paw, and since he had decided, he didn't even try to paw any more! I was delighted!
Then I tried some massage to see if that would help him stay relaxed - I massaged his poll, crest and neck. As I was doing this, I found some pretty big knots and worked on those - a lot of horses really appreciate this. He stretched his neck and put his head almost to the ground, moving his jaws back and forth. Since his mouth and jaws seemed stiff, I also massaged the big eating muscles in his forehead and then he started chewing. When I would stop, he would lean towards me or put his head in the right place for me to continue.
He was great for the farrier - maybe now he'll have some good associations!
In the afternoon, I met my farrier when he got there. Dawn and Noble are never any trouble. But Maisie has had a long history of trouble with the farrier - but last time she was much improved - see my earlier post "Maisie and the Farrier" about that. We thought then that she realized the farrier had actually helped her when he put her front shoes back on after her bout of concussion laminitis, and so was more cooperative. I was very interested to see how she would be this time. I did give her a precautionary gram of Bute in the morning, and she recently had a visit from the chiropractor, so she had no excuses.
Well, she was great! - in fact the best she's ever been for the farrier since I got her in the summer of 2002. Now, she wasn't perfect - she did still try to take a front leg away (a couple of times) and a back leg away (once). But she was enormously improved. The farrier was able to do all the trimming, paring and filing of each foot without putting the foot down once. And he was able to put in all the nails on each front shoe in two goes (one foot) - he chose to give her a rest, she didn't demand one - and one go (other front foot) - all of which are records for her. She cooperated well with her front feet on the stand for clinching and finishing. The most amazing thing is that she let him trim her back feet in the aisle, on cross ties - we've had in the past to stuff her in a stall corner to get this done and she's been very anxious about it.
She tried a bit of pawing - I jiggled the lead as with Fritz and she stopped almost immediately - she usually paws a lot - more success - she chose to change her thought too! When he was working at his truck, she stood there quietly with a hind leg cocked - despite Dawn screaming for her outside the barn. She did almost no head-bobbing, and made no attempts to head-butt me - both head-bobbing and attempted head-butts were common expressions of annoyance in the past. Her ears were mostly up in a relaxed position - none of that half-mast ears and really pissed expression she usually has for the farrier.
I was delighted, and so was she to be done so quickly and easily - may it continue!