Friday, August 14, 2009

Farrier Visits and Giving the Horse a Choice

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!


  1. Isn't it great when our horse handling skills work? Haven't read your book review yet but sounds like positive reinforcement? i.e. reward the good behaviour immediately it happens. (or is it negative reinforcement because you started with the jiggle? Easily confused LOL!)

  2. Cabruze - it's about that, but also about offering the horse a real choice - not just making the wrong thing so hard that the horse is forced to do the right thing - instead if you can lead the horse with your thought and offer the horse real (non-threatening or coercive) choices - Fritz could have pawed as long as he wanted to while I jiggled the lead - the horse can change its thought, not just the behavior.

  3. Excellent day, then. I hope my Boys are all good as my farrier will be here shortly.

    Toby is always a star. Just stands on the crossties and offers his feet as needed. Chance has been good too. As he is barefoot, it takes less time, but he stands well.

    Tucker can be fidgety. When I first had him, Scott called him a "knucklehead" and it really suited. He'd lean, sometimes pull his foot away, and just generally be impatient. The last time, he was an angel and was good the time before. So, over time, he has definitely matured.

    I have never had to hold my horses for the farrier. One of the first things I teach them is to stand tied, and then I work with their feet. I pick them up, hold them as my shoer would, and rap on them with a small hammer or the hoofpick. That at least conditions them to the concept.

    Addendum: Just came back in after my farrier left. Everyone was just fine. So I am pleased.

  4. Whoops, didn't mean to sound "know it all." Sorry. Meant also to add that I like your technique for fixing the pawing. I have a friend who has a horse at her barn with a terrible pawing problem. I will fill her in to see if your method might work. I like the idea of giving the horse a choice.

  5. Sometimes that all it takes is a new approach. And not every approach will work for all horses...or even humans for that matter. lol!
    It sounds like you found a technique that really does work with no arguments, stress or having to be over-controlling. Kudos for you! And thanks for sharing. :)


  6. I may give your technique a try on Monday when my farrier is here. I'm not sure if there are any "pawers" on the list for Monday or not!

  7. What a great concept! I already do things like this to get rid of unwanted behaviors but I never thought of it in that way.

  8. Sounds like you really helped Fritz! You should be very proud of yourself... I am sure he was much happier about that farrier visit. And glad to hear that Maisie was a good girl again. I just love getting to know your herd... :)

  9. It's really a different way of thinking. Rather than making the wrong thing difficult it's giving them the power to change things.

    I can see all kinds of applications. I wonder how to make this work in a trailer... (sigh).

  10. I've never seen a horse paw for the farrier so that's a new concept for me. Panama stands like an angel now, but when I first rescued him, he was so protective of his back feet (which had been injured in the trailer accident) that he'd fight the farrier -- and I mean, FIGHT. He'd not only take his feet back, but kick, rear, etc.

    It just goes to show how much trust plays a part of it, because he's perfectly fine with it now. I think it also really helps that he likes the farrier.

    Anyway, I loved your solution for the pawing. I wish I could do something similar, but the only time he paws is when I have him tied while I'm talking to someone. He HATES being left tied while I talk. So he paws for attention, and while I know that's what he wants, I also don't want him to start that particular habit -- so I scold him for it. Of course, as you noted it doesn't work very well, because he just paws again after a few minutes!

  11. I should note that the farrier he used to fight was also the one who twitched him to try to leverage some control over him. Which probably had something to do with why he'd fight him so hard. That was when Panama was still with the in-laws, and I had little to no control over these things. Once I moved him to Colorado and started with a different farrier, the farrier problems miraculously stopped.

  12. Just read the book review and it sounds really good. So off to Amazon UK to see if they stock it!

  13. Nice tip about the pawing, Kate.
    Fame paws when she is impatient, so I'll try it out next time!


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