I do not believe in smacking horses. I really don't. But when a wee hoofie comes flying in the direction of my head, my philosophy re-adjusts.
I was trimming the hoofs of a two-year old gelding, who may or may not have ever had his feet trimmed before. It is quite difficult, I think, and a bit scary, for a horse to yield control of one leg and stand precariously balanced on the other three for an extended period of time. Experienced horses know what to expect and are familiar with the adjustments they need to make to their stance. But you have to be patient with a youngster and let him figure out what's going on and what he needs to do to make himself reasonably comfortable during the process of trimming.
This little guy was being very thoughtful and cooperative, and we were almost done. I just had to work on the outside of his right (or, as we Brits used to call it, aptly as it may turn out, his "off") hind.
He cowkicked. Not once, but three times, as I recall. I think I let it go the first time, but then I whacked his butt with my hand and yelled. After that we had no problems, and I finished.
However - I felt bad. He had been so helpful up to that point. I think if I had explained to him nicely that cowkicking is not cool, he would have been ok. After we were done, I apologized to him, and he forgave me and blew in my face. But I continued to feel guilty.
I got to thinking: this has happened before. And it's always been with the right hind. So, I thought, maybe I'm habitually doing something unpleasant and uncomfortable, due to my own "sidedness" when I pick up that particular foot. But then why do horses who are used to being trimmed not mind when I work on that foot?
Then I got to thinking some more - in my experience, and in that of one or two others whom I've polled, horses are often more protective of their right side than their left. I ran this by a friend, who said she has a theory that this goes back to the foal's sidedness and its preference for nursing more on one side than the other.
When you pick up the horse's right foreleg, you're still by the head, and it's ok. But when you move down to the right hind, you're in the "don't-go-there" zone, making the horse extra-vulnerable by immobilizing that leg.
I believe this is one of the things Parelli works on - they just demand that the horse give up their self-defence on all fronts. But I think there's a better way. It's called using your words. You know, like in kindergarten:
"Teacher, teacher - the horsey won't give me his right side."
"Now, Johnny, don't snatch - ask nicely."
"Please, horsey, can I have your right side for a minute?"
The other day in the barn, I heard my daughter scolding George. I went over to see what was going on - he was objecting to her doing up his girth on the right side. (Yes, we do still sometimes do this weird politically-incorrect thing called "saddling up.") In the bad old days, I might have told him to shut up and make nice or else and that's that. (Well, he is part Sergeant you know, and in a previous home he used to terrorize people.) But instead I said, "Hey, I know, it's your right side, it's ok, no big deal." And I swear he looked at me like, "OK, well, just be careful then."
I used to think leading on the left was just because it's more convenient for the humans, but perhaps it originated in an understanding that the horse is more comfortable if you are on the left.
When I'm leading Bridget (or, rather, vice versa), she seems to sometimes deliberately switch me from one side to the other. I'll have to pay attention and see if there's some kind of rhyme or reason to this.
In the meantime, I will be especially tactful when trimming off hind hoofs, and - repeat after me - I Will Not Whack the Horse If It Cowkicks. My bad.