The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Today I returned to trim the former Canadian Royal Mounted Police horse. Her feet had grown a lot, but weren't in bad shape.

She has this one hindleg which gives her some trouble; she stands funny on it, and she doesn't like to pick it up. The other three legs are a little problematic too, as when you pick them up she has to balance on two legs plus the dodgy leg.

Anyway, long story short - she frequently took whatever foot I was working on off the stand. I made a decision early on not just to "put up" with this, or be tolerant about it, but to actively say - "It's absolutely fine for you to do that - I'm just going to leave my hand on your leg, and whenever you're ready, please pick up the foot again." And if she moved position four times in a row, and I had to pick up my bucket and hop after her, that was fine.

At first, I could tell she was sceptical about me, and her desire to retrieve her foot and retreat, although based in physical discomfort, was also a statement of non-cooperation. But as I persisted, she started working with me, and I was even able to work on the sore leg.

I'm getting more confident about talking about my approach, and I told the owner (a super-nice guy) that I think it's much safer to be patient and wait for the horse's cooperation, rather than forcing anything. I was talking about the mare's problem with her right hind, and as I spoke I put my hand on that leg, moving it from hip to stifle. I felt that she reacted a little bit when I rested my hand on the stifle area.

Anyway, I don't know if she felt I grasped the problem at that point, but a minute later, as I went back to working on the outside of her foreleg, she started licking my ears and head. Could be she just liked the taste of my hair conditioner.

I didn't want to do the outside of the hind hoofs, as I thought she'd cooperated long enough, but the owner rightly pointed out a crack in the RH toe, and after some adjustments, she picked up her foot and let me finish. When I was done, I went back up to her head to talk to her, and she licked my arms and shirt, which was sweet as she had been very distant at first. She's a sensitive, brave horse - and I think she really needed to feel that I was on her side.

This is all a lot about trust - trusting the horse, trusting that the horse will really help you in the end, trusting that the horse wants to help. There are no guarantees. Truth to tell, I'm just really impressed at these horses - how nice they are. What the heck? This is a strange, magical world we live in, no mistake.

This must have been what she looked like in her glory days.


  1. I have always had to utmost respect for Police Horses. I believe it truly takes an exceptional horse to deal with everything they have to deal with.
    I once took some riding lessons on a former police horse (I remember he was a HUGE grey QH, but sadly, do not recall his name). Of all the horses I rode or had lessons on as a child, he truly was the most "steady" of them all. I remember thinking he had one of those wisest faces I'd ever seen on a horse.

    I give you tons of credit for discussing your approach with other horse owners. For me, that is the one things about everything I do that I am real insecure about. The folks around my barn have heard bits and pieces as they relate to Griffin, but never the whole philosophy. I am working on talking about things more and more especially when I am doing something that others find "weird" -- but I just haven't been able to bring myself to the point of having on honest to god conversation about it.

    I have discussed it however, with non-horse friends (whom are animal lovers, they just don't have horses) and my family. Both have been very supportive and accepting of my ideas which helps a lot.
    ...One of these days I am hoping I will have the courage to bring it up with a "traditional-minded" horse person :)

  2. Yes, it is much easier to talk about it with family and non-horsey friends, isn't it? It's gotten easier in the context of trimming, because I'm describing the way I set about doing my work, but there are definitely horsey people to whom I'd be leery about trying to communicate this "other" way of doing things.

    Have you thought about what you'd say and how you'd bring it up? I think I've come to a point of clarity that I'm more firmly jettisoning an attempt to compromise with my old way of doing things - in other words, I'm trying to really accept no as no, and wait for the yes. The visit with the vet really helped me I think.

  3. I've got one horse I'm trimming that constantly yanks his feet away from me. I've been very conscientious about waiting for him to give me the foot and giving him plenty of rest but the yanking persists. Honestly I think the problem is the owner, I'd like to try trimming him without her holding him but I'm not sure how to tactfully ask her to back off.

  4. What's the owner doing?

    Do you think the horse is uncomfortable, or impatient?

  5. I can't tell exactly what she's doing because my back is turned but I know she nags at him by fussing at his face and twirling the rope. As to the horse, I think it's 80% impatience and 20% discomfort (something is off with his left hind leg).

  6. So the owner is keep the horse from focussing and being calm and figuring out what to do. Also interfering with your communications. You're working with the horse; sounds like the owner is working against. I think if it was just you, the horse would put up with the 20% and figure out how to deal with it.