As I was trimming Joey and Samson the other day, their owner said to me, "I bet you get kicked sometimes, do you?"
I replied along the lines of, "No, not really, but don't let's jinx it."
So, of course, today while I was trimming a new client, she doled out an unmistakeable cowkick. Camille is a pretty 3-year old buckskin mare, who does not like to be alone in the barn while her buddy is out of sight. I should have recognized that it was a bad idea to proceed, as Camille repeatedly snatched her leg away and tried to barge through her owner to get outside. It's almost always possible to tell when a horse is snatching out of discomfort, out of ok-I've-had-enough-now or out of I-don't-have-to-you-can't-make-me. With Camille, it was definitely the last.
I think we get very jumpy and bent out of shape about the Things Horses Do With Their Legs. Like any movement with their hind legs in the presence of a human is a crime against humanity. We think of their hind legs as blunderbusses - existing only to slam out deadly blows - and we forget that horses' legs can perform very delicate maneuvers - scratching behind an ear, for example. After Camille cowkicked, I realized that what she had done was use her leg to emphatically shove me aside - she was not trying to hurt me or punish me.
So, we did two things - the owner went and fetched Sonny back in to keep Camille company, and I took hold of Camille's leadrope and worked with her for five minutes. I asked her to turn towards me while releasing her shoulder away, instead of stiffening her shoulder towards me while her head pulled in the opposite direction. I tried to keep it friendly and helpful, to refrain from demanding any particular movement, and to only use pressure the way your dance partner might as he guides you around the floor. At first she refused. Then I asked her to back and turn while backing. Then I prodded her shoulder and neck and asked her to notice how she was stiffening in that area. And then I asked her to turn towards me again, and she went, "Yup! I get it - watch me!" She softened her head towards me, lengthened along her topline, stepped underneath herself and walked forward on a bend. So of course I was very enthusiastic about her sheer genius.
When we started trimming again, with Sonny safely stationed near her, and her awakened sense of connection with me, everything went very smoothly. As soon as I lifted her foot up, I could tell that she was relaxed and aware of the position of her feet and adjusting her balance to make everything work. And fortunately she needed very little done, so we could finish quickly and end on a positive note.
Camille's friend Sonny is a 23-year old gelding. He had good hind feet, but he has a past history of laminitis in his forefeet. He was last trimmed in August and had very, very overgrown front toes, not much heel growth, and a bunch of abscess holes growing out in both front hoofs. I think the abscesses were probably all due to the crazy toe length, which must have been causing painful and damaging leverage in the wall. He had very flat forefeet, but there were encouraging signs of exfoliation in the sole. (It's been some time since the last laminitis episode.) The front toe wall was extremely thick - over two inches at ground level in one forefoot. I cut back a lot of toe and got the toe wall off the ground, but there was still a lot of thickness left. Hopefully next time it will be possible to improve the situation even more.
I guess if the toe becomes over-long, it becomes more difficult and painful to put weight on it, which means that there is even less natural wear, which makes it grow even more, and so on.
Sonny was very good about resting his feet in the stand. He demonstrated for me again that if you ask a horse which foot he'd like you to work on next, oftentimes he'll pick up a foot and waggle it. Occasionally, he'll pick up one you've done already. After the trim, the limp caused by the remains of a heel abscess in one forefoot had disappeared - probably because the toe was no longer leveraging the hole open with every step.
Sometimes I wonder if people think I'm dotty. I ramble on, chatting away to the horses and sometimes supplying the horse's side of the conversation too. I've gotten much more unapologetic about not ever making the horse pick up a foot. I'm just like, "That's the way I do it." A lot of people are used to a "git 'r done" 15-minute farrier trim, and that's not me. I'm more of the Elizabeth Arden school of trimming: "Would Madame care to place Madame's foot in the foot receptacle? Would Madame enjoy some iced mint water to sip while we work on Madame's toes?"
I hope this owner doesn't think I'm too demented to invite back, as I'd like to chart the progress of Sonny's forefeet - I'd love to see those soles after they're done exfoliating and find out if concavity reappears ......