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

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Passing Go

The last time I saw these horses, things did not go well.

The dominant mare was not at all interested in cooperating, and I had to resort to taking the lead rope and making her back up before she'd let me finish. The allegedly "good" gelding was extremely nervous and cowkicked at me whenever I tried to pick up his hind feet. I never did find out what the other gelding was like, because he broke free before I even started and ran off, refusing to be caught again.

By the end, the owner was embarrassed and apologetic, and I felt like a complete loser.

Before returning yesterday, I gave some serious thought about how to approach these guys. This time, the end of the visit found both the owner and I both feeling very good about how things went. And the horses felt good too.

The reason for this happier outcome? .... I adhered to the following guidelines:

1.  Do not try to work with any foot that is not freely offered.  Wait for the foot to come up.

2.  Be willing to not pick up the foot at all.

3.  If necessary - if working with one particular foot seems to bother the horse - ask permission before even approaching that leg.

4.  Always return a foot when asked.

5.  If the horse snatches, it's ok to hold on a little longer - just long enough to gently place the foot on the ground, thus demonstrating how to politely take one's foot back.

6.  Start with the front feet, because horses are less reactive with their forelegs, and you can demonstrate to them that they're in control of the situation before moving on to the twitchy hindlegs.

7.  Designate a particular spot for trimming and stick to it. We picked a shady patch behind the house.

8.  The owner should hold the horse on a loose rope.

9.  If the horse pushes forward out of position, the owner should quietly walk it in a small circle back to the original position.

10.  Don't allow the horse to change the subject: the subject is hoof trimming. The horse can decide that no trimming will take place, but the conversation must continue to be about trimming or the lack thereof, and not about eating or leaving.

Following all these guidelines made the experience completely different from the last time. None of the horses received a complete trim, but they have good feet which wear well on the rocky terrain, and the owner and I agreed that actually completing the trim was not our No.1 goal.

The nervous gelding became calm and focussed. He began to offer me his forefeet and allow me to work on them. When he - literally - put a foot down and wouldn't pick it up again, that was ok. He allowed me to do his LH but was reactive with his RH, picking it up and using it to to shove me aside. This was my cue to step back and ask permission to approach the leg. Permission was denied (by means of head turning, eyes narrowing, and ears flattening) every time. So we left it alone.

The runaway gelding was helpful with his front feet but very reactive with his hinds. When he saw I was headed towards a hind leg, he exaggeratedly and nervously lifted the leg way up in the air and hopped about. I responded by stepping back and waiting for a minute or two before touching his leg gently to ask him to pick it up. This time he didn't move and didn't offer to pick up his foot. So I said ok and stepped back again. I can't tell you how empowering it was for both me and the horse to open up this beautiful avenue of not-having-to-achieve-the-goal. I asked a couple more times and accepted his refusal a couple more times. Then he started offering to pick it up, ever so slightly. I settled for a quick look at both hinds and let it go at that. When he was set free, I swear he gave me a hug.

The dominant mare came last, and the owner had a job catching her. Horses and human disappeared on the other side of the house, and I stood waiting, enjoying the beautiful afternoon. Finally the owner reappeared leading the mare, with her equine entourage clustered around, and we got started.  At first, every time the mare took a front foot away, she would use that as an opportunity to walk forward. The owner would then quietly lead her back into position. After a few tries, she stopped. When it came time to work on the hind feet and I approached her LH, she swung away. So I stepped back. After this was repeated three or four times, she allowed me to approach and offered the foot. She was reluctant, however, to lift up her RH - I think perhaps she was finding it a little difficult to balance without that leg. Something made me decide to step back and, not touching her, to just wait confidently for her pick up her foot. Sure enough, with me standing a couple of feet away, she figured out how to balance and lifted up the foot.

What was striking about the whole procedure was the way the horses each became calm and centered. Instead of trying to escape, both mentally and physically, they settled down and were present. Last time, after each one was was done, he or she made a quick getaway. This time they stayed. And when I was trimming the mare, who was last to be done, the geldings hovered around, nosing my hair and nibbling my clothes. Last time they said, "You're on your own, Madam Mare, we're outta here!"

I told the owner I was appreciative that she and I could work together like this. Last time, I put pressure on myself to get the job done, but we agreed that the work we did together this time was more valuable than getting hoofs trimmed.

Attending the proceedings also was an adorable yearling Percheron colt with adorable, round, perfectly self-trimmed feet.

Tomorrow I'm returning to the kicking banshees, and I will try following the same guidelines. Wish me luck.

p.s. We are homeschooling again. One of the perks - Latin at the picnic table with Bridget.

Mentum equae a puellae pede scabitur.

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