Today I returned for the third time to trim a little herd of three horses (and a yearling, who doesn't need to be trimmed yet). The first time I went, the horses were pretty much all basket cases. The last time (Passing Go, 9/13/12), things went rather more smoothly.
Today, the horses were all perfect.
We started with the original runaway gelding, who behaved like a complete angel, permitting his front feet to be completed inside and out. He has stringhalt and is a little funny about his hind legs, but he was very cooperative while I worked on the undersides, and I let go of the idea of prettifying the outsides on the grounds that he'd been very good and I didn't want to push it.
The nervous gelding was also a total mensch. He found it hard to lift his RF, as his RH leg has problems, but we figured out that if his owner provided a leaning post at his left shoulder, he was able to give me his RF foot and let me keep it long enough to work on. He had to hop around a little and figure out out to brace his back legs in order to accomplish this, but we had enough trust established that he was fine with me gently keeping his LF while he tweaked his balance. As his LH was still obviously giving him problems, I feared that - like last time - he wouldn't let me touch it. Again, I asked permission before even approaching the leg, and this time there was no reaction from him. When I touched the leg, he gently picked up the foot. As his hind feet have been wearing very nicely and evenly, I just settled for picking up both hind feet; and then we were done.
The dominant mare was a poster child for good behavior, and all the work on her feet was completed in a timely manner. As with the nervous gelding, I felt we were now on a footing of cordiality and trust, so when it was a little tricky to find a good angle/position/height to rest her hind feet on the post in order to rasp the outsides, we were able to fiddle about and try different things without anyone becoming stressed.
Then the owner asked if the Percheron yearling could be introduced to the concept of future hoof trims. He's very friendly, but not used to being handled by anyone except his owner. When she clipped on a leadrope, and he saw me looking purposeful, he became anxious and wanted to leave. I could feel myself acting too assertive and even menacing, but didn't know how to stop. I figured that if I took the leadrope, I could interact with the yearling in a way that felt more normal to me. That did help, and then I remembered my manners and - giving the leadrope back to the owner - stood back and asked permission before approaching. That mollified the youngster, who was then comfortable enough to give me his feet, one after the other. And that was enough for one day. He has beautiful round, well-worn feet with huge, healthy frogs.
The "guidelines" I established at the last visit for working with these horses seem to have proved very helpful. Instead of the nervous, mentally absent, annoyed, resistant, fearful, and reactive creatures which I met at my first visit, the horses have become cordial, helpful and focussed. These guidelines are not a magic formula for every horse in every situation though. I still have a lot to learn and figure out. For instance, the other day I was trimming a good-old-boy buckskin gelding who absolutely-no-way-forget-about-it was going to let me work on his RF. Last time I got him to lean against a wall, but this time he'd been shut inside for three days because of a storm (thanks, Sandy) and was just too stiff and sore on his left hind stifle. (Why is it that sometimes that makes the same-side foreleg hard to work on, and sometimes the opposite-side foreleg?) My daughter was with me, and she said she'd never seen a horse rear so politely! It was true - he didn't want to make a scene or hurt anyone or run away - but if I held onto his RF, he just, politely, reared up and took his foot away. So we just had to give up and hope that next time he's not so stiff. And buckskins, I'm finding (call me racist), are a stubborn lot. Well, not stubborn - strong-willed and sure of themselves.
I'm more and more convinced of the incredibly cooperative nature of The Horse. I used to espouse the pressure/release approach to training: put a little pressure on - increase it if the horse resists - release it if the horse cooperates. Nowadays I prefer to just ask.
No relevant photos, but here is one of Bridget from the summer. (Ah! The summer!)