How to Help Your Horse Relax for the Farrier
Some horses don’t cope well when the farrier comes. There are loud noises, unusual smells, and sometimes even smoke if your horse gets hot shoes. Luckily, there are many things you can do to help your horse relax for the farrier.
Rule out physical issues and pain
- A horse in pain may not tolerate a farrier visit. As your horse’s guardian, you and your vet must rule out pain as a cause of this stress. Does your horse have:
- These conditions make it hard for a horse to flex a leg for the farrier. Injuries and disease make it difficult for the leg to be held, or the remaining standing leg could be fatiguing and sore.
- When you discover any discomfort, you can make allowances for the problem. Have your horse stand in extra squishy boots, use anti-inflammatory medications, have your farrier use a hoof stand, or let your horse rest his body on a wall.
Then train your horse to stand for the farrier
- Your horse should be able to stand quietly for the farrier, vet, saddle fitter, and you, to keep everyone safe.
- Training starts with daily hoof handling. Picking hooves counts, but there is more to the farrier visit than picking. How long can you hold your horse’s leg? Can you move the hoof around while holding it? What about tapping the horseshoe to mimic nailing?
- Using positive reinforcement techniques to encourage your horse to trust you works wonders. Slowly make your way through the steps, and sometimes this takes weeks or months. Practice for a few minutes daily, and always end on a good note.
- Reward your horse during each of these steps:
- Pick up the hoof.
- Pick up the hoof and clean it.
- Hold the hoof after you have picked it. You may want to do this in 30-second intervals, gradually increasing the time.
- Pick up the hoof, clean it, hold it, move the hoof around.
- Add in more time, more manipulation, some banging on the hoof.
- Remember that holding a horse’s hoof removes their ability to use instinct to fight or flee. This is a dangerous situation for horses and will destroy any trust when this dynamic is forced. Sure, you can push on and on until your horse gives in, but how cruel is that?
More hoof handling tips:
- Please don’t drop the hoof as you release it. Guide it to the ground.
- Do not fight your horse for control of the hoof. You will probably not “win,” and it’s a bad experience for everyone.
- Discern between discomfort and fear, and although often they go hand in hand you need to figure out what comes first.
How to help your horse relax for the farrier
- Create a successful farrier visit before they arrive. Is your horse’s body and mind ready to chill out?
- Does your horse have a full belly?
- Has your horse exercised?
- How much turnout has your horse had that day?
- Are your horse’s basic needs met?
- Exercise and turnout before a farrier visit give your horse an outlet for energy. The movement also acts to “warm up” the joints, which may alleviate stiffness and discomfort during the farrier visit.
- Talk to your vet about calming supplements or pharmaceuticals if needed. Some horses benefit from sedation as they learn to trust the farrier experience, but at some point, you need to TRAIN your horse to enjoy this time.
Keep the farrier area comfortable
- Here are more ideas to help you horse be happy and comfortable for the farrier.
- What is the footing like where your farrier works? Softer mats are much more comfortable than gravel or ground. If that’s impossible, could your horse wear squishy boots as your farrier works?
- Would some liniments help your horse’s joints during a farrier visit?
- How much can your horse see? Are his buddies in a far-off land or close by?
- Is there adequate ventilation? Farrier work can be stinky and smoky for hot shoeing. Ventilation is always important, especially so during a trim.
- Does your horse need a hay net? Sometimes edible distractions are the best.
- Sometimes positioning your horse on a slope alleviates the pressure on a standing leg. For example, a horse with sore hind legs could stand facing downhill. Slopes may also give your horse more room to stretch and not need to have joints flexed as much.
- Using farrier stands is another way to alleviate strain on the raised leg. Lower the hoof stand to keep the joints more open. Using this device may take some training, but if your horse can relax up to this point, stands should be easy to incorporate.
- It’s not up to your farrier and vet to train handling; it’s on you – and daily work with positive reinforcement is best. You can have a safer and healthier relationship with your horse by eliminating fear and pressure.
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