How do we, as a farriers, work with an unruly horse — one not bad enough to tranquilize, yet not good enough to relax and enjoy?
Until recently, Red, a round-bodied chestnut Quarter Horse, was such a problem.
Living the leisurely life turned out on a large acreage, used only sporadically due to his owner’s time restraints, Red enjoys the lifestyle so many stabled horses long for.
I’d been working with him for only about six or eight months. He’d been fine to trim, great with his hinds, but awful for nailing his fronts!
(And, with thin soles and rocky high-desert terrain, Red needs front shoes to keep sound.)
As soon as my hammer takes to nails, Red yanks and pulls his limb like a large-scale earthquake, worse on the right side.
That’s when I ask Red’s strong cowboy-owner to stand in front of his knee, hold his leg, and push with great might against Red’s protests, so I can get the nails in. (And he’s not quicked, as he’s sound afterwards and throughout the shoeing cycle.)
I’m sure Red has cultivated these less-than-hilarious behaviors with previous farriers throughout his career.
(Since I have no pictures of Red, other chestnut horses in my personal photo archive will have to do :)) DawnHoof
So when Coronavirus mandated “social distancing”, and the fact that Red’s owner is in the emergency health services field — and was therefore forbidden to stand near another human — I got to face off with Red a couple shoeings ago, all by myself.
“I’m not sure I can nail him,” I told his owner. “If I can’t get him nailed, I’ll have to leave him barefoot.”
“He does better in shoes. I hope you can get them on!” Red’s owner said. “Just do the best you can.”
“Would you mind if I treat him like he’s one of my own horses? Do I have your permission to work with Red’s behavior?”
“You sure do!” he said, keeping his distance, hopping in his truck, and driving away.
Leaving me alone with Red, for the first time ever — just the two of us — to work it out on our own.
Enter ~ Romancing Red ~
Wonderfully enough, I’d just been working on my post, Romancing the Hoof, so all my new “courtship” and “wooing” strategies were fresh at hand.
Primed to “love-Red-up” with cookies and rubs and schmoozing, I determined to treat him like he was one of my own horses. With love and firmness, I’d see how far we could get.
Before starting in, I scratched Red’s neck and whispered soft coos, broke off bits of yummy cookies (The German Horse Muffin, otherwise known as “Horse Crack”), and gave him some delicious bites.
Licking, dropping his head, Red showed all the signs of a happy horse at rest with his herd. That’s what I wanted, “happy-herdship” behavior, rather than displaying “fight-or-flight”.
I started by trimming his hind end, holding his hooves low, using the crook of my foot and the closeness of my stance to support hoof and limb, creating the lowest possible “human hoof stand”. (Horses love this!)
Red responded well. Happy. Relaxed. Agreeable.
I took several breaks, scratching his bum, “Good boy, Red . . .”
Finished with the hinds, I decided to do one front hoof at a time, and to start with his more difficult, right fore.
Pulling the shoe — no problem. I rewarded Red with cookies and cooing, “Good boy, Red! Such a good boy!”
Since I knew his difficulty was nailing, and I wasn’t sure if I could get him to cooperate, I took my hammer to his untrimmed bare hoof, and began to very gently tap . . . Red fired into action!
Whap! Pull! Snatch! Red was back into his old fight-or-flight habits.
Immediately I got out from under him, snorted my most demanding “mare snort”, and leapt into aggressive human/horse body-language behavior.
Hissing, snorting, baring my teeth, as my own dominant mare would have done to reprimand an upstart — Red knew that I was less than pleased.
He took a step back, looking peeved.
Then I switched my body language, softening, taking a deep breath — letting it out, blowing my lips to mimic how horses communicate: “It’s all OK . . .”
I asked him to move up, cooing and rubbing, working his endorphin (feel-good hormone) response, until his head lowered and he licked (physical signs of horsey submission).
Back underneath, tapping with my hammer, he jerked again, and we repeated the process a time or two.
‘Ol Red is One Smart ‘Bugga!
Red soon realized he’d rather choose cookies and praises, and make the “mare” (me!) happy — than suffer her snorts and snarls.
“Hurray! Good boy, Red. What a wonderful boy!”
Now I trimmed up the hoof, shaped the shoe, and nailed it on with little incident, generously praising and offering bites of cookies.
Yahoo! Nails in, blocked — now ready for clinching.
Extending Red’s hoof onto my stand for rasping and clinching is another behavior he detests — snapping his leg back, turning my stand into an implement of war, aiming at my shins, as if ‘Ol Red is plotting to have the last laugh.
More “mare snorts” and dominant behavior from me, this time just once, changed clinching from terror to do-able.
Hurray! Red was defiantly starting to catch on.
Nails clinched, hoof finished, I gave him more cookies and coos, and started in on the left fore.
Left Fore ~
Pull shoe, no problem.
Tap bare hoof gently with hammer — Whap! Pull! Snatch! Again, Red worked hard to snap his leg away from me.
(This repeat of behavior is to be expected on the opposite foot, as a horse’s brain must learn on both sides for a lesson to get through to the separate-brain-lobe horse physiology.)
Again, my good snort and mare-ish hiss ended all that. In a short time, Lovely Red was wearing two new front shoes :))
To his owner’s delight, Red was happy, sound, shod.
To my delight, I fell head-over-heels in love with Red, schmoozing and fluffing and flattering him, and feeling his reciprocal energy flowing my way.
Now I know, Red and I can work it out.
Next shoeing, I only had to reinforce his behavior a time or two. And the shoeings after that, he’s stood perfectly and happily for me.
You’re proof that something good can come out of Covid. The virus might be separating us humans, but it united me deeply with Red :))
Photos: Dawn Jenkins; “Aria Laughing” photo by Z. Schultz (since I have no pictures of Red, other chestnut horses in my personal photo archive will have to do :))
Please also visit my Life Blog, Journal of Dawn, for Strategies and Insights into the Journey of Life
Join Dawn for a Soul Horse Ride! Experience the thrill of becoming one with your Horse . . . Join Dawn and her homegrown herd for a Soul Horse Ride in the Frazier Park Outback!
Call to book your Life-Changing Adventure today: (661) 703-6283