Preparation for the vet
How to get your horse confident around his legs and feet.
Over the previous Pegasus articles I have shared with you many ideas to help gain your horses confidence. These ideas are well tried and tested and they all come from understanding the innate behaviour of the horse.
Here is a check list which also combines as a way to refresh our memories from the previous articles and draw them into this edition.
The Check List
• Horses are prey animals and get emotional when worried or in pain. Emotion runs down their body and into their feet!
• Recognise that if you make a horse stand when he is scared he will probably exhibit one of the following unwanted behaviours:
o Rear ~ prance ~ head shake
o pull ~ brace ~ not pick feet up/open eye/mouth/clamp tail etc)
o bite ~squash ~ kick ~ strike
• Make sure that you can touch your horse all over
• Allow a horse to see & smell the object of concern
• Be aware that they cannot see objects that are put right under their nose
• Horsemans handshake ~ holding your hand (or object) at least 3ft away
• Use approach and retreat
• Keep your body language & your emotions relaxed
• Be aware of your attitude and keep your eyes ‘soft’
• Keep breathing (!)
• Recognise and reward the smallest try
• Keep training sessions short and motivating
• Focus on a positive outcome and not on the primary task
• Set yourself up for success – keep sessions achievable
Learning and utilising the above ways of being around a horse will already have you and your horse in a more confident and trusting relationship and has you in a good place for dealing with more difficult injuries.
Preparation for legs and feet
Your horse needs to feel safe and the best way for that to happen is to have all four feet on the floor so that he is ready to run if needs be. Horses being claustrophobic by nature also feel hemmed in by being tied up or held, especially if there are people either side of him. Try and be considerate of his innate prey animal instincts and consider the following options when holding or tying up a horse:
Teach your horse how to tie up without fear
Tie up or hold in a well ventilated light area
Tie up or hold in an area where the horse can see what is happening around him
Do not tie up too short, allow the horse some self expression
Too long can be dangerous, take the time to get the length right for your horse
Always tie up with a quick release knot
When asking your horse to pick up his feet problems might arise if he is worried about his legs being touched. Go through the check list and make sure that you can touch your horse all over using the approach and retreat strategies spoken about in the previous articles. If your horse is feral or has been badly treated you might wish to consider using a long stick with a glove or sponge attached to it.
Once your horse is happy to have all his legs touched all over then you can expect him to give his feet to you, but set him and yourself up for success and consider the following:
- Make sure he is in an area that he feels safe in
- If people are watching ask them to be quiet, stand back and be on one side of him
- Ask them to have a relaxed expression with an expectation of a positive outcome. Staring eyes, crossed arms, negative conversations are seen and sensed.
- Keep loose dogs away from him.
- Follow the tips re tying and holding.
There are several ways to let a horse know that you would like him to pick up his foot:
These are my preferred choices that you might like to consider:
- Run your hand along his body and move down towards over his shoulder and down his leg. Using verbal language ‘up’ or ‘lift’ or whatever word you prefer, as long as it is just one word
- Carry on running your hand past his knee you can add a gentle squeeze on his lower leg or right the way down to his fetlock, with your other hand gently supporting his hoof. He will learn to lift his leg on your verbal cue
- Running your hand along his body and down his shoulder and leg stopping at his chestnut and gently squeezing until he lifts up his foot. This is great if you suffer from a sore back, or if you want to prevent suffering from a sore back! You can also use a verbal cue as you squeeze his chestnut, this is your choice.
Thinking back on the check list, it is important to reward the smallest attempt made by your horse, you might notice that he shifts the weight out of this leg and into the leg that will need to take his bodyweight, this is just what we are looking for and you really want to reward that. By giving the horse this opportunity to think it through and re-distribute his weight means the horse is (a) thinking his way through the procedure (b) understands what you are ’asking’ ( c ) feels safer and more comfortable a big bonus for vet as they do not have to carry the weight of the horse!
Please note that when you take the horses leg in a hurry or pull it up against the horses wishes then you nearly always end up carrying some of his bodyweight.
It reminds me of a saying…. Create your idea to become their idea…. Wise words and very wise strategy.
So now that we have learnt how to safely and comfortably pick up our horses feet so that he feels trusting and confident we are ready to stretch it a little further!
Ask your horse to stretch his leg forward and backward and lift his leg higher and lower. Can he trust you to lower his leg (foot) all the way to the ground without snatching it from you. Can you eventually place each one of his feet. This is not as easy as it sounds and needs to be done over a period of several weeks if not longer. It is a large ‘ask’ to have your horse trust you in this way as he has to fully relax his shoulder muscles.
Now that you can do all these different things with your horses legs and feet you are now in a much better position to apply ointments to these areas.
Another huge bonus to having your horse trust you enough with his legs and feet is that it helps you to have a more confident horse when you want him to place his feet on unusual surfaces such as ramps and trailer floors, bridges, ditches and water.
I have attached a picture of two horses standing with their front feet on a box as this is part of gaining confidence.
I do hope that you have enjoyed this months article, if you have any further questions then please do contact me.
Next month we will discuss clipping our horses.
The photo of Lacey in the boot was kindly donated by Sharon Moore of Mooreracehorsetrust.org. Sharon had used the above techniques to get all her rescued thoroughbreds relaxed and trusting.
My best wishes