How many times have you forgotten or decided to skip the chore of checking your horse’s hooves? With all of the tack checking and re-checking, the barn chores, the riding preparation details, the maintenance and care around the ranch and with your horses, we may sometimes neglect at least one thing. Our horses’ feet, should not be that thing! You ALWAYS double check the tack, the clasps and cinches before you ride, but have you ever skipped the hoof check?
Your horse always has the same manure or sand packed in under the hoof and you have scraped it out countless times while your horse leans all of his weight in your hand. Or, perhaps you fight to get that hoof high enough to look underneath and every time, your horse jerks it out of your grasp to stomp on to the ground. Is it defiance? Is it refusal? Is it uncomfortable to stand on three legs when he has four?
1. ALWAYS check with your veterinarian FIRST, to rule out any and all medical issues that could possibly be associated with the horse’s ability to comply with your requests.
2. Time to determine the cause.
Sometimes, a horse’s refusal to stand on three legs willingly indicates a lack of “ground manners”, or perhaps a lack of “ground rules”. You must establish to your horse that it is pleasant to comply and that you will not hurt or scare the horse into submission. Respect is an earned response, where you will need to establish some basic ground rules with your horse. If this is new to you, then this is where you start! Learn what ground manners are and set some ground rules. If this is not part of your previous training, please seek the advice of a professional horse handler or trainer with whom you respect. You may need to correct something that you are doing that is creating a negative or dangerous response from your horse.
3. Is it comfortable? It is not uncommon, even among seasoned horse people, to pick up the hoof in a way that is uncomfortable to the horse. He will brace against your request and with his body-language or in response to your request, try to let you know that you are NOT doing it right! With all horse activities, in order to become well respected by your horse counterpart, you must learn about the horse. Be sure that you understand the dynamics of the horse’s shift of balance and what that looks like. It’s not to say, that when a person doesn’t think of the horses comfort level that they are not a good horse-person, but many people do not think of what it might be like for the horse to stand on three hooves at the very instant of your request. Give your horse time to shift the weight and don’t be afraid to remind him to hold the hoof up a little. Practice and patience go along way with this one.
4. Hold your horses. The connective joint of the front legs and rear legs are different in horses. Bringing the hoof up directly under the horse is the most natural balance position, such as when the horse gaits at a walk or trot. It is a common mistake to pull the leg off to the side, which actually can throw off the balance of the horse. The leg does move circularly and most horses will comply, but the best way for them to relax in your grasp, is to keep it natural and comfortable.
5. As with any standing (preferably tied) grooming activity, please do not feed your horse to keep him still. It is important to allow the horse to relax and comply because they actually trust you. A horse will eat and swat multiple flies at the same time, but that is not how you want them to respond to your requests.
6. Listen, pay attention. You may be asking that of your horse, but you need to also give that to your horse. It is surprising what they can actually tell you, when you pay attention. Horses have a multitude of ways to communicate with body-language and cues that you can easily understand when you are paying attention. This knowledge will improve your experiences with your horse and make you a safer handler. Pick up a new book on how horses communicate and try to become knowledgeable of the horse language. You can also acquire a tremendous amount of knowledge on this subject by observing the horse herd. Many books have been written on the subject and some professional trainers have implemented the ideas in their training methods to help people.
Skipping that hoof check can also result in a preventable veterinary bill. While it is important to always check with your veterinarian should you have a concern, you can certainly take measures to keep your visits to a minimum. It is wise to schedule regular visits with a professional and reputable Farrier. They can also be a great resource on how to pick up your horse’s feet safety and what to check for. Rocks can get lodged in the crevices of the natural shape of the hoof, a rusty nail can threaten a horse’s life, and some surfaces will create health problems in the hoof. Your horse cannot remove the uncomfortable or hazardous foreign objects, but you can. A simple sweep along the natural curves under the hoof, on a daily basis, will clear out most debris and help keep your horse’s hooves in better shape. There are also many great products on the market that you can treat your horse to. Your horse will be able to perform much better when their hooves are in great shape.