September 4, 2012
Check out these horse-holding tips for getting you, your horse and your farrier safely through a trimming or shoeing session.
By Danvers Child in America's Horse
All horse holders are not created equally. Ask any farrier or vet, and they’ll tell you that there are people they would prefer to have holding horses for them. In fact, quite a few vets and a growing number of farriers actually employ their own horse holders.
Sure, anybody can hold a horse. But sometimes you’re better off with a horse tied to a wall than with certain people at the end of a lead rope: the guy who holds the tail end of a 12-foot lead lead rope while sitting side saddle in a chaise lounge; the girl who keeps her horse on a longe line because he doesn’t like to stay close; the woman who’s more concerned about her clicker hand than her lead rope hand; and the kid who can’t feed carrots fast enough and lets the horse swallow the plastic bag.
While these folks are the extremes who make for good story-telling, farriers get small doses of their behavior from lots of horse holders. And, to be fair, let’s admit that some of the farriers and vets out there don’t always have the best horsemanship skills, either. Their schooling usually assumes rather than includes horse-handling skills.
As a horse owner, there are a number of things you can do that make holding the horse easier. You can create a situation or environment where you’re not setting things up to fall apart. Here are some tips that will help get you, your horse and your farrier safely through a shoeing session:
- If you feed at a specific time every day, you don’t want to schedule your farrier visit for that time. Horses are creatures of habit, and they don’t like it when you break them out of their routine. And they certainly don’t like it when they think everyone is getting fed but them.
- Horses are herd animals, and if you’ve got them too close or too far away from their pasture mates, they’re not going to give you their attention. Likewise, there are comfort areas where horses will relax. You wouldn’t want to trim the stallion in front of the mare’s stall, and you wouldn’t want to trim the baby in the wash rack that he has never been in.
- It’s a known fact that one fly can keep a horse’s attention better than two people. Using a good fly spray and running a fan during fly season can make everyone’s day go more smoothly.
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A List of Do's — and Don'ts
Horses take their cues from their holders. If you’re relaxed and comfortable, you will telegraph those feelings to the horse and help him find his comfort zone.
Do: Stand on the same side as the farrier, except when the front leg is on the hoof stand
If something goes wrong, self preservation instincts kick in, and – no matter how much you want to help the farrier – you’re going to save yourself. If you’re on the opposite side of the horse, it’s very likely that you’re going to make self-preservation moves that will result in swinging the horse right over the top of
the farrier. If you’re on the same side as the farrier, you’ll swing the horse away from both of you.
Ultimately, you should ask your farrier where he wants you to stand, but if he has survived a few years of shoeing, it’s likely that he's going to want you on the same side of the horse as he is.
Do: Square the horse up
If a leg comes off the ground without the horse being squared and balanced, he’s going to be more difficult to deal with.
Do: Tilt the horse’s head slightly toward the farrier
If the horse’s head is slightly tipped toward the farrier, he’s not as likely to throw extra weight or lean on the farrier. Additionally, you’re recognizing his limited field of vision and allowing him the opportunity to see what’s happening.
Do: Keep the horse’s attention – and pay attention yourself
Holding a horse while he gets new shoes can be deadly boring, but it can be just plain deadly if something goes wrong. Your job is to keep the horse’s attention, and you can’t do that if you’ve gotten distracted. If you have to do something to entertain yourself, don’t let it distract you. Turning your back to the horse to carry on a conversation, chatting it up on the cell phone and other such things turn you into a poor hitching post.
Do: Keep a good hand on the lead
There’s a comfort zone on a lead rope. If you toss the horse too much lead, you don’t have control, but if you gather him up too much and don’t give him a little freedom to move, he’ll resist. You have to walk a fine line between establishing control and trying to over-control.
Do: Use walls to your advantage
Horses find walls comforting. Put a horse in cross ties in the middle of an aisle, and within moments, you’ll find him migrating toward the wall. Rather than fighting him away, it’s best to take advantage of this comfort zone.
Note that you have to be careful about this when the farrier is working on a hind leg. If the horse’s head is tipped away from the wall, it’s likely that his butt is pointing at it, which can put the farrier in a dangerous position as he extends the hind leg.
Do: Keep the horse’s head up
Once a horse’s head drops below his withers, he’s throwing extra weight at the farrier, and the lower his head goes, the more weight he throws.
Don’t: Allow nuzzling
It’s very doubtful that your farrier will ever think it’s cute for a horse to lick and nibble. Although you may be confident that “Poopsy” would never bite, your farrier probably doesn’t share that confidence. And because the farrier is often wearing the smells of strange horses, “Poopsy” may well surprise you.
Don’t: Discipline without warning
Getting a nail jerked into your hand is never fun, but it’s really frustrating when it happens because the holder has slapped the horse for nibbling on his arm or something similar. If you need to correct your horse, do so, but let the farrier know what’s coming.
Don’t: Feed the horse
While hay or grain may keep a horse’s attention for a time, the feed is keeping his attention, not the handler. You’re simply asking for trouble to associate feeding with trimming and shoeing. Besides, most horses get grumpy when they’re eating.
Don’t: Use restraints you’re unfamiliar with
If you’ve never used a chain over a horse’s nose, this is no time to introduce yourself to the concept.
Don’t: Overload the senses
The boredom that comes with horse holding can lead holders astray, tempting them to get something done. Don’t succumb to the temptation and overload the horse by trying to clip, groom, check teeth or whatever. Likewise, even if a horse is used to lots of activity, it’s usually best to keep the dogs and kids out of the work area.
Danvers Child is a certified journeyman farrier and an approved examiner for the American Farriers Association’s certification program. AFA is one of AQHA’s educational marketing alliance partners.
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