We know that horses need to be trained to carry a rider. But we sometimes forget they also need lessons to stand still and remain in balance during hoof trimming.
Your trimmer doesn’t get paid for training your horse, so it’s up to you to make sure she stands quietly and gives her feet readily. Doing this will ensure your trimmer looks forward to coming to your stable, and that your horse will have a positive, stress-free hoof trimming experience.
Step 1. Prepare your equine partner for hoof trimming
Start by getting your horse totally comfortable with having her legs touched all over. Begin by using a stiff white dressage whip (called a wand) to stroke slowly over the chest and down the front legs to the hooves. Once your horse stands quietly during this movement, you can improve her balance, as well as her confidence during hoof trimming sessions, with Tellington TTouch.
Begin at the top of the front leg and push the skin lightly in a circle and a quarter. Then slide your fingers downward a few inches to make another circle along the same perpendicular line. Once your horse stands perfectly still when you’re touching all parts of his legs, begin the following leg circles.
Step 2. Front leg circles
In just two minutes a day, you can do circling exercises with your horse’s front legs to improve balance and sure footedness and lengthen stride. These circles relax your horse’s shoulders, neck, and back muscles, making it easier for her to stand still for hoof trimming sessions.
• Position yourself facing the hindquarters and prepare to pick up your horse’s front foot by stroking down the leg with the back of your hand. Then, lightly scrape upward on the tendon above the fetlock or just above the inside of the knee with your fingernails. This signal teaches the horse to transfer weight onto the other three legs and re-balance to lift the foot. It is clearer for the horse and easier for you than the normal method of pinching the leg and leaning on the shoulder.
• Keep the sole of the foot perpendicular to the ground with the pastern and fetlock joint aligned, instead of allowing the fetlock joint to collapse downward – a common cause of horses dropping a shoulder and leaning on you.
• Circle the leg by moving your pelvis, knees and feet rather than your arms. To avoid strain, keep your back straight and rest your outside elbow on the outside knee.
• Circle the hoof in both directions around the point where it initially rested on the ground. Use a horizontal motion like a helicopter propeller – toward the other leg, forward, to the outside, and then back. Do two circles in both directions at different heights, spiraling down until you are just above the ground. Instead of putting the hoof down, do another circle as close to the ground as possible and tap the toe on the ground at several points on the circle.
Place the toe on the ground about 6” to 8” behind his other hoof so the shoulder releases. For a few seconds, support the hoof firmly between your hand over the back of the fetlock joint and on the side of the hoof to give your horse the idea of balancing without weight on the foot. If your horse is tight in the shoulder, resting the toe may be difficult at first. If necessary, allow her to rest the toe for only a moment at first.
1. What if your horse has a tendency to pull her leg away? Don’t get into a struggle; remember it takes two to fight. Instead of hanging on for dear life, give the leg a little shake. You can also allow the horse to put her foot down to regain her balance. Then try again, and this time ask for only one or two small, fast circles in each direction before letting the leg down. Do this a few times until she seems more secure standing on three legs.
2. What if she leans on you when you pick up her leg? Support the leg with one hand under the fetlock joint and the other on the cannon bone. Fold the leg at the knee, keeping the cannon bone parallel to the ground, and lift the leg high enough so that your horse cannot lean on you. Horses often lose their balance and lean during hoof trimming when the handler holds the hoof higher than the knee and allows the fetlock joint to collapse downward. Give the leg a little shake to encourage her to stay in balance. Steady yourself and don’t lean into the horse.
Step 3. Hind leg circles
Moving a horse’s hind legs in small circles will help overcome nervousness about having the hind feet picked up and handled during hoof trimming. It can also ease the discomfort of stiffness or arthritis in the hindquarters, and increase mobility.
If your horse kicks or pulls away when you first pick up a hind leg, start over by stroking the chest and front legs with the wand, then proceed along the belly and down the hind legs. If she is afraid of the wand, give a little food to establish a positive association with the wand stroking.
Follow the wand work with connected circle and Clouded Leopard TTouches (see sidebar), all over the body and over the hindquarters to the ground until your horse becomes confident and unafraid of your contact.
• Position yourself facing the tail and prepare to pick up your horse’s foot by stroking down the leg with the back of your hand. Scrape lightly upward on the tendon above the fetlock with the fingernails. Again, this is clearer for the horse than the normal method of pinching the leg and leaning into the horse to put her off balance. You want the horse in balance, not out of balance.
• Start with small circles at the height offered to you by the horse. If she pulls the leg up high and tight, do a few small, fast circles at that height and normally the horse will relax and lower the leg.
• Begin with small circles and expand the circle as large as the horse allows without resistance or strain. A healthy, athletic horse should be able to manage a 16” circle (or larger) comfortably.
• Circle the leg in both directions and at different heights, working your way down to the ground. Rest the toe of the hoof 6II to 8II behind the other hind foot. This position helps the horse relax the muscles in his hindquarters. Caution: for arthritic horses, or those with stifle problems, be conservative and make very small circles low to the ground.
The next step is to pick up a hind leg just enough so the toe rests on the ground. Then pick it up and make one or two quick small circles, keeping the hoof low, and put the leg down immediately. Feeding your horse a little hay during the TTouching will teach her to relax during the process.
In three or four short sessions of ten to fifteen minutes of TTouches and leg circles, most horses will gain a new sense of balance that will allow your hoof care provider to trim your horse without a struggle. Just a few minutes of front and hind leg circles each day as you’re cleaning out the feet can make a major difference in her ability to cooperate. Your horse will be happier during hoof trimming sessions, and your trimmer will look forward to visiting your stable.
Linda Tellington-Jones has been an award-winning contributor to the horse world for over 40 years. In the 1980s, she revolutionized the equine world when she introduced TTEAM and Tellington TTouch, a hands-on technique to enhance behavior, performance, well-being and partnership between horses and humans. Today, there are more than 1,000 certified Tellington Method practitioners working in 26 countries. Linda is the author of 15 books in 12 languages, including her most recent, The Ultimate Horse Training and Behavior Book. Visit www.TTOUCH.com.