When I approached the big bay mare, I noticed the worry lines that appeared around her eyes as her body filled with tension. I sensed anxiety from both horse and human as I set my trimming tools down and introduced myself to my new client. Although the details may have been different, the story was the same: the mare had trimming anxiety as a result of pain or trauma, thanks to a disrespectful approach.
Many of my equine clients have trimming anxiety as a result of a bad experience with hoof handling. Their caretakers are pleasantly surprised when I am able to trim their horses with the lead rope lying on the ground or even while the horse is at liberty. Seeing their horses relaxed and cooperative is an additional bonus to a great trim, and they always ask my secret. There really is no secret; I just use some key principles.
Lack of cooperation can signal physical pain
When a horse is being uncooperative, I always give him the benefit of the doubt and consider that it may be due to pain or discomfort. I’ll do a quick check for any body soreness, stiffness, inflammation or obvious dental problems, and keep these in mind when positioning the horse for a trim. Depending on the situation, I may utilize Equine Touch moves or recommend a follow-up visit by a bodywork or dental care provider.
I’ve found that many older horses seem to have pain when asked to hold a hind foot up very high, so I focus on keeping the leg in a comfortable position. It may be harder on me, but it’s much easier for the horse.
Emotional trauma may also be a factor
Far too many horses have been subjected to harsh treatment during hoof care which caused their trimming anxiety, so I’m very aware of their emotional trauma and fear. Common practices such as restraint with cross-ties, chains, stocks, twitches or even sedation, as well as physical abuse, all take a heavy emotional toll.
Using a natural horsemanship approach, I build a relationship of trust over each trim, and never use force or fear during any session.
I’ve found essential oils to be invaluable with emotional problems and trimming anxiety. I always carry a kit containing patchouli, lavender, chamomile, and blends like Young Living Trauma Life & Grounding. I allow the horse to decide which he prefers, offer him the bottle to smell a couple of times, and also apply that oil to myself.
Mutual respect is a two-way street
I have respect for all living things and horses are no exception. Any time I approach a horse, it is with the intent to help and with respect for him as a thinking, feeling creature. If the horse responds with disrespect, I realize time must be spent building a relationship with him. This brings us to the next step.
Let’s move, then
Some of the common trimming anxiety issues I see in new horses while being trimmed include pulling their feet, leaning their weight, moving around, and occasionally striking, kicking or biting. Once I’ve ruled out or dealt with any pain issues, and offered essential oils for the emotional level, I begin building some respect on the ground.
Rather than trying to make a horse with trimming anxiety stand still, or punishing him in anger for acting out, I move him. Often I’ll move him backwards, but I’ll also take him sideways or in a circle for a short time. I then relax, allow the horse to think about it, drop his head and lick his lips.
Then I rub him all over to show there’s no anger or hard feelings. Any time he acts out, I do the same thing with consistency. You’d be amazed how quickly the a horse with trimming anxiety understands that it’s easier to stand still than to act out. This must be done every time, without anger and for as long as it takes, in order for the horse to understand that I will be fair but consistent.
Taking a break
I don’t expect a horse to keep his foot up for long periods but instead offer frequent rest breaks. I offer them to the horse before he decides he wants a break and snatches his foot away. Both older and young horses really benefit from this and it quickly builds trust.
It always feels better
My goal is that the horse should feel better after a trim, so it becomes a reward in itself. It’s wonderful to see the deep breaths, lowered head and licking when I place a trimmed hoof on the ground. Rest assured that the horse knows I did it for him. This helps build a strong relationship which ensures a relaxed, successful trim next time.
There is nothing like having a client’s horse nicker to me when I arrive for a trim. It lets me know I’m doing right by that horse. Trimming at liberty is not my aim, but when I am able to do it, I know I’ve given that horse more than just a hoof session. I’ve given him a solid foundation. A natural approach to hoof care is more than just a trim; it’s also about how you do it.
Tips for horse handlers: Relax that grip. Rather than holding the lead rope by the snap, which provokes resistance, allow slack in the line. This lets the horse move if necessary and is safer for all involved. Do ask questions. If you don’t understand the trimmer’s handling or trimming methods, don’t be afraid to ask. With natural hoof care, the trimmer should also be an educator. Focus on the present, not the future. Your expectations affect the horse so if you anticipate him to react badly, he probably will. Be comfortable with your trimmer. If your intuition is picking up a bad vibe, find another person to trim your equine partner.
Kenny Williams is a natural hoof care provider and educator who has been trimming for over nine years and utilizes natural horsemanship, essential oils, and the Equine Touch to help hasten healing. Kenny has the ability to explain a natural hoof to everyday people while having a great eye for what the hoof is telling him. He is now offering hoof care consultations, private trimming instruction and tutoring. His herd of six have been his best teachers and he’s happy to pass that knowledge around. www.naturalhorsetalk.com