Horses that are young, nervous, or sore need special consideration. Here’s how to help make them more comfortable when trimming.

I trim a lot of horses in a day and the one thing I always find consistent is their language and how they communicate their feelings to me. Along with the sub-clinical signs in the hoof and body that tell about the state of a horse’s health and if his system is being compromised, the horse will also indicate soreness and inflammation through body language when trimming.

Since horses can’t speak to us with words, they do it with body movements. For example, dipping the head to the ground, swishing the tail, or engaging in an agitated behavior could indicate the horse is in pain. A subtle pulling away of a hoof while trimming can speak volumes. Not wanting to lift a foot up is often an indication that it’s sore or inflamed.

When trimming a special needs horse, whether he’s elderly, young or nervous, laminitic or foundered, and/or body sore, it is important to listen and look for the little signs that indicate soreness, and trim appropriately.

The Young Nervous Horse

I like to trim a young or nervous horse with one of his buddies nearby, or just outside the paddock where he can see his friends. Some horses are more relaxed and comfortable with space around them; others need the security of the barn. If this is the first time you are meeting a new horse, always introduce yourself and give him a kind pat or rub all over the body.

If a horse is nervous or has had a bad experience, he can be volatile or dangerous. Establish leadership by gently but firmly moving the horse around you, or backing him up. Try not to hit or discipline him; but a little pinch can bring the horse’s focus back to you. Lots of kindness and a soft tone of voice can go a long way. I talk to my horses and let them know what I’m going to do. Believe me, they do understand.

Next, set the horse up so he is balanced on his feet. Often, when you ask for the first foot, a horse will balance himself; be patient and give him a chance to get his feet organized under him.

I don’t like to work on horses that are tranquilized because they can be even more dangerous and explosive. Bach Rescue Remedy or a mist of lavender oil helps to calm the horse. It is important that the horse’s owner works with him to help make him more comfortable and confident with his feet, as that makes the farrier’s or trimmer’s job easier.

Elderly Horses

For the elderly horse, take your time and allow him rest breaks during your trim session. As with some people, an older horse’s muscle tone, strength and balance aren’t what they used to be. He may have difficulty placing weight on one side of his body, or bending those arthritic knees and hocks. In these cases, I will often prop the hind foot on a block of wood and trim the hoof low to the ground. Hoof Jack makes a smaller stand that is ideal for these cases.

For horses with arthritic knees, I will bring the leg forward and place it on a block or stand and do all my trimming from there. I know the older I get, the worse my own balance becomes. For the older horse, or one who is injured and body sore, let him find a wall to lean up against so he can maintain his balance.

Trimming Foundered and Laminitic Horses

When trimming the foundered or laminitic horse, use mats or pads to soften the ground and support the internal structure. Even the use of a washcloth under an inflamed foot will give the laminitic horse relief. If you need to, find a sandy place for that sore horse to stand, or trim in an arena. Placing the feet in a tub of cool water also helps reduce inflammation while supporting the bony column in the hoof.

If the horse is foundering, pad the front feet and start your trim with the hind feet. Boots with pads are a life-saver in this business and can give a horse tremendous and automatic relief. Using pads in the boots helps lift the internal structures so the epidermal and dermal laminae aren’t pulling away from each other during a bout of severe laminitis or founder. This alone will give pain relief. Always have some boots and pads on hand. Don’t forget to address the importance of diet in these laminitic or foundered cases.

In cases where a horse is so sore that he can’t pick up his feet, medications are sometimes required. If this is the case, use probiotics after the drugs are completed to replenish the gut with good bacteria.

By paying attention to the little signs your horse is giving you, and having empathy for his changing needs, you can help make trim time a more comfortable and pleasant experience for everyone involved.

Anne Riddell is an AHA Certified Natural Hoof Care Practitioner.