Does your horse turn into the Tasmanian Devil every time he sees the farrier’s truck arrive?
Do you dread any activity that isn’t active with your way-too-energetic partner in crime?
Obviously, the right solution is to teach your horse to stand quietly for the vet, farrier, masseuse, chiropractor, etc. through slow, careful, positively-reinforced training. And that does work with many horses. However, there are some out there who just have itchy feet.
Standing still really isn’t biologically programmed into horses. While they certainly can (and should) learn how to do it, reality doesn’t always listen to should. If that’s the worst of your horse’s quirks, it is certainly manageable (albeit annoying).
Confession time: at our house, we had a 24-year-old gelding that I owned for 20 of those years that still fidgeted in the cross-ties up until his last day on the planet. Robbie had been to several trainers back in the day—show, natural horsemanship and otherwise. He had no history of abuse—I still keep in touch with the lady that had him for his first four years of life. He was just a wiggle worm and always had been. Even when turned out his buddies would be standing around basking in the sun, and he would be constantly shifting his weight, walking here and there, always thinking and checking on things and reacting. He did slow down over the years, but he was still always on the go.
Remember, I’m referring to horses that are fidgety here, not those that don’t tie and pose a danger. Those guys definitely require professional training. So for the fidgety, attention deficit equines out there, here are 5 things you can try to help increase your success during times when you really need your horse to PLEASE JUST STOP MOVING:
1. Turnout. Let him have some time to blow off steam before the appointment, instead of on your farrier’s back. Don’t turn him out though if it is super muddy or you’re not sure you can have him caught before that truck is coming down the driveway!
2. Exercise. Like turnout, exercising your horse ahead of time helps get some of the wiggles out in a more controlled fashion (we hope, but I don’t judge. Some rides are smoother than others, amirite?). Do whatever is normal for your horse: lunging, riding, pony off a buddy, even hand-walking for a stall-bound horse (if it’s approved by the vet).
3. Buddy System. Horses are herd animals and some of them get more attached than others. If you have some that are joined at the hip, during a farrier appointment is not the time to work on their separation anxiety. Bring the buddy into a nearby stall or tie him just out of the way so everyone can relax.
4. Distractions. If your horse just can’t focus long enough to stand still, try whatever you need to do to distract him. Rub his neck or cheek, talk to him, tap on him gently with your fingers, and just keep redirecting his attention back to you when he starts getting fussy. Feeding treats/feed usually backfires and makes most horses more fidgety, so we usually discourage it. That said, there are some horses that are perfect as long as you keep handing over hay or snacks, so it is occasionally worth trying if nothing else works—but definitely make it a last resort. Sometimes you’ll exchange fidgety feet for biting teeth! (We’ve tried the duct tape on the nose trick; it actually made Robbie worse, but other farriers have said it does work on some horses.)
5. Restraint. This one is always tricky because you have to go with what you are comfortable with. Upper lip twitches work pretty well for many horses, as do chain-end lead ropes in a variety of configurations (just please be safe when using a chain!). Sometimes lightly leaning on the horse in such a way to encourage his weight to go on the feet you want on the ground can help; ask your farrier where he’d like you to stand and what he’d like you to do to help.
If you seem to only be left with options that you’re not comfortable with (ear twitches, for example, or laying a horse down), it may be time to call the vet and get a prescription for a sedative…and then a recommendation for a trainer…and a good bottle of wine.
About the Author
Nancy Rich-Gutierrez is an IT professional and manages her husband’s farrier company. When she’s not busy with her full-time job or running the office for her farrier, she’s chasing their two-year-old and riding her Arabian horses. Check out the HG Horseshoeing blog at hghorseshoeing.com.