How can I help my horse develop good behavior for the farrier?
Standing politely for the farrier (or the Veterinarian, or the Owner, or the Groom) is Manners 101 for horses. It’s a requirement, not an option. But it goes beyond just standing politely. No pawing allowed, no nibbling on your farrier’s back he’s working on the front hooves, no tossing around in the cross ties. If you horse doesn’t have these manners in place, it’s up to you to work on them every single day. In order for your farrier to do his best job and for your horse to have the healthiest feet possible, your horse needs to be well behaved. Here are some tips to make that happen!
- Work with a trainer and a training system that you can apply to all aspects of his behavior, on the ground and under saddle.
- Use positive reinforcement, take baby steps, and don’t expect to build Rome in one day.
- Groom your horse in the same area that the farrier works if you can. This will get him used to the surroundings. If he’s afraid of the noise, the grinder, or smoke from hot shoeing, work on desensitizing him to those things when the farrier is working on other horses in the barn.
- Set your horse up for success when the farrier does come! Make sure your horse has food in his belly, and he’s not too hot or cold. Give him ample time to cool off and have a chance to urinate if you are just finishing his exercise for the day when your farrier pulls up.
- If you think you need to hold your horse for the farrier, make sure this is OK with your farrier. Some horses are more fidgety around their owners, your farrier may prefer that you carry on with other barn chores while he works.
- If you do end up holding your horse for the farrier, be sure to stay at your horse’s shoulder to make corrections and help your farrier. You can easily move your horse’s mouth, head, neck, and shoulders so help your farrier stay away from teeth and also to rebalance your horse so he’s not dumping his weight into your farrier. Keep in mind that you are not there to pet or groom your horse or to swap stories. You are there to correct bad behaviors and quickly reward correct ones. Use a kind word and a soft touch instead of treats so your horse doesn’t turn into a beggar or start pawing for the stash of cookies in your pocket. You must be vigilant 110% of the time and alert your farrier to trouble brewing. Did your horse just spot something in the distance and raise his head? He may have seen a horse eating monster and is about to make a run for it.
- If your horse doesn’t like to have his legs picked up, and/or he has trouble with holding them up, don’t assume he’s ill mannered. There’s a chance he’s unsteady on his remaining legs, and needs practice balancing. Make sure the area he’s standing on is level and safe. He could also be hurting somewhere, be arthritic or stiff, so this makes holding up a leg uncomfortable. Communicate with your farrier about his physical limitations so your farrier can give him breaks, use a shorter stand, etc. If he’s perfectly fine with having his feet picked out several times a day (at the very minimum), it may be more behavioral instead of a comfort issue. For tips on making the sore horse comfortable for the farrier, read this article.
- Practice holding his legs up for longer periods of time every single time you pick out his hooves. He will get the hang of it!
- Make sure that your farrier is fair to your horse. Moving, nudging, or correcting your horse is acceptable so that your horse can learn proper positioning for the farrier. I fully expect that if one of my horses kicked out at the farrier, my horse would be whacked immediately. Also understand that your farrier also needs to stay safe in order to earn a living, and you as the handler needs to put his safety and your safety as top priority.
- Give your farrier a safe place to work. Things you can do to make this happen can be found here.
If your horse is unsafe, you need to find a trainer to help you resolve these issues. No farrier can do his best work if he’s being trampled by your horse.
What words of wisdom do you have?