When she arrived at High Point Farm, she was aloof and very pushy. She walked with her head always turned away from people. And, never mind trying to pick up her feet. If I put my hand on her front leg, she would rear and throw her shoulder on me. Ask for the hind leg and she would kick. The lightest pressure – no more than a touch – on her halter and she would violently throw her head up and away from me. You could see in her staring eyes and braced body that she had mentally “gone away” and was ready to defend herself without thinking. She had no trust of humans and yet underneath that defensive behaviour was a kind and sweet horse.
Her re-training started with ground work to establish respect and trust. She has a large lump (calcium deposit) on her left knee and with her feet as long as they were, I had to be careful about how much and how hard she worked in any session so as not to cause her to become lame. Add to that my busy work and travel schedule in the fall and her training sessions were not as regular as I would have liked. I worked with her as much as possible and despite having an irregular training schedule, she did develop trust in me and respect for my space. She was giving her head to me rather than taking it away. She was releasing to to pressure rather than throwing herself into it.
With consistency, calmness and patience, she eventually started to give me her left front foot – actually lifting it up for me to take. Shortly after we achieved this level of trust, she would allow me to pick out her foot . This success took weeks to achieve. We went through the same process on the right front foot. It was now the beginning of December. I went on vacation for a week and thought that she might have regressed while I was away. Happily, we picked up right where we left off.
So, when my farrier arrived on Thursday morning I told him that I had a special project for him. I said I wanted to try to get Tulip’s front feet trimmed as they were terribly overgrown and unbalanced. But, I didn’t want either him or Tulip to get hurt in the process. As soon as she saw the farrier, I could see that she was very stressed – going into that blank stare, braced body, heavy, loud breathing and high head stance. My farrier is a patient guy. He asked for her front left leg and she reacted by rearing. At least she didn’t throw her shoulder on him! We decided to put her back in her stall and do a few more horses. I brought Tulip out later to try again. She was not as stressed by now, but she was definitely not relaxed either. My farrier suggested taking into a large stall where we had some room to move with her. So, with me at her head (keeping her head low) and Mike at her shoulder, we patiently did several circles in the stall until Tulip was able to stand calmly. Then, she gave Mike her foot and stood so quiet and calm while he nipped off almost 2 inches of hoof. she even let him hold her foot between his legs while he did the trimming. Same process for the other front foot. Success!!
I still have alot of work to do with Tulip. Still have to work on those back feet. But, I am thrilled with the progress she has made. I only wish she could speak and tell me what happened to her to give her this fear of having her feet handled. Somewhere in her history, she has had a bad experience – either through human ignorance or human meanness. Her behavioural problems have been human-made. It will take a much longer time to re-train these behaviours out of her than it took to create them. The lesson here … every moment you are with your horse, you are training him or her. Train your horse with empathy, consistency and understanding. Choose to be the better horse rather than the human master and commander of your horse. The results the speak for themselves.