Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Horse Hoof Trimming

Today was Day 4, the last day of my bi-monthly hoof trimming ordeal. Normal people hire a farrier to trim their horses' hooves. I used to be normal, at least I used to hire a farrier. Then came the fall when Jessie Anne, bratty 3-year-old that she was, kicked at my farrier and he kicked back. I didn't blame him. But it was six months before I was able to even pick up her foot, much less clean it out. Since I didn't want to chance another episode with the farrier, I began trimming Polly and Mr. Smith's feet myself, plus three of Jessie Anne's. Eventually, she learned to trust again and now, six years later, she's very good for me.

Unfortunately, I didn't know what I was doing when I first started trimming horse hooves. It was a combination of long toes on grossly overweight Mr. Smith and what turned out to be a metabolic problem that resulted in acute laminitis the following spring. All four of Mr. Smith's hooves were permanently damaged and he could not walk for the pain for weeks. I suddenly learned, perforce, a great deal about hoof trimming and caring for a foundered horse. His feet needed to be trimmed every week, once he could finally hold 3 up long enough to trim the 4th. Through an online vet, phone instructions from an expert in trimming the laminitic hoof, hoof trimming clinics, and a wonderful online community of other folks facing the same problems, I learned. My easy-keeping Morgan horses are now all on low-carb diets. Mr. Smith has to wear a grazing muzzle spring, summer and fall. And I gain more insights into hoof trimming each time I do it.

No two horses have identical hooves or identical hoof issues. To make things more complicated, each hoof on a horse is different from every other hoof. I have learned to use different techniques on different hooves. Add in the different personalities and four horses give me an intense learning experience each time I work with their feet.

Jessie Anne is still Ms. Sensitive. I would not dare holler at her when she pulls a leg away from me. I have to use infinite patience and try to figure out what her problem is. Another horse moved out of her sight? She sees a coyote about a mile away? Or maybe she has a muscle spasm or an itch. Whatever, gentle reassurance is the only remedy for her nervousness.

Nightingale, who is Jessie Anne's 5-year-0ld daughter, is nothing like her mother. She is extremely people-oriented and yet very alpha. She always pushes me as far as she can before I blow up at her. Then she is good as gold as though to say, "Just testing." She never gets upset when I holler at her for taking a swing at me (which she used to do). Patience does not work with her. She will just keep testing me until I yell. No book on working with horses tells you that there is the occasional horse that cannot learn his or her limits by consistent, gentle but firm discipline. Nightingale needs a book of her own.

Polly is thirty-years-old and knows the ropes. The only time she objects to hoof handling is when her arthritic legs are giving her problems. But she always tells me there's a problem with a gentle attempt to take her leg away. If I do not listen and let her rest, she will get more vigorous in her objections but I long ago learned that Polly does not lie and if she says she needs to put her foot down and rest for a bit, she does. I'm in no hurry. My back could use a rest periodically anyway.

Then there's Mr. Smith. He is my soul mate and would not hurt me for the world. But he has issues not just with his feet but also with his stifles and because of those issues, he tends to pull muscles. Once his feet improved after his founder episode, Mr. Smith galloped and bucked happily around, messing up his stifles that were not in shape for such shenanigans. His stifles have improved with cavaletti and hill work. I've been jumping him over low jumps for the last two years and that seems to help his stifles as well. But he often lets me know, when I'm trimming his hooves, that something hurts.

Today when I trimmed Mr. Smith's feet, he did not want to put weight on his right hind leg for very long when I trimmed his left hind hoof. I massaged the stifle area but that did not seem to do it. He always tells me when I've found the sore spot so I watched his face and lips as I massaged his right leg. When I reached his gaskin, the response was immediate: he put his head down, closed his eyes, and licked and chewed. He even turned his head to try to groom me as though to say "That's the spot. Yes, please. What you're doing feels so good."

Farriers could trim all four of my horses in one day. I, however, cannot. In fact, when I first started doing this, I could only do two hooves a day. I finally made it up to four hooves but that's my limit. If I'm to have any energy left for chores and other work, I can only trim one horse's hooves per day. That's why it takes me four days. (Well, five days this time since I took one day off to go see the beautiful Hooded Oriole that's visiting Oregon... more about that another time.)

Now I have six weeks or so (more in the winter when the hooves grow slowly and less in the summer when they grow fast) to recover. I could have a farrier come, now that Jessie Anne is good and Mr. Smith's hooves don't need such frequent trims, but I am proud of how my horses' hooves look and I like finding out what's going on with their bodies by trimming their feet. I'm slower than a professional, but I think I know my horses' feet better than any farrier ever could and have learned what works for each.

I'm always glad , though, when Horse #4 is done in this round.

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