When I was a kid, one of my favorite things in the world was go watch our horses work on the track in the mornings. We’d leave before the sun rose, and head to the barns. The smell of warm oats and hay, horses dancing around, Spanglish words floating along the airwaves was heaven to me.
I never sat in the seats at the track. I stood on the rail waiting for my horses to come around back home. Often there would be a thick blanket of ocean fog sleeping on the track. Sometimes I could only hear the sound of their hooves running by, but usually they would emerge at the last minute for me to see them gliding over the ground with grace and speed.
Back at the barn some horse usually threw a shoe. The farrier would come in and go to work. I stood outside watching wondering how in the world they did what they did. A lot of people don’t know that racehorses are usually tranquilized before trimming AND they are trimmed from the left hand side. This means that they trim and shoe the right sided hooves from the left side of the horse. Don’t believe me? Then watch the video:
Why do they do it this way? Well, they trim them in their stalls, so there isn’t much room to work. Also, if the horse is tranquilized, then the horse is difficult to maneuver if needed.
When racehorses are retired from the track, I start them off as if they were two-year-olds or younger. There are a lot of things that were never asked of them like other horses. Getting their hooves trimmed is one of those areas. They never had anyone trim them on both sides with a clear head.
A lot of people think OTTB’s are misbehaving when they act up at a trimming. They really aren’t. They’re telling you how nervous they are. If they’ve been tranquilized each time they were trimmed and shod, guess what? They never learned to stand for a farrier properly.
When I start working with an OTTB, I spend a lot of time walking around all sides of them petting them all over and running my hands down their legs on both sides. This will tell me if they are used to being handled on the right often. If the horse has, the horse is calm; if not, they aren’t. If the horse isn’t calm, I spend a lot of time running my hands down their legs until the horse feels comfortable with that.
When I first lifted Chaco’s right hoof just a few inches off the ground, he dropped to his knees. I think it shocked and freaked him out that I went to that side, and wondered why I was doing it all wrong. It scared me to death. It was the one and only time he did that. When I work with a new OTTB, I start picking up their hooves on the right, I lift them only an inch or so off the ground at first. When they’re comfortable there, I go for a bit more as long as they remain comfortable until I get to where I can comfortably work on a hoof.
When I began trimming Chaco, I discovered he was a salsa dancer. As I held either of his front hooves, his hind end danced all over the place while I worked. It made us both a nervous wreck. I thought time would resolve this; it didn’t. One time he almost fell again, and I was fed up with doing everything the “normal” way. Sometimes, you need to let go of the way things should be done and create something that works instead. Who says a horse has to be trimmed one hoof at a time anyway?
Rather than working on one hoof until completed, I worked on him clockwise. I would start on the left front picking the hooves, then go the hind, over to the right hind followed by the right fore. I then nip the lateral quarter on the left fore and work my way around. I got this idea from a local farrier I watched a couple of years ago work on a green horse. He was nervous, so instead of focusing on the one hoof, he kept going back and forth between the left front and right front.
Working this way kept Chaco calmer. Instead of dancing and getting anxious, he became curious as to what I was doing. Now he stands calmly for me while I trim. He tends to want to pull away more on the right side than the left, but that has even improved. Considering his operated leg, I still use this method with him as it relieves the stress on that leg as I trim.
If your OTTB is a struggle being trimmed or shod, get creative. Keep in mind that your horse might need to relearn how to do all of this. Ask your farrier to try working clockwise. If you have more than one horse to be trimmed or shod, ask your farrier to work on the front hooves first going back and forth between the two as he or she works on them. Your farrier can then go on and work on the other horses, and then come back to working on the hind hooves after done with the other horses giving your OTTB a mental break.
I find that instead of forcing my horses to do it a certain way and supporting what they can do, the quicker they come around to accepting being trimmed as a good thing instead of like a dental exam. Chaco told me he was scared, so I changed my ways. Now he falls asleep as I work on him. Listen to your OTTB, and you tw0 will go the distance.