Taking the Hoof by the Horn

Harley chewing on my file handle

When I was given Harley, he was a God send for Shandoka who badly needed a friend. They became instant buddies, and he became my best friend within a short amount of time. His hooves needed a lot of help. His toes were way too long, and I believe his coffin bone had descended in his hoof capsule. He tripped constantly, and he didn’t like farriers at all.

One night a farrier came to work on him and Shandoka, and I’m pretty sure Harley wanted to trample him to death. He was furious with him before he even touched him, and the white’s of his eyes were blinding. His ears were so pinned to his head that I thought they would never stand up again. His previous caretaker would put on a pair of shoes in April, and Harley would still be wearing that same pair of shoes in October when they were pulled off. This has caused a lot of long term issues with his hooves, and I can’t even begin to tell you how overwhelmed I felt. I knew that he needed to be barefoot trimmed, but there is nobody around here that did true barefoot trimming in the style of Pete Ramey or others.

Harley is a sweet, gentle horse, so seeing this side of him shocked the heck out of me. He was telling me something, and I listened.

He told me that I needed to take a crash course in barefoot trimming. I found Pete Ramey’s list on Facebook that is sadly no more, bought his book and several videos in a night of pure panic realizing it was going to fall upon me, and I got help from Pete directly through his list as well as Heather Dwire who guided me how to trim Harley. Luckily, Derek Green came over for his set up trim, because so much had to come off the first time. I don’t know if I would have had the nerve to take all of that off the first time around. I hadn’t been up to that point.

After Derek left, it was all up to me, and this is what I’ve learned and continue to learn from Harley who is the best teacher.

  1. Harley was such an angry, pain in the butt when I first started trimming him. He would plant his feet, and fight me every step of the way when I tried to lift his feet the moment he saw my farrier tools. If I went out just to pick his hooves, no problem. The moment I pulled out my nippers or my file, holy cow the fight was on. Most times I had to pull one of his legs forward at the knee or mid cannon bone to get his hoof off the ground. It was so exhausting. His hind legs, the moment I got a hoof off the ground, he would start trying to kick it free of me. When he realized that I wasn’t letting go, he would lean backwards trying to throw me off balance. He pooped on me twice; that was fun. I think my arms were always two inches longer at the end of our sessions, and I definitely stunk afterwards. I stuck with it, but I quickly realized the way I was doing things wasn’t working. It wasn’t getting through to him that he no longer had to worry about shoes going on his hooves. So, I started doing only two hooves a session, and I would go back and forth between the two, so I never stayed on one hoof for too long. His patience increased. He started lifting his hooves when I asked. I started to not trim his toes with my nippers; I just stuck with the file, and he totally mellowed out. After doing this for awhile, we can do all four hooves in one day and in a short time. He stands perfectly for me. He lifts his hooves when I ask, and when he asks, he gets a lot of loving breaks. Harley taught me to be flexible.
  2. Let the horse have some revenge on your tools. I let Harley take out his frustration by biting on the handle of my file. He holds it in his mouth while I hold on to it, so it doesn’t stress out his teeth. It’s a pacifier basically.
  3. Listen, listen, and listen to the horse
  4. When you need to have guts, take a deep breath, and then go for it. There were so many times I didn’t think I could do what he needed me to do, but he let me even during our arguments. Of course Heather was nudging me in the background. I was so worried about making him sore, but even during our arguments their were moments of trust that gave me the go ahead and bring the toe back a bit further. He allowed me to do what I never thought I could do.
  5. Give hugs as needed
  6. Let the hoof speak to you. Everything you need to know is there in that hoof. If you don’t understand the language, go and ask for help. Hooves have their own language, and it takes awhile to learn it. I am far from fluent….I speak broken hoof language at this time, but I’m learning more and more words each day. Harley’s hooves scream at me sometimes, and sometimes like yesterday, they serenade me. Harley’s hooves are teaching me another language, and he taught me to ask for help.
  7. Be patient with yourself. When I lose patience with myself, Harley loses patience with me and it falls apart. This is when I walk away for a bit. I usually lose patience, when I can’t understand what his hoof is trying to tell me.
  8. Don’t lose patience with the horse when they’re having a melt down. You’re just shooting yourself in the foot. This is when the horse needs you to remain calm and let them know they are safe with you. Harley said that to me over and over, and I adjusted over and over for him. Listen, listen, and listen.
  9. Really pay attention to what the horse needs. Pete Ramey always asks, “How does the horse move? Is he comfortable?” Harley’s heels probably should come down a little bit more even though they are within the normal ranges of sole depth at the heel…but just a bit more on the high side. You don’t want horses to be stood up at the heel. Think about what it’s like walking around in high heels all day, 24 hours a day. Well, that’s what it’s like for horses that have high heels, and it causes so much dysfunction in the hoof. I tried taking his heels down a bit more, and he didn’t move nearly as well as when I kept them where he naturally wore them down to. Harley taught me to pay attention, and answer those questions that Pete asks each time I trim.
  10. Pete taught me a lot about the hairline at the coronary band of the hooves. It is always dynamic, always moving, and it is not an accurate tool to base the trimming of hooves upon. I’m always looking at Harley’s hairline, because if it goes up at any spot, I know I have a flare to work out. As soon as I do get it worked out, Harley’s hairline mellows out. That hairline is part of the hoof’s language. Pay attention to when it speaks to you. Harley has taught me that not all receding hairlines are about baldness.
  11. Harley will always have problems with his hooves. He probably has remodeling of his coffin bones…maybe a ski tip, and a negative palmar angle of the left hoof. The NPA has improved but not disappeared. I should get x-rays, but whenever I do, it is such BAD news. His hooves show me what is going on, and I don’t want the x-rays to confirm it just yet. I keep following Pete’s guidelines, and it’s amazing how well he is doing….how well he moves….how fast he can run with the thoroughbreds at twenty years old. His quarters always want to flare out….his toes still want to run away if I don’t trim him every two weeks in the summer, and these issues will probably never change, but I keep trimming him with the intention of creating that change. Harley supports this, and today none of the quarters in any of his hooves were flared out! Okay, probably because it’s winter and their hooves barely grow during the winter. However, this is the first time. Harley has taught me to not give up.
  12. Because of everything I do for Harley, rehabbing my thoroughbreds’ hooves has been a lot easier. He prepared me for them. He taught me for them and others, and he gave me the confidence to trim other horses besides mine.

He is a kick in the pants, always trying to pickpocket my phone, and loves to grab hold of my hood when I’m not looking. Harley took care of so many kids on trail rides, he took care of Chaco and I after losing Shandoka, and he is one of the best hoof teachers out there. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

If you want to learn more about barefoot trimming and Pete Ramey, please visit his website at http://www.hoofrehab.com. He has a page dedicated to several articles that he has written about diet, laminitis, hoof capsule rotation, etc. He also sells videos and the most detailed book out there on barefoot trimming. I highly recommend all of it.

OTTB Troubles With Trimming

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:

Here is a screenshot of it

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.