Shoeing Problems - OTTB

   Question:
   I ask you this question, because I have seen articles of yours on many aspects that are related to my problem: Off the Track Thoroughbreds, farrier work and training.
   About a year ago, I bought a wonderful OTTB mare. She was trained on the track for two years, but never actually raced. The first time my farrier trimmed her feet, she was very well behaved and showed no issues whatsoever. The second time my farrier came out, she was supposed to get shoes... but that didn't happen. The horse was a fury, she reared, flung herself on the ground, pawed and kicked. The shoes didn't even get anywhere near her, my farrier could only partially trim one front hoof (after 3 hours of fighting!). My farrier then tied the horse's front leg up and let her struggle for about ten minutes - after which she "surrendered", but the horse had rope-burn and was too sore to shoe. After this, my farrier tried to shoe her again, but the same battle arose - after 5 hours, we had her shoes on. Now, I sedate her lightly with an oral sedative for any farrier visit. She still puts up a fight, but she is groggy and all goes well.
   The horse's issue is not with picking up her foot - she is very good about giving her feet - but with having the farrier clamp her front hoofs between their legs. She is actually quite fine with her back feet.
   Do you have any ideas as to what caused this problem? Do you have any ideas or suggestions other than sedating her?
   I would be grateful for any advice.

   Answer:
   I came across similar problems, including horses coming from the track. As far as the track horses go, in most cases in the past, like 20 years ago or so, just about all of them were well behaved for shoeing. The fact that you get horses from the track that behave poorly when being shod merely bears witness to the decadence of horsemanship even on the tracks, as well as to the spread of incompetence. In short there is no excuse why a horse should behave badly when being shod, unless there is some pain or someone messed the animal up, or the horse is simply green and unfamiliar with the process. The latter of course does not seem to be the problem since the horse was at the track for some two years as you are saying.

   In my article about the OTTB I am pointing out the use of hormones and other drugs on the track, and that in time, once when off the track, the behavior of the horse may change. In any case you need to understand the horse's behavior and what is happening in order to improve the situation and have the horse accept the shoeing process.

   It is not uncommon that horses present no problems when picking and cleaning the feet, but once the hammering on the foot starts many have objections and resent it. Furthermore putting the horse's front leg between one's legs puts the horse into the entrapment situation, hence the backing up or rearing and such. In short, the leg between the legs feels to the horse as being stuck, sort of like in a fence and such, and the horse responds the same way, pulling back or rearing up trying to free its leg that is "stuck".
   In addition to that there may be some pain involved when nailing or when pulling the front leg out to the side. Fighting the horse in such situations is just about the worse thing one can do, because things will go only worse as the times goes on.


   This is fairly sensitive issue to deal with, and there are hardly any instructions on how to solve this since it all depends on timely and suitable responses to the horse and its responses. One must also be aware of the attitude of the animal if it is only fear, or if the fear also includes resentment (anger if you will), because the mix of the two requires different management than if there is only fear present. When it comes to mares, in most cases, any kind of force ends up making things worse, unless it is "justified" in the mind of the horse.

   Since the mare presents no problems in shoeing behind, then it is not related to the fear of hammering, but rather to the entrapment feeling that the horse experiences or to some pain that may cause the reaction of the horse. In short, the mare wants to have all her legs on the ground to feel safe, and the front leg "stuck" between the farrier's legs brings forth the feeling of insecurity/entrapment.
   In such cases I usually do only what the horse feels comfortable with, and try to adopt my way to the animal's comfort as much as possible. In many cases, especially the OTTB, I found out that there was often some pain involved, and by putting the leg between my legs and pulling it out, the animal showed obvious discomfort and backed out.
   So please check the horse for possible pain by picking the leg up, then pulling it out, flexing the pastern and then hammer/tap on the hoof.


   If the horse has sore ankles or feet it will refuse the hammering. Many OTTB when left without shoes will have sore front feet, especially sensitive when nailing the shoes. This should not be ignored and is fairly a common problem with the OTTB. If ignored we can ruin the horse for the shoeing process for a long time.
   If the horse has some issues with the knees he will refuse the pulling the leg out to the side while it is bent. If and when one is ignorant of these pains and discomfort and fights the horse, he can mess up the horse very badly. If the horse presented problem in shoeing/hammering both front feet than it is more likely sore feet.


   Now if you have eliminated all possible pain and discomfort, then what remains is the entrapment issue, which too can be resolved. In both cases, the pain or entrapment, the farrier has to adjust his way of shoeing the animal, and in most of my cases I just shoe and trim the horse in one hand (not between the legs), which is somewhat more difficult but can be done. In the case of pain I will try to hold the leg there where it hurts the least, and in the case of entrapment I hold it up high, but give the horse frequent breaks so in time the horse adjusts and accepts the process. By breaks I mean I hold the foot up for just 30-60 seconds or so and then put it down, and then pick it up again. Eventually as the horse gets more accustomed I will prolong the up time, obviously. One should also pay attention to the animal when it asks for the leg, in which case one responds in a suitable way.

   It is simply impossible for me to tell you how to deal with the situation, because all the answers in what to do should come to you, and to the farrier, from the horse. However, rarely problems like this are solved with fighting, especially there where mares are concern. And so your email merely describes the mishandling of the situation.
   Remember always to check for pain when a horse refuses something, as in most cases the refusal of horses to comply is genuinely legitimate and justified. As much as you hope and expect the horse to adjust to your ways, you need to adjust to his ways first.
   This is why I have said that a horseman must be first and foremost considered of the well-being of the horse, as well as, what the animal feels.

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek