Improving you Horse while Helping your Farrier

by Marion Shearer, TTEAM International News

published in the ANVIL Magazine, June 1997

Karen wanted a horse for dressage or eventing and she thought it best to start with a young horse without problems. Kohl was an 18-month Thoroughbred/Percheron cross already nearly 16 hands high, with lovely natural movement. However, he quickly developed a nasty habit of "curling" around the person leading him and then sharply swinging his head to the right, nearly pulling the person off his feet.

Taking him to or from his paddock was not enjoyed by the barn staff and efforts to discipline him had only made his attitude truculent. He was quickly learning just how big and strong he was. Finally, Karen was referred to me when her blacksmith refused to try any further to trim Kohl's feet.

I only had a few weeks until the farrier was due back. Not only did I need to make it possible for the farrier to do his job, but it was important to help Kohl become a joy for Karen to own.

These pictures show some ground exercises that help to improve balance, coordination and focus. We believe that poor balance is a major cause of horses being difficult to trim and shoe.
Image coming soon!.....Image coming soon!
1 & 2. The Star consists of three or four poles with one end of the pole set up on a bale or tire. The pole ends on the ground are about 4' apart. This exercise helps promote lateral flexibility, balance and coordination.
Image coming soon!
3. There are many ways to use walk-over poles. In this exercise the poles are raised on alternate ends, the other end on the ground. This helps the horse to coordinate the front and rear end, teaching focus and balance. The distance between the poles should be 4' to 8' depending on the horse and the height that the poles are raised.
Image coming soon!
4. Although using a wooden platform is a preparation for trailer loading, it is also very effective for preparing a horse for the farrier, by improving the horse's confidence and balance. We find that there is often a correlation with a horse having some difficulty with trailers and with the farrier.

Step 1. Observing Kohl, I was struck with his extremely lack of coordination, possibly attributed to his rapid growth. He never halted with a leg at each corner. In fact, no matter how you tried to back him up, or bring him forward, the moment he stopped moving he shifted his feet to spread them apart again. First I needed to teach him to balance himself standing on four legs; otherwise how could I expect him to stand on only three?

I started by using the lead shank with the 30" chain which some people are reluctant to use because they have seen horses "shanked" while wearing a chain. Even without using a chain, shanking a horse by jerking on the halter causes the horse to raise its head and drop its back, a reactive posture that puts it out of balance and often causes further bad behavior.

The TTEAM method of putting on the chain lead shank transfers the pressure to the noseband and not the sensitive nose bone - and it is never used to punish. This approach allows me to teach a horse to respond to very light signals on the noseband, making communication much clearer, including later when he feels a similar signal from the noseband of his bridle.
Image coming soon!
5. We use a stiff dressage whip to stroke the horse's front and back legs from the top all the way to the ground and then tap the hooves with both ends of the whip. This method helps to ground a nervous, unbalanced, unfocused horse. We also ask the horse to take one step forward and then one step back, to develop coordination and balance.

Together with the lead shank, I use a stiff 4' dressage whip. The results you can achieve with these two tools are so amazing that the whip is often referred to as a wand. Often people think of a whip only as a source of punishment rather than an extension of their arm. By thinking of the whip as a wand, it allows people to use this tool constructively. You now have the ability to safely control and teach - even a bully like Kohl - because you can give a variety of clear, gentle signals without risk of pulling the horse out of balance.

These are only two of many useful TTEAM techniques making it possible to teach a horse to focus and concentrate, to respect your space and stay back, to develop self-carriage and self- control, to improve eye and hoof coordination, depth perception, balance and rhythm, and to fully utilize its athletic potential.

Step 2. I walked Kohl through a series of ground exercises, using several different TTEAM leading positions, each one designed to teach him a different skill. I have found these gymnastic exercises useful in improving coordination at all levels of training with most horses learning these skills in only one or two sessions, saving their owners a lot of time. Asking Kohl to take only one or two steps at a time, with constant starts and stops and turns back and forth around poles on the ground, helped his nervous system make many rapid adjustments. Stroking over his body and down his legs with the 4' wand helped him to develop a clearer mental map of his body and remind him where his legs were, while tapping each hoof with the whip brought awareness down to his feet. When Kohl was halting squarely, I was ready to move on to picking up the feet.

Step 3. The problem started when he was asked to pick up a foot. Instead of refusing to pick it up, Kohl lifted his foot the moment his leg was touched. He then promptly lost his balance and either tried to snatch the foot back (often rearing up) or knelt down on whoever was still trying to hold onto it. Good self-carriage is one of the cornerstones in developing athleticism, so I want the horse to learn to balance himself at all times. Therefore, contrary to what we have all been taught at one time or another, I never lean into a horse to push his weight onto another foot.

To prepare Kohl to balance, I began by stroking all the legs with the wand and reminding him which leg he needed to move first by tapping it. I then ran my hand down the leg I wanted and gave a precise signal with my thumbnail to pick it up. (Teach your horse to wait for a definite signal; otherwise, he learns to respond reflexively whenever his leg is touched - very annoying if you are doing something else, like putting on a leg wrap.) If he did not immediately move his legs to balance like a tripod, I did not continue to pick up the hoof, but reminded him of the priority again by gently tapping the leg to be moved.

Image coming soon!
6. Leg exercises can be use as part of hoof cleaning. Support the fetlock joint in one hand and the hoof with the other. Draw several circles, in both directions, circles parallel to the ground with the hoof, even with the other knee. Continue to spiral down even with the opposite fetlock joint, and then, as possible, teach the horse to rest its foot on the ground.
Image coming soon!
7. Resting the horse's hoof on the ground, toe down, helps to relax the horse's shoulder which makes it easier for the horse's foot to be held by the farrier. Be sure these exercises are done without forcing the circle to be too big. In this work, less is more and the freedom will come if it is not forced.

Image coming soon!
8. The hind leg circles are done by keeping the horse's leg under his body rather than pulled out to the side. Circles are started at whatever height is comfortable for the horse, even with the other hind leg - a little in front of the other hind leg and slightly behind it. These exercises will help free the horse's hip and make it easier for both farrier and horse.

Step 4. What often makes life difficult for the farrier is that we usually only pick up a hoof to clean it. We do not teach our horses patience, and how to balance when the leg is moved after it is picked up. I continued Kohl's education using some TTEAM leg exercises. Supporting the fetlock and hoof in a horizontal position, I moved the entire leg in very small circles which I quickly spiraled down to the ground. Putting the foot down before he lost his balance avoided getting into a wrestling match. I gradually increased the length of time and the size of the circles, and soon Kohl could stand at liberty in the arena while I picked up and circled each of his legs.

These leg exercises only take about the same length of time you take to clean the hooves, and are an excellent way to loosen up a horse before or after exercise. I also use them regularly to keep my horse's shoulders even, so that my saddle sits squarely. It is easy to identify a need for these - for example, in the hindquarters and groin, if the hind foot is snatched up and held tightly when first picked up. In fact, if you experience spasmodic jerking in any of the legs while you are cleaning the hooves, chances are the horse is not being bad, but that his muscles are a little too tight.

Step 5. Kohl also needed to be taught to stand quietly in the aisle on crossties without either breaking them or his halter.
Image coming soon!
"Taming the Tiger." This exercise can be used to teach horses to cross-tie safely. It gives them parameters without a restraint. It is very effective with horses that have trouble standing still as a result of poor balance or lack of patience. It keeps the handler from distracting the horse and interfering with the horse's balance.

I began by using "Taming the Tiger," a method Linda Tellington-Jones (founder of TTEAM) developed so that she and the staff at a zoo could safely handle a Canadian lynx (see illustration). I have used it with great effect in working with potentially dangerous horses, as well as teaching horses not to pull back when tied. This is a "running" crosstie, where both the leadshank and opposing rope are held in one hand and the horse is not tied hard and fast. Give the horse room by not crowding it close to the wall. If the horse pulls back, go with it. With nothing tight to pull against, the horse usually stops almost immediately and can be brought forward again.

To finish, I tied Kohl on long crossties using a single strand of twine which, if necessary, would snap quickly and not let him realize he had broken anything. A thick rope was tied across the aisle about two feet behind him and above the height of his hocks. If he backed up on the ties, he would touch the rope and it would remind him to step forward again. Kohl soon got the idea that I wanted him to stay where I put him.

The day the farrier came, everyone was understandably a little anxious. But Kohl made us all proud of him as he stood quietly to be trimmed. These were major steps in creating a well- balanced, useful horse. He has been trimmed regularly since, without any recurring problems, and today is a great family favorite - the kind of horse you would love to take home with you, if only his owner would ever part with him.

Marion Shearer is a holistic animal specialist. She has worked with horses across Canada, the US, Scandinavia and Germany and has over 12 years' experience as a successful TTEAM practitioner. Marion works with clients at all levels of experience. She can be contacted in Toronto, Canada, at 416/491-6673.

Return to the Farrier Articles listing page.

Return to the ANVIL Online Table of Contents for June, 1997.