This whole snow, then cold, then more snow, then even more cold thing is putting a real kink into my riding time this winter. For those of you that are like “well yeah, it’s winter…” last year was not HALF as bad as this year is. My barn also does not have an indoor, which I don’t mind all that much, except for when it gets like this.
So naturally, with all of this non-riding time, I’ve had to be creative about how to work with my horses. I currently own a 4, soon to be 5, year old Arabian that I purchased in 2012. When I got him, he was 3, and barely knew anything. Aside from being halter broke and knowing how to be lead around (mostly), he did not know as much as most 3 year old horses would know. Oh, did I mention he still was in tact? I purchased him from someone at my previous barn who decided he didn’t want to put the money into training him anymore and was going to bring him to the auction if he couldn’t find a buyer. Obviously I got suckered in and found myself with a barely broke 3 year old stallion. Oops.
Anyway, it turned out “picking up feet” was on the list of things my horse did not understand. When I moved to my new barn, my new trainer and I delved into a long, long process of getting my horse to understand what picking up his feet was. This turned into days of him turning in circles around us as we tried to get him to shift his weight to the other side so we could get a leg up. Then he decided that he was just going to be difficult about one foot. Then he decided he was going to kick out when we tried to do his back feet. It goes on and on. Once he (reluctantly) gave in to the idea of having his feet handled and picked out, I made it a mission to pick his feet up at least once a day, even if they had been cleaned out earlier. It began with me having to have someone experienced hold him as he tended to dance around (we were still working on the whole crosstie thing). Eventually, I was able to hold him and pick his front feet up at the same time. He was much better with his back feet, oddly enough. Some days would seem like a backwards step, and I would get very frustrated, especially since I knew that he knew how to pick his feet up. I also expect my horses to stand for grooming and tacking in their stalls if needed, so I wasn’t used to this whole fussy baby thing.
This winter came along, and even though he had gotten much better at picking up his feet, there still was the occasional struggle. He would shift his weight so that you could only hold him up for so long, or he would dance around you if being held, or dance on the crossties to where I was worried he was going to hurt himself. Given that there was not much riding time available due to the polar vortex and all the snow, I decided that ground work was in order, so I was at least doing something for his training. Although I do not recommend treat training for most tasks, I decided that I would try giving him a treat while I had each of his front legs up. So basically, he picks up his foot, and he gets a treat. I did not do this every time, but I did it enough for there to be a positive association. I also never let him see me with the hoof pick. It stayed in my pocket until after his leg was up. I would pick it out quickly and put his foot down before he even knew what happened.
I’m happy to say that he is MUCH better (knock on wood). Now all I have to do is run my hand down his leg and rest it on his fetlock, he immediately shifts his weight back and picks up whichever leg I have my hand on. No fighting. No nonsense. He does get a bit impatient if it’s up for too long, but not having to deal with him dancing around and being a complete ninny is such a relief. I’m also quite proud of myself since this is my first baby horse (don’t worry – I am working with two knowledgeable trainers), and I’ve been able to work with him on some things, even if they’re not completely earth-shattering. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I am able to make an impact on his training. Considering what he was when I got him, I think that he has made some good progress in the past year and a half.
Happy hoof picking!