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Horse shoeing problems

16 August 2011 No Comment

Horse shoeing problems
Laura Phelps-Bell has over 25 years experience in the equine industry as a trainer and instructor. Her background includes successfully competing in dressage, on the “A” Open circuit in hunter/jumpers, showing in many western events, management of several large training/boarding facilities and teaching equine management courses at the college level. More about Laura

Question
From: Wanda

My horse, who is now 8, has had shoes on in summer since he was 3. He used to be pretty good to shoe but has gradually been getting worse….to the point that we can’t get shoes on his back feet. The only thing he seems to mind is the pounding when the shoes are nailed. He has never really liked that and used to get a nervous twitch in his shoulder and flank when it was being done. He has since lost the twitch but has decided he should dance around switching his tail threatening to kick. I’ve had him since he was 6 months and I’ve never seen him abused by the farrier….usually, if he decided to grab his feet or anything, I would successfully discipline him with the lead shank chain over his nose. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t believe he has ever been hot nailed. My farrier was a bit nervous of him once he started acting up, but believed discipline wasn’t the answer. We decided to try another farrier with the same results. He will let me pick his feet up and pound on them…if he tries to pull away (which is rare) I give him a slap on the hind end and he listens. I asked this farrier to try disciplining him (thinking “it works for me”), but that only made things worse. We’ve tried twitching him with no luck. I thought about sending him to board at a farrier’s barn for a month so he could work with his feet but my farrier thought that might make things worse if the person got impatient with him. This horse has very nice feet which are done ever 6 weeks. He is usually very good natured and has never behaved this aggressively before.

Thank you,
Wanda

Answer
Sounds to me like your horse has something physical going on and he’s trying to tell you that something is making him uncomfortable or is out-and-out hurting. Whenever a horse goes from being fairly pleasant and easy to handle to becoming difficult or aggressive, many times it is not a training problem, its a physical problem and they’re telling you they hurt in the only way that they know how; by protesting through physical means such as kicking, dancing around, etc.

Some horses are what is called “tight behind.” What this means is that they don’t like to have their hind legs drawn too far out behind them. This can be caused by a few different things. One cause can be physical in that when the hind leg is taken out behind them, it causes their back muscles to be stressed and pulled and also stresses the stifle area. If your horse had somehow injured himself in his stall or corral by getting cast against the wall or fence, he could have pulled something in his back or hind legs that gets more stressed when the shoer is working on him for a while. It could be that by the time your shoer goes to nail the shoe on, your horse is in discomfort or pain from having the leg drawn out behind him for a lengthy period of time and when nailing the shoe on is when most shoers will have the hind leg drawn out behind the horse the farthest.

Another cause of a horse being “tight behind” is psychological, which still can be related to pain or discomfort, but can also be anxiety related. If its pain related, the horse will anticipate that when his leg is taken out behind him to be worked on, eventually it is going to start to hurt so he begins dancing around and pulling his foot away from the shoer so it won’t get to the point where it hurts. If the shoer can’t pull the leg out behind them, the leg or back won’t end up hurting. Some horses are also “tight behind” from a pure psychological standpoint in that they have fear and insecurity issues about a human having a hold of their leg and foot and stretching it out behind them where they feel that they can’t run away if they are threatened. They don’t like to relinquish their ability to flee by having the hind leg out in an unnatural position; that is, not underneath them where they can take off quicker if they need to. With your gelding, I feel that he’s demonstrated in the past that he didn’t always like having the rear feet shod but he mostly went along with it after some reprimands to behave. Currently, with the manifestation of more aggressive behavior, he might be trying to tell you that something is hurting him in his back or hind legs. The fact that he will let YOU pick up his hind feet and pound on them indicates to me that he doesn’t have a problem with a minute or so of having his hind legs and feet manipulated and you also probably don’t stretch the hind leg out as far as a shoer does. Its a longer period of time, as when a shoer works on him with the leg drawn out farther, that causes the discomfort and fatigue.

Rather then continue to “get after” him for behavior that may be pain related, I’d have a thorough examination done by your veterinarian to see if he can find any pain areas in your horses back or hind legs. Make sure too that the vet takes a good look at your horses hind feet to make sure there is no fever or heat evident in the hooves. While he’s at it, have him check out your horses front feet too. If after having a thorough examination it is determined that their is nothing physically wrong, or even if there is, there is a good training course of action that you can take for shoeing the hind feet. This can be rather awkward for your shoer, but when he works on your horses hind feet, have him not pull the hind leg stretched out behind your horse at all. Have your shoer let the horse hold the leg in as he removes the shoe, trims the hoof and resets the shoe. I’ve had a few horses that were “tight behind” because of discomfort, but also from a purely psychological standpoint and my good shoer allowed these horses to keep their leg under themselves as he did the work. By letting the horse hold the leg in and not stretched out behind, this satisfies the horse that has psychological issues because they don’t feel as if the shoer is taking their ability to flee away by pulling the leg back in an unnatural position. For a horse that may be in discomfort or pain, it doesn’t cause stress over the horses back or through their stifle area because the leg is not being stretched out behind and having joints, ligaments and muscles pulled on and stressed.

Over a period of time, most of these horses can gradually have the leg brought out farther behind them into the more “normal” shoeing position. It does take extra patience and work on the part of your shoer, but if it helps make the horse more comfortable and stops the moving around or aggressive behavior, its definitely worth it to work through this issue slowly and patiently.

Good Luck!
Laura Phelps-Bell

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