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C. E. Bentley Farrier Service
The Foal's First Trim
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The Foal's First Trim
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The methods described here work well on any age horse. 
Be kind to your horseshoer...
make sure your horses are nice to work on. 
A shoer can do a better job and charge less if a horse
is good to handle.

You want your foal's first hoof trim to be quiet, calm, and pleasant for all. Here is a step-by-step method that will do the trick.

Before you begin:

The foal can be handled with the mare turned loose in a large stall or small pen if the mare is safe to be around. The mare can also be held on a lead, tied or placed in an adjacent pen or stall. You will be able to judge which will work best depending on the mares temperament and training, and on the available facilities. Keeping the mare and foal calm is essential for training to be effective.

The footing must be soft and not slippery. Dirt or sand is better than bedding on stall mats. Concrete or other hard surfaces are not acceptable. The work area should be free of hooks, nails, shelves, waterers, buckets, dogs, tools, wheelbarrows, or anything else that can cause injury.

You can work alone if you are comfortable doing so, or have one person holding the foal on a lead rope and another handling the feet.

How long for each lesson?:

That depends on the foal. Keep it short and end on a good note. The following lessons will be accomplished in several sessions. Ten minutes per session will be about right. Keep the goal for each step in mind, but dont focus on achieving the goal in a set time frame. What is most important is to be aware of the foals level of acceptance and to have each step solid before moving on.

Restraint:

Until the foal is very happy to pick up his feet and comfortable standing tied, he should not be tied during hoof handling. He will be overwhelmed and will probably pull back and jump forward, possibly injuring himself or the handler. If the foal is halter trained he can be held on a lead by a tactful handler without too much pressure. The person holding the foal should always be on the same side of the foal as the person working on the feet, so that if the foal jumps his head can be tipped toward the handlers, causing the hindquarters to step away rather than into the person handling the feet.

If a little foal must have the feet or legs worked on before being halter trained, she can be held with one arm around the chest and the other hand around the base of the tail, close to the body. The tail can be injured if it is held farther from the body and bent up over the back too much. A strap or loop of rope can be placed low on the foal's neck, at the withers and around the chest and used as a handhold. Holding the foal against a fence is a help. Again, restraint should be tactful and minimal, keeping the foal still with a minimum of pressure and allowing her to find a way to stand comfortably.

For these lessons, halter training should already be in place. The foal will be better able to balance and to focus on the hoof-handling lessons if he has learned the basics. He should wear a halter comfortably, and be able to bend his neck towards the handler and step his hindquarters away when asked with pressure and correctly-timed release on the lead rope. Work on basic bending and stepping over exercises for a few minutes is a good preparation for further training in each lesson.

Step-by-step lessons build confidence:

Step One -

Goal: The foal is comfortable having her legs touched.

What to do: Rub or stroke each leg from the shoulders or hindquarters in progressively increasing steps until the whole leg to the hoof can be touched. The handler can sense how far is too far for each increment. The idea is to expose the foal to a new sensation without overwhelming her. Dont dwell on a spot that is uncomfortable; back off before the foal tenses and then try to go a bit farther the next time. Brushing the legs is helpful also, using a soft brush and the gradual approach. Remember, this may take several lessons. There is no rush; youre on foal-time here. The lessons can be spread out in brief moments as you do barn chores and check the horses.

Step Two - Goal: The foal will begin to shift his weight off each leg calmly.

What to do: As you run your hand down the leg, briefly hold your hand around the leg, with a little pressure. Often the foal will lift the hoof, sometimes in irritation, sometimes cooperatively or experimentally. Either way, no attempt should be made yet to hold the foot up. The goal here is just to get the foal accustomed to shifting her weight and briefly lifting the foot without upset. Gently let go right as the foal begins to lift the foot. Once the foal lifts each foot easily and briefly, the hoof can be held for an instant before being released. The handler will know when the foal is consistently comfortable. Moving on before this point is reached will create tense and fretful hoof handling experiences in the future.

Step Three - Goal: The foal will lift the foot when asked with slight pressure.

What to do: It is easy and tempting with a foal to simply pry up the foot. This unbalances, upsets, and can hurt the foal. A better way is to teach the foal to shift her weight and and lift the foot herself.

On the front feet, the hand nearest the foal holds the mane near the withers, very gently suggesting a shift of weight to the other front foot. The other hand encircles the leg with the thumb pressing or scratching just above the fetlock. The moment the foal thinks of lifting the leg, the pressure of the thumb is released. This process proceeds in stages until the foal will lift the foot when asked by the pressure of the thumb.

Over time, the handler will hold the foot longer as the foal can tolerate it. The hind feet are normally easier than the front. The same is done as with the front feet, except the hand is rested on the foal's hip. The youngster can be placed along a fence or wall if need be to prevent stepping away. It is important with front or hind feet to notice how the foal is standing and to help him to stand his other three legs in a balanced way so that when any foot is lifted he will not feel unstable. Once the foal is comfortable with having each foot lifted and held for about ten seconds, it is time for the next step.

Step Four - Goal: The foal is relaxed about having the hoof held up and worked on.

What to do: Once each foot can be lifted easily, you can tap on the hoof with your fingers and later a small hammer, rasp the foot lightly, and anything else you can think up. A brush or hoof pick works fine as a pretend farrier tool, and the foal wont know the difference. Do these things every chance you get, for just a few minutes per session. The time taken now will be repaid a hundredfold in the horse's future.

Tools, tricks, and troubleshooting:

It helps to hold just the hoof, not the leg, after picking up the foot. This feels less threatening to the foal. It is important to hold the hoof low and comfortably under the body. It is easy to hurt the foal by holding her foot too high or out to the side.

With the little foal just beginning to have its feet handled, we proceed step- by-step in allowing it to be comfortable. With an older foal that has had enough handling to be expected to be good about its feet, it is eventually appropriate to hold up the foot, even if there is a struggle. Every attempt should be made to hold the foot in a comfortable position, firmly without tension, and without allowing the foal to pull away. This often happens with weanlings or yearlings that haven't been handled for awhile. With a good foundation the youngster will soon remember his earlier training.

If a foal kicks, just calmly hold the foot until the kicking stops. This is with a foal whose feet have been handled for awhile. If it is too hard to hold the foot, a short, soft rope or strip of gunny sack can be twisted around the leg at first. Punishment for kicking should not be used unless the foal is very aggressive and not improving. A single, prompt slap is enough, with the lesson continuing immediately.

Rewarding the foal by scratching his neck or withers almost always helps him to feel safer. Treats such as a bite of grain will help relax the very nervous foal, but care should be taken that it not become pushy and distracted by wanting the grain. No treats for a confident, nippy foal.

A little trick for the horse who pulls against you with his leg, or tries to pull his hoof from your hand after it seems he should accept it being held, is this. When putting the hoof down, proceed very slowly, and attempt to rest the toe of the hoof on the ground for a moment, with the horse relaxed. As this is done over time, he will relax his shoulder or hip muscles and stop pulling.

Babys First Trim:

With a foundation as described in place, the foal's first trim will be a snap. It is to be hoped that the farrier will take a minute to scratch the foal and get acquainted. It will help to pick up each foot in turn to remind the foal what is expected, and to relax between feet. Each foot should be worked on only in small increments, letting the foal rest between using the hoof knife, nippers and rasp. Again, great care should be taken to hold the hoof as low and under the body as possible. If all of this care is taken in the early stages with the foal, she will be easy and pleasant to handle for her entire life. The respect shown the sensitive foal will be repaid in a harmonious relationship with a trusting and responsive horse. And isn't that what its all about?

 Foal's First Trim - Copyright 1998 by Rebecca Highlander..  I'm glad to share reprint rights if asked.  Articles published on the Internet are protected by Internet copyright law, plagiarizers beware.

                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C.E. Bentley Farrier Service
(541) 659-3582
 

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