of a retired horse trainer can be really full of horses and yes, horse training! Of course, I AM a horse trainer and will be one to the day I pass this earth, there would be that . . .
Approaching the deep, sandy round pen at the ranch I work at part time, I smile as the Thoroughbred filly pricks her ears and strides directly to me in a happy “glad to see ya, bud” welcoming kind of way. I brush some sand off of her pretty bay coat, and she snuffles me in greeting.
Today, I have my tools and we are going to work on those back feet. It’s a challenge, getting the feet on a young horse picked up in an open area when you don’t tie them, at all. Baby racehorses are protected from injury at all possible cost even to the extreme that while I teach them to release to pressure early on, we don’t tie them up for fear if they DID happen to get worried and pull back, the slightest injury to leg or vertebrae could cost them the split second of speed they will need for a successful racing career.
I don’t want a happy hoof popping me on the head in quick reaction either. I prepare the filly I am calling Kinzi (she doesn’t have a name yet) by getting her okay with touch all over her body. She started out very goosey and ticklish, when we first met. Everything bothered her and a touch to the girth area was worth feet flying and airs above ground. Would not want to be the farrier underneath all that! Not to mention, since it is ALL about riding, when time comes to saddle, it should be a non issue as we are taking care of the scary stuff early on. . .
We’ve been at this a few times now, and she shakes her pretty head at me and dances a little but it’s more play than fear or annoyance. I allow the play and bring her back to where I want her. Kinzi has not yet learned the value of conserving energy and I let her spend hers as she will. Standing still will become more attractive to her if she figures it out on her own rather than me trying to force it upon her.
I shake out my long rope with the big ring on the end. She carries it across her back, at first eyeing the snake like thing with suspicious, flirty eyes. “Oh my, what’s THAT!”
I am calm, my body language very casual, breathing deep and easy. In short order, she’s walking around me, head hanging softly at the end of her neck like an old cowpony at the end of a long day. She wears the big loop on her butt and then I let her walk into it with one slender ankle.
On older horses, I would not have anything on the head, the rope is long enough they can have the circumference of the round pen and not get in trouble with it. If they need to run or be upset, they can, I have control of the direction they travel before I do this, and I don’t let them get tangled. Worse to worse, if things went really south, I can drop my end and pick it up again when things are back level again. The big ring keeps the rope from biting and locking against the ankle and the smooth weave keeps it from burning. I would not do this with just any old rope I had laying around . . . oh yeah, and no gloves. Too much pressure will ruin this deal and who I learned it from says if I have to wear gloves to get it done, I am already applying too much . . .
On the baby racehorse, again, think THOUSANDS of dollars already invested, just getting her on the ground and alive this long, I keep her halter on and control of her head. It actually interferes in the process and makes it take longer, but there is no way I am going to let anything look remotely like the filly could be harmed in the process that I can possibly avoid.
One of the owners pulls up on the Gator and is watching curiously. They don’t question much of what I do with the babies, anymore. The results, two years running, have been very clear to them. Her brow wrinkles though, in concern.
“Can’t that piss a colt off and make it want to fire?”
I shrug, “yeah, probably, but not more than the farrier trying to grab a hold and better she kick the rope, that won’t hurt her but she can’t get away from than taking out your man, or pissing HIM off so that he whacks her one.” She nods, she’s a horseperson and she gets this in it’s entirety.
There are no full blown panics, no pyrotechnics. Before I advance to this step I have picked up all four feet, first using my stick and string, holding the end of the string so that if a horse does get really worried, none of us are locked in a wreck. Persistence, timing and feel always pay off. When Kinz first felt pressure from the string on her ankle, she set her weight against it, sinking the hoof into the ground. All I do is wait. Exasperated, she picks the foot up to get away from the pesky tension. I release. Light bulb for the horse IF my timing is where it needs to be . . .
That’s how it starts. Then I ask the foot to come up higher. Then, to hang there and wait. Why even go to the rope then, a person might justifiably ask? Because I can’t tie her up, and I have no holder. I have to be SURE she is okay with hanging that back foot in the air, before I reach down there, exposing my head and spinal column to a possibly dancing set of hooves.
We do the deal, she does fire a few times, telling me she does not HAVE to pick up or hold up her foot if she does not WISH to. Again, more shrugging from me. Whatever, Kinz. Bet you do.
Then the foot can be moved. Can be picked up and extended back or to the side. She can be led by the hind foot. I reach down, running my hand down an unflinching hind leg and pick up her foot. I remove the rope. That’s the key, they gotta be gentle enough I feel okay to do that last step. Once we are there, it’s golden.
I have used this method on the babiest of babies, so easy, and some pretty tough rank older horses that would take aim when they saw you coming. To date, result has been the same. Reach down unflinching hind leg, quietly pick up foot (they often begin to offer it, not the same at all as lifting to whack you, be sure you know the difference if you try this out) and remove the rope.
I first saw this done on one of Buck’s colt starting video’s. He talked about the mental change that takes place as a horse learns to surrender the freedom of it’s feet to a human. It’s huge.
There was a whole lot more yesterday, but this is enough story for one blog .