Horse Expo clinician: Communication is the key in preparing horses for the farrierWritten by Gayle Smith
Douglas – A horse learns respect by how it is treated, and by working with the horse ahead of time, horse owners can make their horses comfortable and pleasant for the farrier.
According to Robert Fowler, who has 37 years of experience shoeing and training horses, owners should spend time with their horses just talking to them and rubbing them down.
“Horses are sensitive animals that pick up on everything you do,” Fowler told a crowd of horse enthusiasts recently during the Big Wyoming Horse Expo held in Douglas April 30 through May 1. “They will learn both the good and bad based on how you act around them.”
The Evansville farrier encouraged the group to go home and spend more time with their horses – even small foals – rubbing them all over.
“While you are rubbing them, communicate with them about what you are doing. Be firm, yet gentle, and it will allow the horse to relax,” he explained.
Fowler used a horse during his presentation to demonstrate to the group how to rub the horse properly. Either a hand or small towel can be used to rub the horse on the neck, over the back and down the legs.
“Many horses have never been touched below the knee,” Fowler said, urging the group to rub the horse’s legs firmly.
“Also, by rubbing the legs you can detect any problems, like hotspots or sore tendons,” he explained. “The leg should be cool to the touch. If you feel any hotspots, those could be problem areas. Make sure to praise the horse while you rub their legs down. Then lift the toe, and rub the tendon there to get them ready for the farrier. It makes them relax because they really like the way that feels. They will get to where they automatically pick up their foot, and will be trained for life,” he said.
When working on the horse’s feet, Fowler said one of his first steps is to let the horse smell his stand. “It is a matter of respect,” he explained. “Horses put out scent with their feet.”
It is also important to let the horse smell him, he said, and then he starts rubbing it down. “I used to work under Chuck Sheppard,” he explained. “He used to say you can rub a horse broke.”
Fowler demonstrated how he rubs the horse before he trims its hooves. “I like to rub the leg all the way to the ground,” he said. “I want to get them comfortable with being touched, but I also want the horse to realize I am not going to take its leg from it. It is important to get the horse to relax before you start trying to trim its hooves,” he explained.
If a horse flinches or tries to kick, it is important to remain calm and show no emotion, Fowler continued, “They will feed off of how you respond and your emotions.”
“If the horse is having a bad day and everything is going wrong, do something with the horse that you know it will do right, even if it is just leading it forward or backing it up,” he said. “When it does it right, make sure and praise the horse.”
Over the years, Fowler has developed his own method of shoeing, which he calls the “bad, the old, and the young,” without getting hurt. He sits on his knees, where he can comfortably rest the horse’s hoof. “This method makes it much more comfortable for the horse, and for me,” he explained. “It is much easier on the back.”
Fowler said he also focuses on talking to the horse to keep its attention. “I originally developed this technique for old, arthritic horses who could no longer pick up their feet and hold them up very well,” he said. “Then I started using it on two-year-old horses at the racetrack who were fed eight pounds of grain a day.” Now Fowler uses it on every horse he works on.
“I like this method because I don’t have to fight the horse,” he explained. “I especially like it for first-time horses who have never had their feet trimmed. I start rubbing them, and usually they just melt in your hand. I like to make hoof trimming non-confrontational for the colt, and as relaxing as possible,” he explained.
Fowler said he has used this method for eight years now, and works on 2,000 to 3,000 horses each year. “I have never had a wreck with this method. But, it requires a whole different mindset,” he said.
When developing his method, Fowler said it took him awhile to find a way to hold the hoof so the horse couldn’t hurt him. With this method, if a horse wants to hurt him, the movement of its hoof will stand him straight up.
“I have found this is much easier on the back, but it is harder on the thighs because you are up and down a lot. It is also harder on the upper body,” he said.
Fowler left the group with a final thought. “It takes a lot longer to undo a bad experience, than to give the horse a good experience to start with,” he stated. “If you plan to work with your horse, remain calm and pleasant so they learn to respect you.”