TRAIN THE TRAINER

In management courses, the first step is often to train the trainer. I run ABC Hoof Care Courses for horse owners, enabling them to recognise a balanced hoof and, if they wish, to trim or even shoe their own horses. Sometimes I think I should go back a step or two, and teach horse owners some basic horse sense too. Maybe I could call it Train the Owner. At a recent course, all the participants were trimming the hoof in preparation for the shoe. One participant was having trouble with her horse, and repeatedly belted it with a rasp. “If you do that again, I will start crying,” I said. “But she is a bitch,” said the owner in indignation.

I preach total non-violence in shoeing horses, and will not tolerate it from any of my pupils. In these modern times it is no longer acceptable practice to smack a child and it should be equally unacceptable to hit an animal.

On seeing new horses, I am often told by my clients that their horse doesn’t like men or has been ‘hit by the farrier’. I appreciate this input, as it enables me to make friends with the horse and re-educate it. Invariably, after I finish shoeing it, without any problems, the owner will say in perplexity ‘But he always plays up for the regular farrier’. Is it any wonder.

Another problem I see continually is the talkative owner. I am pretty relaxed with horses, and don’t find it difficult to shoe the horse, be watchful for the horse’s next move, and listen to the owner at the same time. However, shoeing a horse is a pretty dangerous business, and owners should stop and ask themselves just how much concentration they can expect from their farrier. I had one very talkative owner recently, which was OK while I was working on the front legs, but when I got to the back legs I had to ask her to stop talking. The horse had a history of not allowing anyone near the back legs, and this was only the second time that he had been shod behind.

A talkative owner of a different kind is the aggressive owner. One horse I was shoeing recently was moving a little, and the owner, who was holding the lead rope, started yelling at it, which made the horse anxious so that it moved around even more. “It’s OK,” I said, “You just let me talk to the horse, and you just be quiet and pretend you are a post.” The owner was happy with that, the horse started to settle down then the wife appeared in the distance. “You stupid mongrel Z&#X*%Z@ horse,” she yelled as she approached, “I’ll teach you to behave.” The horse went into anxiety overdrive, so I then had to persuade her to leave it to me, and we eventually reached a peaceful understanding. There was never a problem with the horse, who was quite relaxed while being shod, but the problem lay with the owners.

I have to shamefacedly admit that I am quite phobic about having my toenails cut – I don’t like to think about the psychological parallels of that! I really have to grit my teeth and summon all my courage when I know that I have to get out the nail clippers. Visiting the podiatrist brings me into a lather of sweat, despite his gentle and expert professional manner. He and I have reached a peaceful understanding that I can yell at him as much as I like as long as I don’t hit him. Now if he was to yell at me and yell at his assistant, I would be tearing down the door to escape from him. Farriery is no different – the horse needs to have complete faith in the farrier.

It puzzles me that so many farriers will belt a horse with a rasp while shoeing – it only increases the problem for the same farrier next time. I can only assume it is born out of frustration, but I do wish more horse owners would stand up for their horse and reprimand the farrier, or, better still, not use him again. Farriers justify this behaviour by saying ‘It didn’t hurt him, and it made him take notice’. I wonder if they treat their children at home the same way.

On the rare occasion that a horse is really playing up, and won’t be persuaded to be nice, I have no hesitation in calling it quits for the day rather than persisting and spoiling a beautiful friendship. One such horse I shod recently had been moved to unfamiliar ground on a different property, and was surrounded by kangaroos and emus. Her eyes were like saucers, and her concentration was zero; it would have been a foolish move to persist in shoeing her. I called it quits and made another appointment to give her time to acclimatise.