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Holding horse for farrier

From: Carlos

Dear Jessica, please accept my grateful thanks. I hope you will answer this question, but even if you don't, you have already helped me more than anyone else in my life with horses. I have your new book The Horse Behavior Problem Solver and it is the most useful book I own about horses, and I have a lot of books about horses! I looked in the archives and also in your book for an answer to this question, but could not find anything, so I hope that you will answer it here.

I have several young horses at my farm and they are nice horses but typical young horses, you know what I mean, sometimes they get excited and jump around a little bit. They are usually well behaved but as my father taught me and I teach my own children, you should always stay alert when you are handling or riding a horse no matter how calm the horse is, and how well you know it. This has kept me out of trouble a lot of the time, and also my children.

Now you are probably wondering just what is my horse problem! Well it's this. My farrier is a young man who is just starting out in the business. He came recommended by my old farrier who retired a few months back. He brought this young farrier with him on several visits to introduce him to customers and so that we could meet him and watch him work. He is new to the business as I told you. He seems to be a good farrier who knows what he is doing, but my horses are used to their old farrier who is a very easy going kind of man, he moves slow and he talks to the horses all the time when he works on their feet. This new young man is not as friendly or easy with horses and he moves faster. I'm sure they will all get used to him and he isn't rough with them or anything like that, only he is different so they aren't as relaxed and quiet with him yet.

I always hold my horses for the farrier and talk to him about their hooves and other things, because I think it is safer. Also I want to be there whenever anybody is working on my horses. In all the years I have owned horses I never really thought about which side I would stand on to hold them for the farrier, and my old farrier never said anything about this. The new farrier wants me to stand on the same side of the horse that he is working on. It seems to me this isn't such a good idea because I might be in his way, and also if the horse spooks it would be better to have one person on each side of it for control. He says he was taught that it's safer the way he does it with me standing on the same side as him, but when I asked him why it was safer he said he was just taught that it was safer, nobody said why. Can you tell me if this is true, and if it really is safer, why is it safer? I know there is always something more to be learned about horses, but this has me confused. If a horse spooks, I'm going to handle that the same way no matter what side of him I'm standing on.

Thank you again, Carlos

Hi Carlos! Thank you very much for the kind words about HORSE-SENSE and the HORSE BEHAVIOR PROBLEM SOLVER. I'm delighted to know that you've found them both so useful.

Your new farrier's request that you stand on the same side of the horse is actually a very sensible one. He's right, it's safer that way.

If one of your horses spooks whilst you're holding it, what's your first reaction? As an experienced horseman, you're certainly not going to drop the lead rope, and you're not going to hit the horse - you'll calmly pull the horse's nose toward you, get its attention back on you, tell it to settle down, and then talk to it reassuringly. So far, so good. But when you add a farrier to this situation, you've got another human bending or squatting near one or more of your horse's feet, and that's a dangerous position to be in when a horse spooks or steps sideways suddenly or swings its hindquarters sideways.

If there's a problem, you're automatically going to turn the horse's head towards your own body. Ask yourself this question: If your horse moves his body when his head is turned - even a little bit - in one direction, in which direction will his hindquarters move? In the opposite direction! If your horse is shifting around and you turn his nose to the left, his next shift will take his hindquarters to the right. If you turn his nose to the right, his next shift will move his hindquarters to the left. If he's nervous, or if something has startled him, he'll make that movement in a split second, and there won't even be time for you to say "Look out!". And even if your horse is sweet and kind and wonderfully trained, he's not going to tell himself "Oops, I shouldn't swing my rear end that way, I'll crash into the farrier" - horses don't think like that. He'll just move, and the farrier will get out of the way... or not. If you're always on the SAME side as the farrier, bringing your horse's nose towards you means that if he shifts his body sideways, it'll move AWAY from the farrier instead of into (or over) him.

It's exactly the same logic that would cause you to shorten the outside rein when you're about to mount a horse that habitually swings its body away as the rider gets on - with the outside rein shorter and the horse's head tipped away from you, it will swing its body TOWARDS you and make it easier, not harder, for you to mount.


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