Feets and Cuddles!

Mostly cuddles.
Mostly cuddles.

Emilie is usually cool-headed but there is one thing that used to reduce her to a sweating, shaking wreck: The dreaded hoofpick. We’ve been training, patiently, for two months now, and with the help of our brave barefoot trimmer, Kimmie, cleaning feet is no longer a highly traumatic experience.

I don’t know what caused this anxiety. When we purchased Emilie we were warned that she had not yet learned to lift her feet properly. We were going to train it, but then she had her colic surgery and we had to wait for that 60 cm incision to be properly healed before we started doing difficult work that requires standing on three legs for a while.

Once we did get started it became very obvious that her refusal was not obstinacy or annoyance: She was afraid of being held and losing her balance, causing her to fall. She actually fell. Twice.

We’ve got a working arrangement now. Using positive reinforcement training, patience, and observing her reactions, we have now reached a point where a tap on the front of the knee means that she will lift her hoof — and then we’re allowed to do whatever we want to it as long as we don’t take hold of it. She holds the leg. No feeling of being trapped or restrained.

Moreover she needs regular breaks — a minute at a time with a foot up, tops. Again, not out of obstinacy but due to hip trouble that she likely acquired during surgery (turn a horse over, haul it up in chains around the legs, no wonder …). We’re calling in a chiropractor to sort those issues out, and I expect that once they’re dealt with, she’ll cease demanding breaks.

It’s amazing what patience, grass pills, and lots of praise can do.

Bonus: Positive reinforcement works both ways. As the picture shows, she’s taught me how to give the best chest and neck rubs. And my reward is that she returns them.