Taking the Hoof by the Horn

Harley chewing on my file handle

When I was given Harley, he was a God send for Shandoka who badly needed a friend. They became instant buddies, and he became my best friend within a short amount of time. His hooves needed a lot of help. His toes were way too long, and I believe his coffin bone had descended in his hoof capsule. He tripped constantly, and he didn’t like farriers at all.

One night a farrier came to work on him and Shandoka, and I’m pretty sure Harley wanted to trample him to death. He was furious with him before he even touched him, and the white’s of his eyes were blinding. His ears were so pinned to his head that I thought they would never stand up again. His previous caretaker would put on a pair of shoes in April, and Harley would still be wearing that same pair of shoes in October when they were pulled off. This has caused a lot of long term issues with his hooves, and I can’t even begin to tell you how overwhelmed I felt. I knew that he needed to be barefoot trimmed, but there is nobody around here that did true barefoot trimming in the style of Pete Ramey or others.

Harley is a sweet, gentle horse, so seeing this side of him shocked the heck out of me. He was telling me something, and I listened.

He told me that I needed to take a crash course in barefoot trimming. I found Pete Ramey’s list on Facebook that is sadly no more, bought his book and several videos in a night of pure panic realizing it was going to fall upon me, and I got help from Pete directly through his list as well as Heather Dwire who guided me how to trim Harley. Luckily, Derek Green came over for his set up trim, because so much had to come off the first time. I don’t know if I would have had the nerve to take all of that off the first time around. I hadn’t been up to that point.

After Derek left, it was all up to me, and this is what I’ve learned and continue to learn from Harley who is the best teacher.

  1. Harley was such an angry, pain in the butt when I first started trimming him. He would plant his feet, and fight me every step of the way when I tried to lift his feet the moment he saw my farrier tools. If I went out just to pick his hooves, no problem. The moment I pulled out my nippers or my file, holy cow the fight was on. Most times I had to pull one of his legs forward at the knee or mid cannon bone to get his hoof off the ground. It was so exhausting. His hind legs, the moment I got a hoof off the ground, he would start trying to kick it free of me. When he realized that I wasn’t letting go, he would lean backwards trying to throw me off balance. He pooped on me twice; that was fun. I think my arms were always two inches longer at the end of our sessions, and I definitely stunk afterwards. I stuck with it, but I quickly realized the way I was doing things wasn’t working. It wasn’t getting through to him that he no longer had to worry about shoes going on his hooves. So, I started doing only two hooves a session, and I would go back and forth between the two, so I never stayed on one hoof for too long. His patience increased. He started lifting his hooves when I asked. I started to not trim his toes with my nippers; I just stuck with the file, and he totally mellowed out. After doing this for awhile, we can do all four hooves in one day and in a short time. He stands perfectly for me. He lifts his hooves when I ask, and when he asks, he gets a lot of loving breaks. Harley taught me to be flexible.
  2. Let the horse have some revenge on your tools. I let Harley take out his frustration by biting on the handle of my file. He holds it in his mouth while I hold on to it, so it doesn’t stress out his teeth. It’s a pacifier basically.
  3. Listen, listen, and listen to the horse
  4. When you need to have guts, take a deep breath, and then go for it. There were so many times I didn’t think I could do what he needed me to do, but he let me even during our arguments. Of course Heather was nudging me in the background. I was so worried about making him sore, but even during our arguments their were moments of trust that gave me the go ahead and bring the toe back a bit further. He allowed me to do what I never thought I could do.
  5. Give hugs as needed
  6. Let the hoof speak to you. Everything you need to know is there in that hoof. If you don’t understand the language, go and ask for help. Hooves have their own language, and it takes awhile to learn it. I am far from fluent….I speak broken hoof language at this time, but I’m learning more and more words each day. Harley’s hooves scream at me sometimes, and sometimes like yesterday, they serenade me. Harley’s hooves are teaching me another language, and he taught me to ask for help.
  7. Be patient with yourself. When I lose patience with myself, Harley loses patience with me and it falls apart. This is when I walk away for a bit. I usually lose patience, when I can’t understand what his hoof is trying to tell me.
  8. Don’t lose patience with the horse when they’re having a melt down. You’re just shooting yourself in the foot. This is when the horse needs you to remain calm and let them know they are safe with you. Harley said that to me over and over, and I adjusted over and over for him. Listen, listen, and listen.
  9. Really pay attention to what the horse needs. Pete Ramey always asks, “How does the horse move? Is he comfortable?” Harley’s heels probably should come down a little bit more even though they are within the normal ranges of sole depth at the heel…but just a bit more on the high side. You don’t want horses to be stood up at the heel. Think about what it’s like walking around in high heels all day, 24 hours a day. Well, that’s what it’s like for horses that have high heels, and it causes so much dysfunction in the hoof. I tried taking his heels down a bit more, and he didn’t move nearly as well as when I kept them where he naturally wore them down to. Harley taught me to pay attention, and answer those questions that Pete asks each time I trim.
  10. Pete taught me a lot about the hairline at the coronary band of the hooves. It is always dynamic, always moving, and it is not an accurate tool to base the trimming of hooves upon. I’m always looking at Harley’s hairline, because if it goes up at any spot, I know I have a flare to work out. As soon as I do get it worked out, Harley’s hairline mellows out. That hairline is part of the hoof’s language. Pay attention to when it speaks to you. Harley has taught me that not all receding hairlines are about baldness.
  11. Harley will always have problems with his hooves. He probably has remodeling of his coffin bones…maybe a ski tip, and a negative palmar angle of the left hoof. The NPA has improved but not disappeared. I should get x-rays, but whenever I do, it is such BAD news. His hooves show me what is going on, and I don’t want the x-rays to confirm it just yet. I keep following Pete’s guidelines, and it’s amazing how well he is doing….how well he moves….how fast he can run with the thoroughbreds at twenty years old. His quarters always want to flare out….his toes still want to run away if I don’t trim him every two weeks in the summer, and these issues will probably never change, but I keep trimming him with the intention of creating that change. Harley supports this, and today none of the quarters in any of his hooves were flared out! Okay, probably because it’s winter and their hooves barely grow during the winter. However, this is the first time. Harley has taught me to not give up.
  12. Because of everything I do for Harley, rehabbing my thoroughbreds’ hooves has been a lot easier. He prepared me for them. He taught me for them and others, and he gave me the confidence to trim other horses besides mine.

He is a kick in the pants, always trying to pickpocket my phone, and loves to grab hold of my hood when I’m not looking. Harley took care of so many kids on trail rides, he took care of Chaco and I after losing Shandoka, and he is one of the best hoof teachers out there. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

If you want to learn more about barefoot trimming and Pete Ramey, please visit his website at http://www.hoofrehab.com. He has a page dedicated to several articles that he has written about diet, laminitis, hoof capsule rotation, etc. He also sells videos and the most detailed book out there on barefoot trimming. I highly recommend all of it.

Author: reenchantedhorses

I'm an artist, writer, and a lover of thoroughbreds. I was born and raised in horse racing, and now I wish to help rehome them, educate people about how fantastic they are, and show what they can do.

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