Foal Education - Maserati’s Kindergarten Time - Giving the Hoofs [Slideshow]
Giving the hooves is an essential skill every horse needs to master on an everyday base. Yet so many horses make problems when giving their feet. Horses are prey—animals without horns to defend themselves.
Their only way to save their life is to use their legs and run as fast as they can. This makes it a bit more understandable that horses often don’t feel so comfortable when we handle their feet—they feel helpless.
And still, every horse needs to learn it. Every foal needs to learn it—and this can be a challenge at times.
How to teach this skill without fear and constraint?
How to manage the first farrier visit?
How to hold up a fragile foals leg so that it doesn’t get hurt?
Maserati started to learn to give his feet when he was only a few days old. It is a long process and he has new ideas every day. On some days he is giving his feet really well, but I am not upset at all if it is a bit more difficult on another.
Here are my 7 steps to teach giving the feet to a foal: (also works for adult horses)
- massage and scratch the front legs
- massage and scratch the hind legs
- lift each foot when I squeeze the chestnut/skin of the hock—no holding up
- lift and hold each foot for 1–5 seconds
- hold the foot and scratch the foal to make it comfortable too
- extend the front foot forward and place it on your knee
- fold the hind leg under the belly and place it on your knee
During the first weeks, I only did steps 1–3.
As he his confidence grew, I progressed to step 5. In each session, I would go through all of the five steps to make sure that he is still fully confident. I progressed to steps 6 and 7 when he was 6 months old.
With Maserati, I could do almost all the preparation at liberty, without a halter. If your foal shows more resistance, fearful behaviour or you have less experience, put the halter and lead rope on.
Either you are good enough to handle lead rope, hoof and foal on your own, or ask a friend to hold your foal for you.
Click through the slideshow to see step by step how Maserati learned to give his feet!
All foals love scratches. So does Maserati. I use this to my advantage to achieve Step 1 – massage the leg.
I ask him to lift his foot by pinching the chestnut. As soon as he gives me his foot, I scratch one of his favorite spots. Like this he will start to associate giving his feet with something nice.
Foals have fragile and soft joints. I hold the leg using both my hands to not hurt Maserati: One hand above the carpal joint, one hand at the fetlock/hoof. I use this position when I practice to hold up the foot for longer.
Now the hind feet: Step 1 massage the leg. I found a special itchy spot between his legs.
When I pick up the hind leg I will only lift it up under the belly at first. I scratch his favourite itchy spot. He almost thinks that I only lift his leg to make it easier to scratch him!
I repeat the same thing on the other side: Often times we are not as thorough when we teach things on the right side as we are on the left side. Horses need to learn the skill of giving the feet separately with every single foot.
I prepare to pick up the hoof, but Maserati seems to have different plans….
He went down on his knees! Did this ever happen to you? Especially colts sometimes see it as an invitation to play games when we handle their front feet. Don’t worry, Maserati went down really slowly and took the opportunity to have a bite of grass. But what can we do about it except smiling?
You have to notice what happens before what happens happens. Maserati first leans his weight against me and starts to nibble on my back. I kick with my foot like a horse would do without letting go of his leg.
He gave me his foot, but he is still leaning on me…
If possible I don’t let go of his leg when he does this. I stand very close to his body so that I can follow his movements easier. Of course, I will let go of the leg in case the horse does this out of fear. His attitude is playful and if I give his foot back at that moment, he will learn something stupid. It is important to make a difference according to the attitude when we deal with this issue.
Maserati is standing almost normal again. He is still leaning on me, so I kick my foot up again.
As he is going down, I apply rhythmic pressure with my hand under his chest. I tap with assertiveness each time I feel him leaning down.
Finally, he found his balance and can hold still. I give him a reward and his foot back. Often young horses feel out of balance when standing on three legs. They need to learn how to position their feet so that they don’t fall.
Here you can see in detail how you can pick up the feet efficiently and safely. My right hand is ready to take the foot as soon as Maserati lifts it off the ground, while I pinch his chestnut with my left hand.
With the little trick to scratch the favourite spot, Maserati learned to accept and even like it when I pick up his feet.
Once the foal accepts that I lift the leg under the belly, I go to the next step: I lead the leg out to the back. I stand very close to him and hold the leg with two hands. Just a few seconds is enough. Don’t wait until the foal starts to struggle. The seconds will turn into minutes after a while.
Maserati learns to relax his leg on my knee while I scratch his itchy spot.
When I give his foot back, I do it slowly. I want him to relax the foot to the ground rather than jerking it away from me. Maserati is learning to trust me completely when handling his hind legs. This is a great exercise improve confidence and to prepare him for bandaging.
Once he gave all four feet nicely, I started to introduce the hoof pick. Now I only have one hand to hold the leg. Check how I use my legs to stabilize and support his leg.
I tap the underside of his hoof with the hoof pick. Maybe one day he will need shoes – I want him to be prepared.
I introduce the rasp to him. Most horses don’t mind new objects, but some really get afraid when we come with an unknown object close to them. Don’t underestimate how much new things can mean to a horse. Just take the extra 15 sec to let them have a look.
I rasp the hoof a little bit so that he gets used to the vibration the rasping causes. Maybe your trimmer/farrier can give you an old rasp. If you use the smooth side, you can’t take off too much material. Anyway, it is just about doing 2-3 strokes.
Learning is exhausting. When horses yawn, this means that the horses RAM is full and it needs time for processing. What seems to be a simple task for us, can be a mental challenge for our horse. It is important to allow some time for processing in between.
Maserati will need to place his foot on the hoof stand to have it trimmed. I teach him to extend his leg forward and to relax his hoof on my knee. I like to handle horses always on my own, they will concentrate more on me. If you are not confident to do it on your own, ask someone to hold your youngster.
Focus, don’t move and relax your foot on my knee. Do your foal, yourself and the farrier the favour to educate and prepare your foal. Avoid stress and drama – it is our responsibility to educate our horses to give their feet and not the job of the farrier!
Important: Protect the Fragile Legs
Foal legs are still very soft and the fragile joints easily over bend. To avoid this, I use two hands to hold the leg up. On the front feet, I place my hands like this:
When lifting the hind legs, I first focus more on folding the leg under the belly. When I lead the leg out to the back, I place my hands like this:
I release the leg only when he is holding still. Like this, he learns that the fastest way to get the foot back is to relax, not to fight. Of course, there is a fine line. The best is to set the foot down before the foal loses patience.
If you know that your foal is patient for 10 sec, give the foot back after 9 sec. Every day you will be able to hold the foot longer. One day, your foal will have enough understanding that you can hold the foot up through a little struggle.
What to Do If your Foal Kicks
I got a few times the question what to do when the foal kicks when being touched on the hind legs. In this case, always put a halter and lead rope. Use a stick to touch the hind legs at first.
Like this, you can improve your youngster's confidence without risking to get kicked.
To stay out of the kick zone, use a stick to touch the hind legs at first.
Almost always this is a confidence problem. Once your foal accepts the touch of the stick, you can proceed normally. Another tip for your safety and success is: stand very close to your foal when picking up the feet.
Often times we try to avoid to get kicked by keeping a little distance. The further you are away, the more force the foal can develop to actually kick you in a way that it hurts. Make body contact, this will make it easier for you to follow the movements of your foal.
Prepare him for the First Farrier Visit
Once he accepted that I would hold his foot up for a while, I introduced the hoof pick and the rasp. Never underestimate change. The more a young horse knows what is happening, the more cooperative it will be.
Even if I trim all my horses myself, I still wanted to simulate a first farrier visit for Maserati. For many horses it is a big challenge to allow an unknown, often impatient person, to handle their feet.
I asked my friend Mathilde, who is currently learning to become a barefoot trimmer, to act like the farrier.
Mathilde shows her farrier tools to Maserati.
To make the first visit easy, ask your farrier to greet your foal and his mother. Ask him to give your foal a good scratch and to allow your little one to inspect his tools. Have the mother close by, or a good friend.
Show your farrier all the favourite itchy spots. When he finished, it is time to say goodbye to friends—with scratches and cuddles!
After all, you want to build a positive association with the farrier in your foal.
Time to say goodbye
Preparation is everything. Do your foal, yourself and the farrier the favour to educate and prepare your foal. Like this you can avoid a lot of stress and drama – it is our responsibility to educate our horses to give their feet and not the job of the farrier!
Some days it will be easy, some days will be a little more challenging, what is completely normal. Keep going, practice, repeat and be consistent.
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