Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why People Need to Train Their Horses!!!

At the Rescue, the VAST majority of the horses came directly from an auction.  Since their owners failed to provide them with some useful training, these horses would have long ago ended up on someone's dinner plate.  Plain and simple.  Honestly, who wants to buy a horse that only knows how to eat and poop?  For almost all of the horses we have rescued from auction, we were bidding directly against the kill buyers, who ship the horses in way-too-small trailers to Canada or Mexico, where the horse meets a horrible fate.

Gentle Giants spends as much time as it takes to train every sound horse in the basics, from standing nicely at the gate to come in for breakfast to jumping small fences in lessons.  In all of that training, perhaps the most important is teaching them to first pick up their feet when asked, then standing nicely for the farrier.

For the most part, training them to have their feet handled goes pretty well.  However, every once in a while we will get a horse who either has never had their feet done, or was so traumatized by an experience at their previous owner's hands that they go into full-out panic mode if you so much as look at their feet.

When we come across such horses, we progress slowly to keep it a positive experience.  First we might rub our hands farther and farther down their legs until they are calm enough to have an experienced farrier attempt to trim their feet.  If the horse is putting up some resistance but isn't acting overly aggressive or dangerous, the horse might get some light sedation to calm them down, and the doses get progressively lighter until the horse stands reasonably well without any sedation at all.  But sometimes the horse is so fearful or aggressive that even our highly-experienced farrier is not comfortable with trimming a lightly sedated horse.

In such cases, our farrier and vet team up to determine the best course of action to safely get a horse's feet trimmed.

This past Tuesday was a day they worked together to have three horses' hooves trimmed: Echo, Patty, and Penny.

Echo was the first to be trimmed, and she was very heavily sedated, but not enough to put her on the ground.  She came to us with severe hoof neglect.  Our farrier had managed to get her fronts trimmed the week prior, but Echo was very uncooperative when it came to getting her hinds done.  Here is a picture of her right hind, which will take as long as a year to correct, maybe longer if her coronet band (the border between her hoof and skin) is damaged:

The crack is so bad that you can see the hoof on either side move separately as Echo puts weight on the foot.

In the process of getting trimmed:

Her hooves had grown so long that large chunks of her hoof had begun to break off.  Her soles were also very overgrown.  Below, our farrier is nipping away at the sole.

Here, our farrier is working on paring back her very long hoof wall:

After the first trim, this is what her foot looks like:

In the near future, she will probably have a shoe put on to stabilize the crack.

Here's a shot of all four feet.  The fronts were trimmed on a previous visit.

As long as she was sedated and the vet was out, we had the vet float her teeth, too:

Next up was Patty, one of the Clydes we picked up from the PA/NY border earlier this year.  The farrier was unable to get any of her feet done previously, even under light sedation, so the vet heavily sedated her, too.  When we got the Clydes from the sale, it was obvious none of them had been trimmed, like, ever.  Dee Dee and Sunrise have both learned to stand to have their feet trimmed.  Patty and Penny (dam and daughter) were extremely adverse to the process, so they were put on the docket.


Patty feeling her drugs so well that Christine had to hold her whole head up for the vet:

Patty also had her teeth done.

Then it was Penny's turn.  She was so bad for our farrier previously that he and the vet opted to fully sedate her, so that she would be laying on the ground for the trim.

Here, our vet is convincing Penny that she is getting sleepy:

Here, Penny is almost convinced she wants to be on the ground:

And here's Penny on the ground, farrier already getting to work (click on the pic to zoom in and see how bad all her feet were):

Yuck, look at that hoof!

 Looking a lot better:

You can see how much he took off!

 A good look at how overgrown and misshapen her feet were:

Then he did her hind, and it was time to flip Penny over to do the other side.  It was then that Penny decided it would be a good time to have a reaction to the sedation and have a seizure.  This is why we have our vet on hand to do such procedures.  Within seconds, our vet administered some drugs to stop the seizure:

A pic of one finished foot, one untouched hind foot.  What a difference, right?

Her finished fronts.  See how much he had to take off by the rasp handle?

Doing the last foot:

The vet kept a close eye on her the whole time:

Penny trying to figure out which way is up:

Then Penny decided to try to get up as soon as she could, overexerting herself, especially for such a hot day.  Penny got to round off her day with a case of Tying Up.

There isn't really any human equivalent of Tying Up to compare to.  The best description I can make is that all the muscles in her body were racked with severe cramps.  The vet gave her more drugs, and we encouraged her to lay down in front of a fan with hay and water.  We also hosed her down several times to cool her off.

Then she decided to scare us by starting to roll, but the vet determined it wasn't colic, that she was just rolling because she was wet.

Penny slowly worked out of it, and is none the worse for wear.

It is very sad that she had to be sedated so heavily, just because the person who bred her didn't take the time to train her to pick her feet up and stand for the farrier.

This is why we end up with such a backlog of horses.  When people don't train their horses to do as basic a thing as having their feet handled, it can take over a year for us to not only teach them how to have their feet handled, but also have to do extensive corrective trimming before they are deemed Adoptable.  We can't just rescue a horse, fatten it up, and adopt it out.  That doesn't make them any better off than when they first ended up in the kill pen.  Our goal is to make the horse more desirable to a good owner.  Which horse would you pick: One who kicks at you when  you go to pick their feet, or one who willingly picks up each hoof as you ask for it and holds it up and doesn't lean on you?  That's a no-brainer!

There are horses in our care who will never be sound enough to be broke to ride, but we simply do not adopt out horses who cannot safely stand for the farrier.  We, at the Rescue, are equipped to deal with drafts who fidget or misbehave with the farrier, but it is very difficult for an adopter to find a farrier of their own who is willing to deal with the same antics.

It is unrealistic to expect an adopter to be able to have their horse sedated every time their feet need trimming.

The problem isn't that there are too many horses out there; the problem is that there are too many horses out there whose owners failed to teach them the bare basics, thus making them prime targets for slaughter.  This failure to train the horse inhibits our ability to Rescue, Rehab, Retrain, and Rehome horses in a fast manner, which puts us in a position unable to help other drafts in need.  So not only is the irresponsible previous owner failing to ensure the horse a decent future, they are in turn making it so other horses cannot be rescued before they make the final trip to Canada or Mexico.



  1. I think some people really only view a horse as a large dog. I'm not sure what it is that makes them think all you have to do is feed it grass and hop on it and ride out the bucks to train it.

    I am very fortunate that my rescue pony mare used to be a great lesson pony before she was sent to auction pregnant, sick and underweight. By the time we got her, all she needed was refresher lessons. And, she is good for farriers, vets, clipping, tying, trailering, etc.

    Come to think of it, we have no idea why in the world somebody would dump this pony at an auction!!! I sometimes wish I could find the person that did this and give them a piece of my mind. But, for now, my pony enjoys the great life at our farm being a guest trail pony and wonderful mount for me.

    I have a Friesian cross that sometimes gets ancy at trimming time because his stifles hurt him. He usually just yanks his foot away or moves away. My farrier is very understanding and patient with this, but I know several others that would immediately jab him in his side with a rasp (hence the reason they are not my farrier). He's not misbehaving; he's just in pain. I cannot understand why somebody wouldn't want to start handling a draftie's feet from birth on. They're just WAY too big to be struggling with if they decide they don't want something done. *sigh*

    Thank you for the good work you guys do. :)

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  3. Did you really think when you were getting these horses at an auction that they would be trained? Most horses are at an auction for a reason and when you get them home SURPRISE they are lame, were drugged, have horrible manners and are dangerous. There is a reason they are at an auction. I'm surprised you are just figuring that out now. Good luck with those feet.;

  4. Taylor,

    I think the surprising thing about the Clydes is that they were consigned to the auction by a gentleman who has a good reputation in the draft horse community and shows his horses. So yes, it seemed reasonable to expect he might have spent time training them to pick up their feet.

    Gentle Giants gets many of the horses it rescues from auctions, they're pretty aware of what kinds of horses end up at auction.

  5. Wow Taylor, that really was a pretty mean spirited post, and I'm not sure why you would have that intent. Our point was that so many people disregard basic training, then act shocked when their horse holds no value on the open market.