The weather has stopped us all in our tracks for several weeks now. We had a small window today to get some feet done. Yay!
AJ and I were working on Huey when Sundance walked over and started investigating AJ and his tools. He then hung out with us the entire time AJ worked on Huey. Alternately observing and chewing on the lead rope. My comic relief for the day - Huey holding himself followed by being held by Sundance - pair of goof balls!
When we wrapped up with Huey I asked Sunny if he’d like to try. At first I thought he was just going to put his right in the halter but he changed his mind. As he walked away I reached out and took hold of a hunk of mane briefly just st see if he would stop if he felt that connection to me. No luck, he left with more determination after that so I had to apologize for trying to force the issue and re-negotiate. As soon as I backed off he stopped, turned back to me and was ready to be haltered.
He’s always a bit hesitant to pick up his feet, and he tests a bit to see how we’ll respond. AJ got his left front cleaned and started to nip when Sunny just couldn’t take anymore, rearing back to get his foot away and ducking sideways at the same time. Getting out of dodge!
He circled around me a few times but did not bail out all together as he would have in the past so I decided to day was a good day to work with conscious inhibition. Traumatized horses often fall into habitual patterns of reaction that cause them to have to move their feet to feel okay. It’s fine with me if he needs to move to release pressure, we all need a pressure release valve, so to speak. Over time they get to where, as Sunny is, they are able to contain that energy and stay connected instead of just bailing out all together.
So I’d let him move in a circle around me if he had to and then ask him to get himself stopped by picking up some contact. Sometimes he tried to push through but most of the time he would respond and get stopped. I find this re-training of finding a way to get themselves stopped is really key. They learn to consciously control their response to fear so they can think and feel instead of just bailing out at the first sign of trouble.
Sunny was able to have all four feet cleaned nipped and rasped today. He even let AJ put his hind feet on the hoof stand cradle to trim them! Another first!
We talked quite a bit today about how cool this process is. Sure, it’s taking more time but this is such a fundamental, primal, thing for this horse. We both agreed that anything we did to try to bypass this particular horse’s fear would have backfired on us - sedation, rewarding with treats, clicker training - he was abused with food so it just felt wrong to use that against him now. And he was starved to the point he was too weak to object. Out with sedation and food rewards then.
The benefits of taking the time it takes are profound. Sunny is learning how to control himself, face his fears in small doses, release his anxiety on the deepest of levels. And he’s learning there are some trustworthy people in his life that he can count on. I can’t wait to see how he is tomrrow. I have to imagine those feet feel better!
This has been a difficult process. Sunny has not been sound for at least 6 months, maybe more. The only reason for the lameness was the imbalanced feet he would not let anyone touch. So easy to get frustrated watching this and try to find a short cut to get the job done. I sure started out doing it that way with him. It never worked. He just got less and less trusting. Working at his pace, on his terms has totally paid off!
A good reminder to play for the long game instead of the short one.