Farrier develops method of making hoof trimming a pleasant experience
After years of fighting horses to trim their feet, Robert Fowler, who is a professional farrier in Wyoming, created a method of working with the horse to make it cooperate.
During the Big Wyoming Horse Expo in Douglas this spring, Fowler talked to the crowd about preparing a horse for the farrier, and shared his technique. The audience was amazed at how easily Fowler was able to work with a horse that was considered a “problem horse” and was also in heat. In the next arena over, a stallion parade was being held, so Fowler had his work cut out for him.
“My goal when I work on a horse is to make it cooperate and make the experience as pleasant for the horse as possible,” he explained, while working to calm the fidgeting mare. Fowler said his method is particularly valuable for broncs who have never received a human touch. “If you start them off right, they will be set for life,” he explained.
When Fowler first approaches a horse, he said it is important to let the horse smell him, and then he starts rubbing it down. “I used to work under Chuck Shepherd,” he explained. “He used to say you can rub a horse broke.”
Fowler demonstrated to the audience how to rub the horse all over. “I like to rub the leg all the way to the ground,” he said. “I want to get them comfortable with being touched. I also want the horse to realize I am not going to take her leg from her. It is important to get the horse to relax before you start trying to trim its hooves.”
As Fowler rubbed one of its rear legs, it flinched and kicked Fowler near his knee. “This is where I am supposed to hit the horse with the rasp and break it,” he teased the audience. “Actually, if they do kick, it is important to remain calm and show no emotion. They will feed off of how you respond and your emotions,” he said.
Fowler explained to the audience the importance of earning the horse’s respect. “If you rub the horse enough, it will pick up its foot on its own and offer it to you,” he explained, as his demonstration horse, Sassy, did exactly that. “It is important to praise them when they do that,” he added, talking softly to the horse and rubbing its neck.
Once Fowler was ready to begin trimming the horse’s hooves, he sat down on the ground on his knees where he could comfortably rest the horse’s hoof. “This method makes it much more comfortable for the horse and for me,” he explained. “It is much easier on the back.”
While Fowler trimmed Sassy’s hooves, he talked gently to the horse assuring her everything was fine. “I can’t say this enough, but they feed off your attitude. If you talk to the horse sweetly, it will be much more cooperative with you.”
Fowler demonstrated to the group how to ask the horse to pick up her leg, and once she does, rub her leg along the tendon. “You should be able to feel her relax,” he said.
The farrier said he also discourages the handler from petting or talking to the horse while he works on their feet. “I want the horse to be cognizant of what I am doing,” he said. “I also don’t believe in rewarding or bribing the horse with treats,” he continued. “Usually, when the treats run out, so do the horse’s manners.”
Mostly, Fowler said he focuses on talking to the horse to keep its attention. “I originally developed this technique for old, arthritic horses who could no longer pick up their feet and hold them up very well,” he said. “Then, I started using it on two-year-old horses at the racetrack who were fed eight pounds of grain a day.” Now, Fowler uses it on every horse he works on.
“I like this method, because I don’t have to fight the horse. I especially like it for first-time horses who have never had their feet trimmed. I start rubbing them, and usually they just melt in your hand. I like to make hoof trimming non-confrontational for the colt, and as relaxing as possible,” he explained.
In answer to the audience questions about traditional methods of tying up feet and the use of twitches, Fowler explained those methods knock the horse off-balance and it makes it hard on both the horse and the farrier.
On the other hand, his method focuses on keeping the posture of the horse correct and encourages them to cooperate. “I have found that an important part of this process is to reward and praise the horse when it does something right. Treat them like they won the derby,” he said.
At home, Fowler said horse owners should spend time rubbing their horses and working calmly around them. “If you can keep their hoof low to the ground when you are working on it, it doesn’t put them in a bind, and they will be set for life,” he said.
Fowler said he has used this method for seven years now, and works on 2,000 to 3,000 horses each year. “I have never had a wreck with this method. But, it requires a whole different mindset,” he said.
When developing his method, Fowler said it took him awhile to find a way to hold the hoof so the horse couldn’t hurt him. With this method, if a horse wants to hurt him, the movement of its hoof will stand a person straight up, he said.
“I have found this is much easier on the back,” he said in response to a question from the audience. “It is harder on the thighs though, because you are up and down a lot. It is also harder on the upper body.”
Fowler left the audience with a final thought. “It takes a lot longer to undo a bad experience, than to give the horse a good experience to start with,” he stated. “If you plan to work with your horse, remain calm and pleasant.”