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!
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.
Read more Horse Education Articles