Being a farrier is a high risk profession. It is not only a physically demanding job, but also the clients can be very opinionated. Or worse become defensive and kick, bite or rear. With clients I mean horses, of course. How can you help your farrier be safe working with your horse? How can you prepare your horse for a farrier treatment? My answer is of course: with positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement for the professional
The first thing reinforcing the farrier to come back is that he gets paid! I like to offer a cup of tea and some cookies too, if he is really good with my horse. But the best way to reinforce your farrier to come back and do a good job is to have your horse well trained and prepared.
Positive reinforcement for the client
I think the best way to teach your horse to stand still for the farrier and behave is to train your horse with positive reinforcement (+R). I believe (and I base this believe on experience) that +R results in the safest animals to work with.
Positive reinforcement (+R) or equine clicker training is an excellent way to build positive associations with hoof care and farrier treatments.
In +R you give the horse a fair choice: if the does (a tiny step towards) the desired behaviour you give the horse something he values, an appetitive. If he doesn’t there are no nasty consequences for the horse involved. So it is safe for the horse to let the trainer know he is not ready, he is distracted, something else is more interesting, he is afraid, he doesn’t understand what he is suppose to do and so on.
The trainer knows that he has to evaluate his approach or the set up of his training if the horse doesn’t display the wanted behaviour. Horses are herd animals and hard wired to cooperate, so if he doesn’t there is something to figure out.
Training plan for the horse
What your training plan looks like, depends on your horse. Is he inexperienced and simply doesn’t know you want him to lift his leg and hold it up or has your horse had bad experiences and therefor negative associations with trimming or being shod? If he had a bad experience that influences his behaviour at the farrier in a negatieve way you can work on that specific issue.
Horses that are not used to a farrier need to learn a lot. Here is a general overview of behaviours that you can teach your horse before his first trim:
allowing people to touch his body
- allowing people to touch his legs
- lifting his legs without putting weight on them or pulling back
- getting used to letting their legs rest on a hoof stand in all the poses needed for a trim or being shod
- getting used to unfamiliar touches to the hoof: hoof pick, rasp, tapping on the hoof with a hammer and so on
- getting used to being tied or held on a lead rope or halter
- standing still for long periods of time (15- 30 minutes)
- allowing strangers to touch his body and legs while being held or tied
- allowing strangers to lift the legs
- building ‘duration’ in all exercises mentioned here
- getting used to all of the above in another context. You might have taught this to your horse in his stall but also practise all of the above in the spot the farrier will do his job, for instance in the hallway or outside.
For each of the mentioned steps above you can make a shaping plan to teach the specific behaviour. A shaping plan contains all the baby steps to build a specific behaviour (splitting the behaviour) and more.
More in the next blog.
I hope this was useful to you. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about training your horse to stand and behave safely at the farrier.
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