Lockdown lessons for your horse - being ready for social distancing trims and vet visits! As Catherine is due to come out to my ponies, I have been slowly increasing the time that they spend tied safely, with me keeping a distance from them. My ponies are used to me standing with them and being a big part of the trim. This will all be different this week, so they need to have numerous rehearsals beforehand. What can you do to make this easier for your horse/pony?
Always ensure that they have suitable forage available during this time. Even ponies on restricted diets should have something available to them, particularly because being tied can be a source of stress and anxiety in some equines.
Have your chosen safety tie between the horse and fence - never tie them directly to a fixed point.
Start with tiny sessions, and build duration from there. Of course when training for a trim, your horse ultimately needs to be calm and relaxed throughout the duration of the trim. Depending upon the size and type of horse, and any hoof pathologies involved, this could be a considerable length of time. To successfully achieve this duration, you could set a timer on your phone and build out the time that your horse is able to be left.
If your horse is prone to any hoof pathologies, and you know your hoof professional applies sprays or ointments, incorporate training for this into your plan too.
I like to return with some food rewards or plenty of scratches, marking the calm behaviour with something that feels nice. I always finish the session before the horse reaches their theshold. That way they have had a positive experience, which we can sucessfully build on from next time.
For trimming, consider placement of the horse and any other items the farrier/podiatrist may need to interact with. Is the forage placed away from any awkward corners, so that the horse can easily keep their hoof on the hoof stand throughout the procedure, for example, and also so that nobody is put in a dangerous position.
Haynets hung slightly higher can be useful for when front feet are on the hoof stand, while lower placement can be good for when hind feet are being worked on, and for the picking out position in front.
As always, a good, clean and safe working surface is always appreciated by hoof professionals too. Depending on your facilities, you might do better than me at this one - but I have been known to sweep my mud in advance of a visit from Catherine!
Much of the training will cross over between training for farriers/podiatrists, and for vets. Specifically for vet visits, you might want to dust off your vet-training shaping plan, and be sure that your horse is calm and relaxed when you approach them in a business like fashion (if you are like me, you might even have vet overalls and some medical equipment so you really can play vet dress ups!..), and carry out a health check, looking at certain body parts specifically. You can then build from that to reading your horse's pulse, taking their temperature and working on their confidence with areas they are less keen to be handled.
Possibly one of the trickier parts of these training sessions, is when you need to familiarise your equine to somebody other than you doing the handling. This is harder during the lockdown rules, for obvious reasons. If you can involve a family member who is confident around horses, they can be instructed on your vet or hoof care training, and can play the role as the equine professional. This is a useful step between yourself doing the handling, and your vet or farrier/equine podiatrist.
If you are truly on your own in this, you can simply practice doing tasks slightly differently than you normally would - may be be a little more brusque in your manner, deliberately fumble a little more, or be much more 'to the point' in your handling than usual.
For needle shy horses it is advisable that you get in touch with a certified equine behaviour consultant, who may be able to help you remotely during this time.
This quick list is not exhaustative, and is really just an overview of what I have been doing with my ponies to help them to cope if they need routine or medical care, and I can't offer the active support I usually do throughout these procedures. Now, it is even more important than ever that they have some good training in place, so that they are not thrown in at the deep end when the situation arises.