Sunday, April 17, 2011

Horses Don't Have Hands

There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. ~Winston Churchill

For the last several weeks we have been helping at the farm owned by Miss Annette, the leader of the 4-H Horse and Pony Club. She is boarding a few horses along with her own. She has some miniature horses, a couple of ponies, and four regular sized horses--and when I say regular sized, two of the newest are quite large, actually the size of horse I am more used to. The other family that goes to the farm also at 4:30 in the afternoon on Fridays are new to horses and do well with the feeding instructions, but the mother is not that comfortable with getting the larger horses in and out of their stalls.

One of the mares, who knows better, went past her own stall to take a stroll in the barn, while another of the newer large horses came in and was in her way to get back to her stall. The other mother looked concerned and unsure of what to do. Not a problem. I just grabbed and turned the wayward walker around the corner and turned her back around toward her stall after the other was happily in his own. The other mother looked so relieved and said she was thankful that I was there. What was cool to me is that I did not even give it a thought, I just instinctively knew what to do, although I have not been around horses that much since I was a teenager. I guess you just do not forget certain things.

On Saturday, the Princess and I went to a farrier's school with the some other 4-H members. We were expecting about thirty, but the number dwindled down to five children and three adults. One possible reason was that we had some pretty severe storms go through, the third of these in three weeks, some areas with heavy lightning, hail larger than golf balls, high winds, and even tornadoes. (Somehow the worse cells seem to break apart when they approach our specific area and our property has not been damaged, but others have been less fortunate.)

A farrier, for those who may not know, is someone who trims the hoofs and shoes horses. There is much more to it than it sounds. A well-trained farrier can custom mold a shoe to correct the horse's walk, help heal injuries, and reduce the risk of injuries to the legs and hoofs. Then there is working with the horse so that you are not injured yourself while shoeing the horse.

One of the things I found quite appealing about it, besides just being around horses and ensuring their health, it is one of the few remaining trade professions that is not regulated and is learned the old fashion way by apprenticeship or through privately-owned schools. The owner of the school we visited, Casey & Son Horseshoeing School, told of a $500,000 horse with which he worked for eighteen months to correct his hoofs and gait, afterward the horse won a couple of races and became worth $5.5 million.

This school does a bit more. It even has a treadmill for horses! Not to work them, but to study their gait. It really is worth watching some of the videos on their website.

The Princess was called upon to train a horse not to follow her as she stepped away from a horse while holding the lead rope. The horse was only supposed to walk toward her when she pulled the lead rope just enough that it applied some pressure. There was also much discussion on horse body language within the herd and how horses respond to pressure. It was explained that horses do not really understand hands because they don't have them, so they often do not respond the way we want them to when we are using our hands. The Princess wrote the following report which she submitted for the 4-H newsletter:

Horses Don't Have Hands

Saturday we went to a farrier's school. There we learned that horses don't have hands and that you have to use body language with horses. We learned how to reward a horse, and how to punish a horse, and the way the horse knows he's being rewarded or punished. You rub their neck for reward and tap their shoulder for punishment.

If the horse is in the way or squishing you, don't use your hands to push him over. If you lean on him, he'll lean on you. What you do is shove him over by putting your hands on the wall and shoving him over with your back, which is saying "Get out of the way!"

I was pleased, as I listened, at how well my aunt had taught me. We always started where the horse could see you and feel your touch before traveling the length of the horse with your body along his all the way back and down to the back hoof. Although I was taught how to evaluate a horse, I never had to use it because I knew my aunt's horses well, but for a farrier who only sees a horse once every six weeks, it is a very important thing to do. To evaluate a horse for it tendency to kick, a simple rope is swung around its eyes and then over its neck to lightly slapping its back, and wrapping around its legs. A rope is also used to train the horse to lift his legs for you when you bring your hand down the leg toward the hoof. I remember us doing the same, but it was so many years ago and yet it is coming back to me the more I am around horses again.

~ My Lord, keep us safe as we work with horses and may we do it often...and some riding would be very nice as well. ~

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