By CHRISTINE TAILER
Our little horses love to run through the field, their manes and tails unfurled behind them. They follow each other like flying shadows, turning quickly to run back the other way, clumps of dirt flung out from their hooves like sparks.
They are happy.
Every morning we feed and water them, and on weekends we put on their halters and lead them up the road for walks with the dogs. I was amazed how easily they learned to walk on the lead, to keep exact pace with us, following us from one side of the road to the other, and even down to the creek to watch the water pass by.
But the first time that the farrier stopped by was quite another story. Our sweet little horses lost all sense of calm and acted more like miniature bucking broncos than the tame creatures we had come to know. At first, all went well. We watched as the farrier pulled up in his farrier equipped farm truck, the horses oblivious to his presence.
We walked over to meet him and he suggested that we bring the horses out of their pasture to the side of his truck, closer to his farrier equipment.
Greg led Harry over first. Harry walked calmly beside Greg, but back in the pasture, Cocoa began to whinny and pace. Harry joined in the whinny and then suddenly reared up on his hind legs. I was shocked at how tall a rearing little horse could be.
They were obviously not used to being separated, each from their shadow companion other. I returned to the pasture and quickly led Cocoa out as well.
All returned to calm, and they both stood quietly by our sides as the farrier readied his clippers and file.
Cocoa nuzzled my hand and seemed to be telling me that she would happily have her toenails trimmed first.
The farrier knelt down beside her, and as he talked to her and stroked her neck, he slowly picked up her right forefoot.
Cocoa simply turned away from him, somehow circling to her left on her three grounded feet, turning away from the farrier and her one upheld foot.
We seemed to dance this circle dance for a while until the farrier calmly suggested that I stand to her left, so she would not be able to circle away from him anymore.
Problem solved, and the farrier showed us how once she had stopped her circle dance, and relaxed, he could hold her foot up with just a finger. He expertly trimmed her hoof, and three hooves later he was ready for Harry.
Cocoa nibbled at the grass as the farrier knelt down beside Harry, talking to him and stroking his neck. He gently picked up Harry’s right forefoot.
In a flash, Harry whinnied and jumped up on his hind legs, pawing at the air with his front feet. So tall! The farrier was quick and jumped up as well, safely out of Harry’s way.
“It looks as though you haven’t worked with their feet much” the farrier calmly smiled. We shook our heads. “Not at all,” I replied. “So sorry.”
The farrier told me not to worry, and explained that they would learn quickly, but told us that we needed to start cleaning out their “frogs,” the hollow area under their hooves, with a curved pick, on a regular basis. This was not only good for their feet, because it would minimize the buildup of warm bacteria laden dirt, but it would also get them used to folk handling their feet. I promised to do so.
The farrier returned to Harry, calmly talking and stroking his back. He again knelt down beside the little horse, and firmly picked up his forefoot as Greg stood firmly against his other side.
Harry tensed, and then just as suddenly, relaxed. Again, the farrier showed us how, once relaxed, a single finger could hold up the horse’s foot. Three hooves later, and Harry also stood calmly munching the grass beside the farrier’s truck.
Later that day, I dashed out to the farm supply store and purchased the requisite hoof pick. And now, our horse walking routine has changed a bit. After we have made our way up the creek road and back, we tie their leads to the pasture fence.
We take turns kneeling down beside them, picking up their feet, and cleaning out the dirt from inside their hooves.
Once again, they seemed to have learned quickly. No more circle dancing or rearing up like bucking broncos. And I am really looking forward to the farrier’s return in a few weeks, so that he can see how much they have learned.
But you know what I really think? It is not so much a matter of what our little horses have learned. It is really more that we have learned how to properly care for our little horses.