Does Your Horse Suffer From Farrier Phobia?
"Farrier-Friendly"™ series By Bryan S. Farcus, BS, CF

Imagine yourself trapped in an elevator. Your hands are tied and you are only able to stand on one leg at a time. Let's also add an annoying fly that insists on using your nose for a landing site. Sounds pretty uncomfortable and maybe even scary if you're the claustrophobic type, doesn't it?

Bryan Farcus, using one of his school horses, demonstrates the scotch hobble, one of the types of restraints that can cause a horse to panic.

Keep this in mind the next time you see a young horse in crossties, fighting flies in a narrow barn aisle, anxiously awaiting a farrier. One thing the owner and farrier should realize is that the horse's skittish, jumpy, kicking, etc., reactions are not personal attacks directed at them, rather, they are natural responses to the situation.

An automatic response to this behavior is to hold the horse in place physically. Such approaches include crossties, leg hobbles, "honda knots" and the like, most of which prove dangerous to both horse and handler. Some may argue in support of these tactics and to accomplish the job. However, these methods are long, physical processes that never lead to a lasting fix.

Facing Fears Through Body Boundaries

All horses have two primal fears (phobias): being attacked and being trapped.

Unfortunately, for a horse, a new farrier can represent both. It is only through a process of setting boundaries for the horse's body in relation to the handler's that this situation can be truly helped with lasting results. This body-boundary approach is currently being used by many successful trainers/educators. Terms such as "WESN-Lesson," "Joining Up" or "Heeding" have been associated with the basic idea of creating corridors, tunnels and/or counter moves. They develop a horse's understanding of where to be in relation to the handler. The handler should maintain a shoulder-by-shoulder alignment on the ground with the horse. From this spot, the horse can be directed or steered.

Once the handler knows where to be, it is necessary to show the horse his boundaries. The first step is to deal with the horse's phobia. Being patient and standing by his shoulder will help show him the handler does not intend to attack. In addition, being in a place that is familiar, such as a grooming stall, barn aisle, round pen or arena will show the horse there is no attack from his surroundings.

Once this stage of training has been successfully completed, stage two addresses the horse's feeling of entrapment. This can result if a horse loses its balance and/or the ability to move. A horse must feel he has an opening in a least one of four directions: forward, backward, nearness or farside. Restraint devices can trap him, causing fear to take over. This concept is not easily remembered in the heat of a frustrating moment, especially when both the handler and farrier are pressured for immediate results.

Redirecting the horse to stand up or stand still can be done by the shoulder-by shoulder boundary. Blocking with light resistance in front of shoulders can gain a standstill, or light encouragement or tapping behind the shoulders encourages the horse to step forward or stand up.

Side-by-side movement should be tolerated in the early stages of training to prevent a trapped fear taking over the horse.

After the horse relaxes and accepts his boundaries, it is then time to ask for his feet. The single most important thing to remember is to avoid a tug of war. The goal is not how long the horse's foot can be held up, but to teach him the handler is the one in charge of setting it down. This means setting the foot down before the horse expects you to. He eventually will learn to trust and wait for his foot to be put down each time, whether it is in two seconds or two minutes.

Farrier phobia in horses is natural. It takes an investment of time by the owner/handler working with the farrier to train a horse to be calm and comfortable. A humane approach to horseshoeing is a method that can be practiced on every horse. This "farrier-friendly"™ approach represents the wave of the future.

© 2000 Bryan Farcus. All rights reserved.
Bryan Farcus, certified farrier and head of the Department of Farrier Science at Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, has been combining the skills of horseshoeing, teaching and riding for the past ten years. He has also achieved a BS in Business Management. Bryan is the creator of "Farrier-Friendly"™ articles and products aimed at improving the general understanding of horseshoeing through horsemanship. For a complete collection of "Farrier-Friendly"™ articles click here.

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Updated: October 2005.