Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Yes, My Barefoot Trimming Practice is Safe

by Audrey Bryant

Audrey Bryant is a familiar and welcome presence around Freedom Farm—we all appreciate her wisdom and skill as a professional hoof trimmer and adviser on equine health. -MG

I’m often asked about the way I trim—with the horse lightly tied, or lead rope loose on the ground—and whether or not it’s really safe. Safety has always been paramount in what I do; I have a definite approach to horses, grounded in my understanding of their psychology and behavior, and tested for many years of practice in every kind of farm setting. So yes, my method of barefoot trimming is very safe—the few times I have felt otherwise were when I did not follow my own rules!

Let’s start with the basics. For me, the horse’s comfort is my FIRST priority.  It doesn’t matter if I have one or fifteen horses to trim on a given day.  I treat each horse as if they’re the only horse I have to do that day and they are the only thing that matters. Most horses are good horses if you know how to understand what they are showing you. A horse that misbehaves is usually uncomfortable in some way—mentally, emotionally or physically. When I ensure that the horse is comfortable in these areas, my job is easier and I’m safe.

An analogy I like to share with people is this: let’s say you go to the doctor for an exam or procedure. The doc comes in without saying hello, does not introduce himself or even ask how you’re doing. He just goes straight into the exam or procedure—and let’s face it, some exams and procedures can feel pretty invasive under the best of circumstances! You would most likely feel very uncomfortable, possibly a little scared, maybe even a little angry. Worse, the procedure is more likely to be painful, now that you are tensed up from being treated so rudely and with so little respect for your personal space.

Now let’s apply this to horses: how can a horse be expected to stand politely if the farrier comes up and just grabs the horse’s foot without saying hello and asking how they’re doing?    This person just invaded the horse’s space without permission and took his only means of escape by taking his foot. A horse is a prey animal and has two responses to perceived danger, fight or flight. Neither of these responses is advantageous for us humans.

When I approach a horse, whether it’s his first trim or hundredth, I always say hello by allowing him/her to sniff me and my tools if they want to. Then I will spend a few minutes scratching and rubbing him and assess how he’s feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Horses are not only very sensitive, they are very social and extremely perceptive; I think even more so than us humans. These few moments of respectful attention create a line of communication between the horse and me.

A 32-year old client appreciates my keeping her foot low...
If you approach a horse with a “get’er done”, rushed attitude without checking in, you can cause the horse discomfort. It can be physical, for example, because you lift the hoof too far off the ground without realizing that they’re old and arthritic and you didn’t take the time to find out; or maybe it’s emotional or mental discomfort because the horse is feeling vulnerable because you just took his only means of escape and he’s feeling trapped.

The few times I have gotten into trouble, I had let the horse’s person persuade me that their horse required being a) hard tied to a post, b) in cross ties or c) held by someone. Bypassing my basic approach on these occasions set up that trapped, vulnerable tension for the horse and we very nearly had a problem. For this reason I require that horses not be tied or even held. The rope can lie on the ground next to me, or over the horse’s shoulder.

Horses learn quickly that their responsibility is to stand quietly for me. I treat them with respect and they give that respect back to me. I teach horses that don’t like to stand that it is way more work to wiggle around than to stand calmly (this goes back to the fight or flight response—they are predisposed to save energy, just in case). I don’t beat on them with my rasp or jerk them around or rely on gadgets. I simply move them around a bit and if they’re scared I rub them and reassure them. It’s a win-win-win for the horse, the owner and me.
The rope is not tied. Like the Pirate's Code, "it's actually more of a guideline..."
Typical day at the office...

We look forward to more articles on successful trimming and more from Audrey! Subscribe to our blog to get them as they are published! -MG


  1. Audrey trimmed my horses for the last 5 years. She is a patient and knowledgeable horse woman. She is very generous with her knowledge and is always open for questions. Claudia Clark

  2. My pony Misty's favorite thing is the back rubs she gets every time Audrey is here to do some work. She loves it!