By Clinton Anderson
Do you have a horse that constantly fidgets when you go to put his support boots on? Here’s a fix to get him to stand still and relax so that you can get the boots placed properly on his legs. First, rule out the possibility that your horse is uncomfortable with objects touching his legs by desensitizing his legs to the lead rope and stick and string. If he can’t handle the lead rope or string touching his legs, he’ll never feel comfortable about boots being wrapped around his legs.
Once that possibility is ruled out, correct his behavior by working with him in an open area like an arena or roundpen where he can move his feet and doesn’t feel trapped. When you’ve got him in an open area, drape the lead rope over your elbow and start to put one of his boots on. If the horse moves, drop the boot and put his feet to work. Do Lunging for Respect Stage Two, back him up for 100 feet, practice the Sending Exercise, etc. What you make the horse do isn’t important, what is important is making sure you hustle his feet and ask him to do a lot of changes of direction.
The more you move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right, the quicker he’ll start to use the thinking side of his brain and relax. After making him hustle his feet for five minutes, stop him, pick up the boot and go straight back to putting it on him. You’re making the right thing (standing still) easy and the wrong thing (moving) difficult. It’s kind of like you’re saying to the horse, “You don’t want to stand still? That’s fine by me, but if you’re going to move, it’s going to be on my terms.”
Anytime he gets fidgety and moves his feet, immediately put him to work. If you’re consistent, it won’t take the horse long to realize that standing still while you put his boots on is the best option. (If your horse keeps moving and appears to be worried about the boot touching his leg, spend some time using the Approach and Retreat Method to desensitize his legs to the boot. Instead of trying to put the boot on him, just rub it up and down his leg. Then, when he’s good with that–he’s standing still and showing a sign of relaxing–go ahead and put the boot on him.)
Oftentimes, the most effective correction you can make to a horse is hustling his feet. Horses are basically lazy creatures and would rather stand around with their legs cocked daydreaming about their next meal than moving their feet and working up a sweat. They’ll always choose the option with the least amount of work involved.