Issues with picking up legs
Recently my horse has started showing problems with picking up any of his feet. He is a 6yo, dominant warmblood gelding (a typical LBE by the "horsenality" chart, if this helps) and it started not long after I bought him and began treating his thrush.
He will let me pick up his legs and will tolerate speedy hoof cleaning with a brush and a hook. However, due to the thrush, his hooves have to be soaked so I have to put boots on them and pour the healing liquids inside the boots. At first he was completely fine with it, but, as it has to be done often, he seemed to get more and more annoyed by the procedure (especially the moment when the liquids are poured inside the boots - he then tries moving around and pawing, not to let it happen) and is now constantly trying to pull his legs out of my hands after a few moments of cleaning. He then sometimes paws the ground before letting me pick up his feet again, but it is a constant struggle.
Before I started soaking his hooves I made sure that he was used to water running down his legs, the boots, the cleaning and all that. I am also aware that due to the thrush his frog is a bit sore still so a part of this behavior is caused by discomfort. However, he has no problems at all with getting a shower and standing in puddles, so he dislikes specifically the soaking part.
Up to now I have tried going back to basics and treating his legs with approach and retreat - picking a leg up, holding it for a second, then putting it down and praising him. Putting a boot on, leaving for a second or longer, taking it off, lots of praising again. Pouring a stream of warm water in the boots and ceasing the stream when he stands still, but letting it flow if he tries pawing and moving. Lots and LOTS of praise all the time and also watching that he respects my territory during the procedures.
Up to now, it has given little or no results. So maybe I am doing something wrong or being too impatient? Any ideas? My farrier says that his feet should be ok for picking up, his discomfort is not THAT big to act like this, so I feel it is mostly his dominance. Thanks for hearing me out!
Secure a rope around his leg and pull out to the side. As long as he fights it hold the rope as firm as you can. We he stops kicking and stands nice, release the rope. Repeat until he quits fighting it.
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As for your above, I'd use pretty similar tactics, except that I'd use an actual reward/positive reinforcement rather than just praise(in behavioural terms, a 'bridging signal' that gains meaning IF it's paired consistently with something desirable). Especially with the kind of personality you suggest, he'll likely have a pretty strong 'what's in it for me' attitude, so it may just be a case of making it worth his while! Also, horses learn by *instant* association & aren't good at abstract ideas, even if only signals happening after some behaviour. So it will be much easier for him to understand if you signal/reinforce at the time of the behaviour. Eg. picking a leg up, holding it for a second, praise AND reward, THEN putting it down.
Thanks for yout input!
I decided not to try the rope technique, because I can always make him fight agains pressure, lose and submiss, however, my goal is to give him a chance to think his way into positive behaviour. So I tried first rewarding and praising him at the moment he is holding a leg for me, not after putting it on the ground, and now he already holds his legs for longer and without a reward. It seems that I had picked the wrong moment for rewarding/praising before, but now we're already on our way to better results.
However, I'm not too much into rewarding him with treats, because he tends to show mouthy and dominant behaviour if given the chance, so I cut them down to a minimum, when it comes to training, and in the meantime I also work with him being more patient and not trying to invade my space when he is aware that I have treats with me.
My boy has been doing the same thing for a lady since the hoof soaks began. It feels awkward and they don't feel comfortable lifting them up. It's his way of showing he doesn't like it.
Just keep working on releasing at the right time and preparing him to lift it up. That alone will improve how long he keeps his foot up for you, instead of slamming it down.
I had a similar problem with one of my Minis (same LBE "horsenality") I do my own trimming on my minis and it takes me a while to do the trim so he would get bored/annoyed and act up. I tried a lot of different methods, but what worked best for him was to let him stand tied for 20min - half hour doing nothing before working with his feet, then when I did come and work with his feet, it was so much less boring than just standing there that he would tolerate it much longer. If he did act up, I would walk away and do some other little barn job before coming back and starting again. He quickly learned that standing for a few minutes to have his feet done was a lot easier than getting a looong booooring "time out".
I completely agree with you that food treats are not the best choice in this instance, I tried food treats for a while with my little one and he got really obnoxious. Any way that is what worked for my boy.
If you're inadvertently reinforcing the 'wrong' behaviour, then you'll be strengthening/encouraging that behaviour. It may be a timing thing, like you were rewarding the horse for putting his foot down, rather than picking it up, or it could be that you're reinforcing some 'good' behaviour without considering that he may be 'rudely' asking. Regardless of what kind of reinforcement you use, remember you're reinforcing *what you're getting at that precise time* so make sure to NEVER reinforce rudeness, even if it's hot on the heels of something rewardworthy. See the clicker training thread if you want more info on those principles.
Have you tried hanging a hay net or offering hard feed. That often distracts them.
I always offer him a haynet and also a saltlick is often available, but he is not really interested in all that if the whole situation seems too boring for him. He can be quite a handful sometimes. :) I also sometimes mix hoof care with basic grooming, if I have the time, because that way he becomes more relaxed and sometimes naps during the soaking.
I agree completely about precise timing in reinforcing. I'm not too much into clicker training, but it has its' valuable tips and hints, too.
I'm dealing with a young colt right now (less than a year old) who tore off hoof wall all the way to the coronet band. He was obviously extremely painful having the lamina exposed. A second hand (someone holding his head or working on the foot) makes it so much easier for all (I understand this isn't always an option - I've managed alone too). Can you get someone who is good with body language and clear communication to hold him while you do this? It might make a huge difference.
As for this colt solo, it was important to be able to make an immediate distinction between a pain reaction and when he was being a brat (both are in play here at the moment as his hormones have started to rage). I'm not big on getting strict with horses, but in his case, a correction was merited (after a very long period of patience). Once he understood the jig was up, he quietly stood on three legs for care. It depends on the horse, of course.
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