Thursday, October 14, 2010

a first for Rafer Johnson

We've had some funky hoof issues this summer, likely brought on by wet/dry weather combined with lots of pasture, then stressed pasture, and what I suspect is my trace mineral balance getting out of whack. Things are getting back to normal now, but part of my treatment plan is the soaking of equine hooves.

Keil Bay and Salina are of course old hands at having feet soaked. Keil Bay will stand like a rock with multiple feet in buckets. Salina, you might remember, will soak her OWN feet if she feels like that's what needs to be done.

Apache Moon is less experienced, but he knows what to do and as long as you give him some hay to munch, he's okay with the process.

Cody, however, has simply not needed to have his hooves soaked in his young life, and while I've tried to plug it in a few times to at least introduce this practice to him, I admit I've not been diligent about it. So it's a bit more stressful for him. I've discovered that he prefers an old rubber feed pan than the bucket. The feed pan is bigger, the lip low to the ground, and I think he doesn't feel as "trapped" by it. It certainly is easier to manage if he wants to lift his hoof up - no banging or tipping. So I've been working with him this week and he's just about got it down now.

The donkeys have never needed hoof soaking either, and I haven't even tried until yesterday. I expected a bit more of a challenge, as donkeys are not really fond of water in general (drinking it is fine, but the hose is not their friend!).

Yesterday afternoon I was the only one here, the barn was quiet, everyone was munching hay, and I decided it was a good time to introduce Rafer Johnson to the process.

I closed off one end of the barn so Salina and Redford would be out of our way, and sat down in the barn aisle with Rafer, the rubber feed pan, my jug of apple cider vinegar and warm water, a small pile of hay, a few carrots, and Rafer's halter and lead rope.

Rafer smelled the jug. He smelled the pan. The one confusing factor in all this is that obviously the feed pan was used as a feed pan. And now I'm putting something liquid in it. But Cody got over this discrepancy quickly, and so did Rafer. I picked his hoof. I slid the pan under. I gently put his hoof down into the solution. He took it back out. I gently put it back. He lifted it out. I put it back. He stood down and let it soak. I gave him a carrot and lots of neck scratches.

Repeat a few times with each hoof.

And stop before it becomes too tedious.

Whenever I read about how difficult donkeys can be, I think of Rafer Johnson. His response to things is always measured, and for the most part trusting. If you approach something new with quiet, centered requests, he will generally comply. And once you repeat that with some treats, praise, and the same quiet expectations, he gets very good at the thing and comes to enjoy it.

It's been an interesting reminder to me this week - working with Cody, working with Rafer Johnson. There's something magical and healing and conducive to success in a quiet barn that has no distractions. The sound of horses munching hay, the occasional snort. It's the perfect backdrop for relaxation, meditation, and learning something new.

And a wonderful lesson for the human in how to accomplish something softly, with no drama and no force. Creating a routine that will make things easy the next time.


Máire said...

You describe the quiet barn very well - I feel myself there with a calm equine, learning something new.

Are you soaking for thrush?

billie said...

With a couple of them I'm soaking for thrush, with a couple I'm soaking to get some moisture in.

And with one I'm soaking just to teach soaking!

Grey Horse Matters said...

We've used the rubber feed tubs for soaking also. It seems a less scary alternative to regular buckets for the novices.

I think you're so right about having a relaxing atmosphere with no distractions when creating a new routine. Nothing can be accomplished with too much noise or activity in the surrounding areas when you're trying to introduce new behaviors.

ponymaid said...

Billie, how utterly perfect your approach is. We donkeys are stellar pupils when things are explained calmly and clearly. And of course Rafer is studious by nature. I notice there is no mention of getting Redford's little trotters into the soaking pan...

billie said...

Arlene, I found a rubber feed tub yesterday at the feed store that has the low edge but is also wide enough that two hooves can soak at a time. I'm adding that to my tack room - it will come in handy and cut the time by half. :)

billie said...

Sheaffer, it is a pleasure to work with Rafer Johnson, that's for sure. I didn't mean to leave Redford out - he is line to work on this lesson. He won't be as easy as Rafer, but usually once you put Redford's halter on he adopts a more serious attitude and is a quick study. It also occurs to me as I type this: Redford is less finicky about water/rain/etc. than is Rafer, so he might take to this just fine. He actually let me hose his hooves off the other day.

Anonymous said...

sigh - my poor feet are being attacked by arthritis and a good soaking with a leg rub would be appreciated....


mrs :p

billie said...

Come on over - we will work you in. :)