The Middle Path: Negotiating Care With Busy Professionals

My advice: Find someone who gets along with donkeys.

 

A question from two readers: “We suggest you write sometime about the difficulties of having professionals show up and are so impatient with one’s horses. Yesterday an equine chiropractor was so task-oriented, she was so impatient, I thought at one point she might get kicked…” (The horse lost balance in the rush and got a smack on the butt for it,) “For the first time I did not get into that self-blaming mode of oh gee, I can’t even manage my horse. But unable to protect my horse from being rushed along. And I know the person thinks-believes they have right to protect themselves from injury. But they’d be less likely to be kicked or bitten if they would slow and listen. But in some cases, that kind of behavior outweighs any potential benefit in my opinion. Yet, we rely on those folks to help our horses! It’s a conundrum. We were just wondering how you might work with those situations?”

On the surface, it’s easy to just say don’t hire the hurried professional. Find someone else who has better ground habits. Except that I’ve been in this position, and fairly recently. It might be that a trusted professional is no longer available and you are trying someone new. Or the usual professional might be having a bad day. In some areas, there just isn’t much choice and maybe your horse is in need, so you have to find a way to get along. Lots of reasons but in the end, you find yourself watching something unfold that you don’t want to see.

You’re right. Going slow is always a better answer.

On the professional’s side, yes, they do have to protect themselves. It’s always dangerous work when horses are in pain. A vet tech’s first job is to keep the vet safe; equine practitioners of all kinds must know that a horse can respond unpredictably. All pros, even trainers like me, must be constantly aware. Part of the job.

I empathize, if the professional continues without listening to the horse, things will go worse. It can create an anxiety runaway for the horse, or owner, or both. The real question might be how do we deal with those who are handling our horse but might have a training approach very different than ours?

Sure, long-term, find someone else, but in the moment, what? You have the potential to make things worse if you speak up; I’ve seen professionals get defensive and escalate. But if you bite your tongue, it could accelerate anyway. Meanwhile, you are watching your horse’s calming signals rise and wishing the professional would recognize them as well. That means your stress is growing, too.

Breathe. I know I harp on this, but only because it works. For all our talk about breathing in the saddle, the most important time to take deep, slow breaths might be on the ground with vets, farriers, and bodyworkers. Make sure you have some slack in the lead rope. If your horse feels a dead hold, he’ll get claustrophobic and more nervous. Let him hear you exhale.

Keep your eyes unfocused and your belly soft. Breathe in slowly, counting, feeling the air go all the way to the far corners of your lungs. Then release the air through your mouth, just as slowly. Feel your shoulders go soft, as your neck relaxes. Is your jaw tense? Release that. Breathe again. About now your horse is noticing and thinking he might have a choice, so breathe to let him know it will be fine. And again, breathe and notice the tense area in your horse’s body and then relax that part in your own body.

Be more present with your horse, than you are resistant to the professional.

Put your horse first, by staying mentally connected with him. Keep the majority of your mind right there. It takes concentration on our part. We tend to lose focus by telling the story, reciting symptoms, asking the professional questions. Or just watching with growing dread.

Now, as you are reading along, is a good time to decide what line you don’t want a professional to cross. Decide in an unemotional moment where you would stop things for the sake of your horse. Understand that he is likely to feel discomfort and stress whenever he gets a vet call. That a farrier picking up his feet is a balance question that he is going to need to think about.

What is the line between being expedient and rushing and using force?

I know sometimes a sharp word can get a horse’s attention, but if someone takes a whack, that’s different. If they shove the horse or punish him for something out of the horse’s control, that isn’t okay with me. Beyond that, it’s about intention. A light-hearted pro might say a harsh word and be fine, but if I sense growing anger or frustration, that’s a different thing. Know ahead of time what’s okay with you and what isn’t.

The breathing has slowed your panic by now. Good job for not taking all the blame and shame when it started. Remember that this isn’t about you. You may well curse the professional to the clear blue sky later, but right now, it’s about your horse. You don’t have to acquiesce, and you don’t have to get mad. Find a middle path.

If things haven’t gone too far, you might be able to divert things before they get to the point of no return. Breathing might slow things down for the pro, just like it has you and your horse. If not, you might say, “Are you okay? You seem a bit rushed today,” or something equally soft but a bit like a wake-up call. We’re all human. We don’t always notice what we do.

If it’s too late and the line has been crossed, well, you’re a consumer and you have choices. Breathe, make a clear statement, without blaming, for the benefit of your horse. Use “I” statements and keep your voice relaxed. Say something like, “Thank you, please step away. I’d like you to stop now, and I’ll be happy to pay you for your time.”

If it’s gone that far, debating groundwork and training approaches with a professional is probably not going to be productive. Sorry.

The is so much polarity everywhere these days and the horse world as well. The lines are drawn with knives and everyone expects the worst extremes, brutality or a total lack of control. In the past, I might have ranted about it but upping the anxiety doesn’t help.

Putting your horse above your emotions is always the best plan.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Clinician, Equine Pro

36 comments

  1. Excellent article, Anna. Been there and it’s not fun. I would like to add that professionals need to tell us what they expect from us. Farrriers especially seem to think we know what we’re supposed to do. I wish they would have a chat at the first appointment laying all that out. Or hand out a sheet if they’re uncomfortable talking.

  2. Thank you so much for this article. Several years ago I had my vet out to give my new mare a rabies shot. Should have been simple. Except, the mare was new to me, new to the vet, and worse, had never been in a barn in her 8 year old life. In fact she had limited handling. So I was slowly learning about her. One thing I learned was she was nervous about anything happening on her right side. The vet wanted her in a stall. Okay. I placed the mare facing the door. She was calm, I was calm. I explained about the right side issues. The vet stepped to her left. Then she said, “I always give rabies on the right.” She moved quickly to the right, and the mare reacted. The tech grabbed the lead from me and they proceeded to fight with the mare and give her the shot. It took a long time to get my girl willing to stand for her vaccinations. A long time. This even caused problems for my farrier. Since then, things have improved. She has the best ground manners in the barn, is working in hand and under saddle, and has no problem with her right side. But that one episode set us back for quite awhile. I had used that vet for years with no problems. But that day, she was in a hurry. I now talk to the vet who is giving shots, explain the issue, and let them know how I will be handling the mare. If the mare wants to move a little I let her. The vet and I walk with her. Once she relaxes and stops moving, she gets her shot. No problem.

    • Seems like the both of you learned something that day. I had a farrier rough up a yearly and it took years… so foolish on their part. Great comment, thanks for sharing it, Dayle.

      • Yes, years.I have learned from all of my horses. They are great teachers. I also have a great farrier. He’s kind, and never in a hurry. If the mare moves, its no big deal to him.I have learned over the years to observe farriers, vets, and instructors/trainers before I consider using them.

    • I, too, had a problem with a vet and a mare. Mare doesn’t like needles, but we have worked on it, to the point where all she does is tense, lift her head, and swish her tail. Apparently that was threatening to the (hurried and/or disgruntled) vet. Who proceed to growl, then actually STAB said mare with the needle, in the jugular, to pull the coggins, and say “take that, b**ch”! I was appalled, and obviously won’t be calling him back. Why? Why do that to a horse who is sensitive, and trying so hard to do right? So few here in this area to choose from……

      • I don’t understand being that harsh, but even more, how stupid of him to say that. From a business standpoint, if not the cruelty side. (and I always know bad service comes from businesses who don’t need to care…) Thanks Laura.

  3. Brilliant advice! And yes, if they can get along with donkeys, they have learned a thing or two already. It’s also a reminder about being clear on what is expected, not assuming the other is at the same place.

  4. thank you so much , Anna ! Your words give me more “tools” and guidelines to work with in those kind of situations ! Breathing of course, and giving horse more attention As you said , these situations occasionally emerge unexpectedly so it’s good to have one’s intentions about where the line in the sand is determined ahead of time and how one might deal with that if it is crossed. Also great to know that even YOU encounter these issues ! LIke I’ve said, if all the vets, farriers, body workers, etc had the Anna Blake 101 Communication course, our lives would be easier. I think the piece of how “emotional” or upset the professional is is a super important aspect. I did have a vet smack my horse when he tried to bite her, and that is not ok with me that she hit him, BUT she had no emotion, was not upset with him, she said that is so dangerous I have to tell him that , and he’s just not socialized and fears I won’t listen to him, but I will. AND she did listen and work carefully with him the remainder of an hour or more… But I don’t have her coming back either. Anyhow, thanks for addressing this dilemma !

  5. A few years ago I moved my horse, my old OTTB with severe arthritis in one knee, back to our original/home barn. Which meant finding a new trimmer. I took my time. Asked for recommendations. And found a “natural hoof trimmer” that was highly recommended.

    She came to the barn for the first trim, and immediately started on how she was “going to fix” his knee and way of moving. I had told her that he was a retired OTTB, that was not ridden, and didnt need to be. He was RETIRED. Pasture Sound. And both he, and I were- and still are- ok with that. Mostly though, that there is no “fixing” his knee.
    The trim went well enough. She was patient. He has issues standing on the leg with “the knee” to have the opposite front done. But all went well. I paid her, tipped an additional $20 And made the appt for his next trim.

    The next trim didnt go as well. She got mad at him for not wanting to stand on “the knee” . She took the lead from me and jerked his head. Demanding that he stand on the leg. He tried, as he always does. And we got thru the trim. I paid her, tipped her. And made the appt for the next trim.

    The next time she didnt strike him, but I could tell she wanted to. She was harsh with him, actually yelling at him at one point. Which upset him since he is a very easy going, quiet, sensitive, horse She kept insisting that she could correct “the knee” And now was pushing a friends equine massage business. I could tell that my horse was done with her. I pad her. Tipped her. And told her I’d call to make the next appt. I never did.

    I now have my trainer friend trim my old guy. He takes his time. Gives him rest periods; which makes the trim take longer, but makes it A LOT less stressful on all of us. And since we help each other out. It costs me a lot less as well.

    I understand having a bad day. We are human. But if you are already in a “mood” And you know that your next client/horse has a certain limitation. I would rather be called to reschedule. Than to have my horse treated poorly.

  6. Anna, I remember reading something you wrote about breathing slow, soft, and steady from a distance to cue your distraught horse to breathe while he was sick and being handled. I don’t remember if it is in Relaxed and Forward or Stable Relations but it taught me to do this with my horse William when the farrier trims his feet. He does not like being touched a lot so while the farrier is trimming, I hold his lead rope loosely, lower my head, and breathe slow and steady by his face to cue him to do the same. I can see him relax and lower his head. It also helps that I have a lovely young lady farrier who loves him and listens to him closely. When he needs a break, she stops. She also gives him treats, caresses, and sweet talk. Every horse owner should be so blessed! If they aren’t, they need to read your books to learn how to empower themselves for their horse’s sake!

  7. great post and such a common dilemma to discuss. Thank you! One of the most empowering moments in my horse life was the time I asked a farrier to unhand my horse please. I did not allow the parelli-ing to continue. He was taking forever and trimming with without proper tools so decided he should educate my boy with that insane backing stuff. I got big and very clear inside and got my horse back from him. I was sorry to have let it go that far but next time will be quicker on the draw. PS: the photo for this blog is amazing and yes. the donkey test…..

  8. Great post! Totally agree that the vibe of the pro can be a good guideline: if they are relaxed and light hearted versus getting angry.

    I have absolutely called it off a number of times when I saw things escalate. I usually say something like “hes having a bad day, let’s call it for now and I can work with him on his manners”. Saves the pros ego and the horse forgives me.

    The thing to remember is that you are 100% in charge of the interaction and its ALWAYS ok to say you want to stop at any point. Nothing is worth watching your horse get treated unfairly.

  9. Thank you all so much for this. I have a mix of wild caught & young horses & this is a constant problem for me, especially in terms of finding a farrier who is prepared to just go slow & gentle. It takes so little to spook a wild horse & set training back months while the babies need time to find their balance. So – as always – excellent advice & I’ll try to remember both to breathe & be brave enough to call the shots.

  10. This is true for professionals who work with humans as well. The very young, the very old and the very ill are often stressed or frightened by medical treatments. Their caretakers need to think ahead of time about where to draw the line during painful or frightening interactions and have the presence of mind and courage to say “Stop!” when the line is crossed.

    Horse or human, we all need someone to advocate for us when we are at our most vulnerable.

    Thank you for caring about our animals–and us!

  11. Thanks for this post. I have a mustang mare who when I got her had balance issues. At one point I could not get my regular farrier, who was an angel! out and had to use someone else. She was used to being trimmed in the barn. He insisted on trimming her outside in the sun. A guy was selling a snow mobile and revving the engine not 200′ from us. The guy was abrupt. My mare kept taking her foot off the stand. I asked him to lower it, since it was too high for her to manage. Nada. I asked could we move away from the snow mobile. No. Finally I asked the snow mobile guy to give it a rest for a few, but the stand was still way high. After a few more tries the guy says, “I refuse to work on a horse that’s not trained.” To my utter amazement, I said, “Okay” and walked away. My regular farrier came soon and the mare fell asleep while being trimmed. It was a good lesson for me. I have no problem for a farrier disciplining my horse fairly, with good timing, because she can be a pill. A patient, quiet practitioner who knows when and how to discipline (and then is over it) is a god send.

    • Great comment, Kerry. I think there is some truthful gray area; some owners think it’s the farriers job to train horses about their feet, and it our job. Some farriers think horses should behave flawlessly no matter what… It can be a balance, and for you, the perfect time for an exit. Dang. Thanks, Kerry.

  12. Okay, I’m not as nice as you guys. As a human medical person, I put more responsibility on the professional. It is part of the job to work with horses that aren’t perfect and sometimes they misbehave. But as a human doctor, I have had adults and children misbehave and that doesn’t give me the right to hit or manhandle them. I can refuse to treat them if I feel they are potentially going to harm me. But that’s it. I’m sure there is a veterinary board that you can complain to if it gets to the point of abuse and happens too fast to stop them and refuse to let them treat the horse, I have been lucky to have good vets and farriers and have never had a problem. But I try to go out of my way to help the vet/farrier and train my horses to have good ground manners. But if the situation arose, I would stand up for my horses and simply say it’s not a good day and tell them to leave it for another time.

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