How Desperation Drove Me to My First Horse Whisperer

by BarbaraEllinFox in Horse Whisperer9 Comments

Has desperation ever driven you to try something new? When you’re well educated in your field and you’ve been at your craft for a long time it’s easy to become skeptical of new methods. That’s the way I was about horse whisperers twenty-five plus years ago until a situation put me at a point of need.

I had a horse with a problem and I was out of answers. It was a rare situation for me and I needed help.

The Problem

I, nor the farriers, could pick up and hold my horse’s right hind foot long enough to trim it or even clean the debris from his foot.

It seems simple enough to correct. There are many restraints that could have been used BUT when an animal exhibits an issue like this, it’s only the crust of a much deeper problem.

The Horse’s History

He was a National Champion dressage horse who had earned Legion of Honor. He had a show record with a list of championships that took several sheets of paper to print. And all of this had been achieved by the time he was six-years old.

His history indicated not only had the horse’s hooves been cleaned daily, but during his show career he wore shoes that were nailed onto all four feet and changed every six weeks.

But his foundation, his initial handling, was wrong and in his early life he’d been mistreated.

It wasn’t that this horse tried to kick people. When someone held his hoof and he needed to have it back, he’d step forward and put all of his weight on the foot you were holding. If you didn’t let go he’d panic and step forward again until you did. It would have been stupid to attempt to force the issue because it’s root was fear.

I had a half-ton animal with a problem.

Why Bother?

So why not just leave his hooves alone and avoid the problem?

A horse’s hoof is somewhat like our fingernails and toenails, only hooves house crucial parts of the horse’s structure. A horse’s hoof grows like your fingernails and they have to be trimmed every six to eight weeks. If hooves are left to do their own thing they become too long forcing the horse to walk unnaturally and out of balance. This can hurt their joints or make their legs grow crookedly.

Chunks will break off long hooves leaving cracks and potentially subjecting sensitive tissues to infection. Breaks can leave jagged edges that can injure the horse’s other legs.

To a good horseman proper hoof care is not an option. It’s a necessary part of keeping horses healthy and sound.


My farrier didn’t see the horse’s problem as a fear issue. He decided it was temperamental  disobedience. The horse reached the point that he needed an IV injection of Dormosedan before we could handle his right hoof enough for a trim.

That meant scheduling the veterinarian at the same time as the farrier. Plus the vet had to stay during the hoof appointment incase the horse needed more sedative.

It was an expensive bandaid, not a cure for the horse’s situation, nor my desperation for him. The worst part was each time the horse had the sedative his system was severely depressed and afterward he hung his head, dripping in sweat with muscle tremors. It was unbearable.

A Trainer

A friend who lived in another state told me about an amazing trainer/cowboy she called Spud. He worked with horses in her college town. Spud also trained goats, dogs and anything else that crossed his path. It sounded weird and he was very far away, but I kept the information in the back of my mind.

Sometime later an acquaintance told me about her cousin the farrier. In the horse business everyone has a cousin who’s a farrier or trainer, so I was skeptical. I had already used the highest rated farrier in our area and he’d done nothing but make my horse worse.

She told me Rex, her cousin, was good with horses and had been learning from a man who also trained goats and dogs. My brain started sifting through files.

She waved a folded white paper in front of my face. “He’s giving a clinic in…” She named a nearby town.

I snatched the paper and sure enough it was the same trainer my friend had mentioned.

I decided nothing would keep me from auditing the clinic even though I was skeptical about a cowboy training method. Come on! The guy trained goats. But I was lured by the idea of a possible solution for my miserable horse.

Did Spud End the Desperation?

Perhaps another time I’ll tell you about the clinic and the process I went through with my horse. Today I hope you’ll see that desperation to help the horse drove me to the end of what I knew. I’d become stagnant in learning and there was more.

Desperation reignited the desire to learn and gave me a deeper approach to horsemanship.

Barbara Ellin Fox 


Lifetime horsewoman, Barbara weaves her extensive background with horses and their people into exciting stories about happily ever after for men, women, and horses. Barbara also enjoys helping others with horses and writing.

  • Beautiful story Barbara. Family illnesses, and job loss have left myself and my family feeling desperate. Thank goodness our situation is light-years better. Jesus lifts us up while we are at our lowest.

    • Hi Stacy,
      Desperation can carry us over to fear. I’m so glad Jesus has everything under control and that He loves us so much. Thanks for reading this. You are a blessing.

  • Barbara, you know me well, The problem which you describe here is identical with the problem I have now with Ellie; (except that in her case it is the near hind leg) complete with vet and farrier together whenever her feet nee to be pared. (Now that we are no longer riding she is barefoot). Lifting her off fore used to be a bit difficult, and still is, but I now recognise that the problem is a diagonal one — the near hind; it hurts her to have it lifted. Fortunately she is an understanding and accomodating horse and when I get to that foot she obligingly points her toe, still resting the weight on the ground, so that if I kneel I am able to clean her foot.

    • Roger, You had mentioned trouble with the farrier for Ellie but never exactly her issue. It’s interesting that her problem is like the one my horse had. Has she had difficulty with soundness on the leg? My horse has a further history.He’d had an injury to his hock that required stitching. I was told he’d tangled with an anvil, which also says the injury wasn’t the original problem but added to his fear. It had been healed for a longtime. The personal issue for me was the farrier’s attitude that since I was a woman He knew better. From the beginning I asked him to let go of the horse’s foot when the animal needed to take it away. He thought I was spoiling my horse. Instead he set up a battle. Sigh. Horses are very forgiving but it only takes a little bit to destroy their trust. I hope Ellie is well.

      • Barbara, When Ellie first came to me — she was 18 then so had some background — I found her to be a one-sided horse. She always preferred me, at the trot, to rise on one diagonal rather than the other and preferred to turn one way rather than the other. Also , as I said, she would always take her off fore away from me; just momentarily and then let me have it again. Shoeing her near hind was a great difficulty especially as the farrier(s) always knew better than me and insisted on doing that leg first; out of our normal sequence. As in you case when she tried to take the foot away instead of conceding and calming the horse there was a fight. (Farriers, farriers !! ). A McTimoney chiropracter worked on Ellie and achieved great results and eliminated the one-sidedness but that was only temporary. At aged 18 of course I did not know what she had experienced in the past but I am sure that her second owner had not treated her well to judge by the scars and her nervousness when being groomed, her refusal to have her face touched. (It took 8 years before I was allowed to stroke her nose). With regard to her near hind leg I note her sensitivity even now when brushing that thigh. She has had 3 foals and I am inclined to suspect damage to the pelvis or musculature in that area. Having said all that she is now a calm confident horse who greats me with a whinny or a neigh and will seek me out and stand against me in the loose box and from time to time will rub her head against me. She responds to speech quite readily — all in all we are great friends. How is Reno?

        • Hi Roger,
          Yes, lameness or old injury can be especially difficult for the teenage and up horse. They can’t tell us, so it becomes even more important to be able to read what they’re trying to convey. And then when you add fear compounded by force things become impossible. Farriers are why our horses stay barefoot unless it’s absolutely necessary for them to have shoes. Just as in people, anything that is out of place has a tendency to follow muscle memory even with excellent chiropractic work. Ellie has a good life with you. Reno is a never ending source of enjoyment. We haven’t been riding because of the weather and will start back soon. I took him for a walk with a lead rope around the pasture tonight trying to give him a long line so he could choose to walk in the correct spot on his own. It was fun to see him exert his opinion as we neared gates. He’d try to weave around me and insist with his body that our walk should be over. We had an entire conversation without words. As far as hooves go, Reno is the farrier’s favorite. Only you would understand what a relief that is. Take care and give Ellie a pat for me. Barbara

  • What a great post! I’m fascinated by your horse stories, and you capture the emotion of being a caregiver well. (I felt for your poor afflicted horse.) 😕

    As for me? YES!
    Desperation has probably been a driving factor at every stage of my writing journey. I drag my feet/hooves 😜… until I know I have to take that step I’d rather not take. The unknown is scary, but whenever we’re going to give birth to something new, there’s inevitably stretching. It’s not always comfortable, but there is joy when God births something new in our lives.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Lara- Thanks for your comment. Even though the idea is daunting, I hope God never stops stretching me. While I might not be wild about the painful process, I love growth. The thing that is interesting about desperation is that it is closely connected to passion. A passionate hunger to do something well can surely make us feel desperate. And worried! Blessings to you and everything you put your hand to. Barbara

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