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An Owner’s Manual
by Steve Bowers
Published by the Draft Horse Journal, Winter 2003-2004, Volume 40, Number 4
Normal Use Of Shoeing Stocks – Getting Ready
Start out before the horse enters the picture by making sure that the shoeing stock is sitting on solid, level ground. Some shoers like to tie their stocks to stationary objects or they tie to roof supports in the building where the stock is used. Shoeing stocks are generally designed to not need such tethering. If a horse moves the stock around and the stock is tethered, there’s a chance the tether could make the stock tip over. If the stock has been sitting outside, be sure it is still sound and tight, and that the floor is free of anything slippery like snow or ice. This is a good time to do an examination of the ropes and cuffs to be sure they are ready.
Once the horse moves into the stock, the first thing you should hook up are the butt chains (photo 2). There are two butt chains provided on most stocks so it is easy to alternately tighten the more slack chain until the horse is snugly but comfortably up against the chest bar in front. I don’t allow too much space between the chest bar and the horse because looseness here allows a horse to really thrash around in the stock (photo 3).
Horses that want to escape your shoeing stock at this point are very likely to try to jump out over the chest bar. fasten the upper front chain right after the butt chains to prevent this. After the upper front chain, I like to fasten both lower chains to prevent the horse from laying down, although that is not likely as long as a foot is not being pickup up (photo 4). The last thing, I fasten is the upper rear chain. The lower chains are adjusted so that the slack is completely removed, and the top chains are left a little looser. To pick up a foot, a horse needs to shift his weight and elevate his torso slightly. If you clamp a horse in the stock with the chains so tight that he can’t shift around a little, you might make it impossible for the horse to pick up his feet.
Immediately after the horse is fully secured, the next step is to put at least one cuff on a rear leg and tether it loosely to the rear so that the horse can’t get its back feet in front of its front feet (photo 5). Before you get down on hands and knees at the rear of the horse and put your face close to the hocks, just remember that some horses thinks it’s a pretty fair idea to strike back at the imposition of being put in confinement. There aren’t many horses that act that way, but it only takes one to make quite an impression! So it’s best to stay on your feet, stay protected by staying to the side of the rear upright, and start by petting the horse’s leg to check out his mood. It is safer to start by rubbing your hand down the horse’s leg from top to bottom until you’re sure the horse is going to stand there. Once that is going well, introduce the cuff, first rubbing the horse’s leg up high, then checking the response as the cuff is moved into position.
If a horse thinks he absolutely will not allow you to put a cuff on his rear leg, you can try a few different things to fix the problem. Sometimes all that is needed is to have a helper pass a lead rope around a front limb and begin to pull the rope around the front leg. If you can get a difficult horse thinking about picking up a front foot (or thinking about not picking up a front foot), their attention shifts, making it easy to get the cuffs on the rear. Another thing you can try is blindfolding the horse, at least for the time while the cuffs are being put on and off. I’ve also had some success with putting a twitch on a horse who thinks he’s going to kick away all comers.
When it appears that the horse is not having a good time in your shoeing stock, bus sure to stay clear of his mouth! I don’t like to use the head tiedown chains provided with some stocks because they are a little too restricting for most horses to accept. Instead, if a horse seems upset, I’ll use a lead rope on the halter to tie the horse’s head so he can’t reach me with his mouth. That way, I don’t need to worry about getting bit while working and the horse feels free to move his head anywhere (except into my space), which helps his attitude about the experience.
If horses only go into shoeing stocks to get palpated, castrated, clipped, vaccinated, teeth floated, treated or trimmed, you will need to make sure the horse’s attitude stays positive. It’s a great idea to put the horse into the stock and spend some time brushing, petting, putting the cuffs on and off, maybe giving him some grain while he is in there. Getting taken out of the stock while the horse in enjoying being there helps a horse become comfortable in stocks.
Picking Up Feet
Many horses pick up their feet on cue when the cuff rope is lightly pulled. The expectations is that horses will get less resistant to having their feet picked up as they get more experience at being handled in stocks. If you’re doing a good job of interacting with the horse and if you’re using the right equipment, a difficult horse will bet more and more cooperative each time they go through the stocks. [Caution: the opposite is also true].
If I have a helper, I like to snap a lead rope into the ring on the cuff so that each person who is lifting has their own rope to pull. For horses that are intent on keeping the foot down on the deck, In instruct helpers top pull to the side, not up. It is easier to sweep a resisting horse’s foot to the side on the deck than it is to pick the foot straight up. When the foot slides to the side a bit, the horse will pick up the foot as if it was his idea.
When you pull on the cuff rope and the horse responds by picking up his foot, it isn’t very nice to the horse if you try to roughly yank his foot over into position, as if you need to be quick and mean to get things to happen (photos 6 & 7). Instead, I try to slow down and give the horse a release of pressure on the cuff as he picks his foot up. When the horse has his foot held up on his own, I’ll try to gently cup the toe of his foot with one hand and suspend the hoof there. Having hold of the toe often relaxes the horse, causing him to soften his resistance, making it easier to move the foot to the desired position.
Screw Eye Or Cleat (photo 8)
Many new shoeing stocks have screw eyes attached to the stocks through which the end of the cuff rope is passed to secure the hoof in position. Many stock users don’t realize that the setup with the screw eye is designed to work with the cuff rope to make a rope pulley. The rope from the cuff should go through the eye, then back through the ring in cuff before lifting on the free end. This arrangement doubles the power of the human and helps secure the leg tightly up against the stock. If you don’t double back to the ring on the cuff, you’ll likely find that the leg can’t get close enough to the stock to stabilize the hoof, especially on the rear feet. On the front feet, there is no need to draw the cuff up close to the upright when trimming the bottom like there is with the rear feet. If you attach too close with a front foot, it twist the horse’s joints unnecessarily, making him uncomfortable.
I have also seen shoeing stocks where the manufacturer provides steel rope grabbing cleats at the location where others have the screw eye. The choice is simply a matter of personal preference. The rope cleats are easy to make from the same bar stock used to make some draft horse shoes (3/8 x 1″ bar stock, cut in 10″ lengths, drilled for lag screw attachment and bent as shown in photo 9).
I’ve learned that the dee rings on the cuff that many shoeing stock manufacturers provide are too light-duty to stand up to the pressure that an experienced stock destroying horse is going to exert. So, when searching for a more hefty ring, I discovered neck yoke rings. They are heavy duty rings made of welded steel, and are almost twice as sturdy as what is typically provided.
When I first used the combination of rope cleats and big rings on the cuff, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was very easy to hook the ring over the top wing of the rope cleat. Hooked like that, as soon as you get the ring over the top wing of the cleat, the leg is captured and secured tightly, leaving no wiggle room. After a quick wrap of the rope around the bottom wing of the cleat, the rope is then kept tight as it is wrapped around the top rope cleat.
Power Lifting (photo 10)
For horses that seem to be rooted to the deck, you can try the power rope technique. Get a ten foot longs smooth rope with a small loop tied into one end. Hang the little loop over an upper rope cleat near the hoof being picked up and pass the end of the rope through the ring on the cuff and up to your helper’s hands. Now when the shoer pulls on the leg, he or she will have twice their normal strength. Most shoers are strong enough that once the horse picks its foot up with this power rope, it is not capable of putting its foot back down until the human is ready for that to happen.
If the power rope technique isn’t enough to un-glue a hoof from the deck, I always have a cable come-a-long ready to use. I simply hook the winch and handle end over an upper rope cleat (these need to be made of steel to do this trick), and clip the hook on the end of the cable into the ring on the cuff. It’s pretty easy then to begin to work the handle until the horse picks up its foot. Once the horse settles a little, you can cup the toe of the suspended hoof and gently ease the hoof over to where you want it.
When a horse is being difficult about having his feet picked up, or is struggling once the foot is picked up, I instruct my helpers to act as if everything is going fine. I’m convinced that some horses enjoy hearing humans grunt and gasp as they try to lift a hoof, and they also seem to get great satisfaction from watching the shoer duck and run if the horse jerks around while in the stock. I try to act as if nothing is wrong, no matter what is happening. Winning the psychological battle is half the job, making it more likely the horse will remember his good manners.
Getting The Horse Out Of The Shoeing Stock
When it is time to take the horse out of the stock, be sure to take off any cuffs before undoing the upper and lower chains that hold him in. I always unwrap the cuff ropes out of the cleats before approaching the cuff with my hands. If a horse swings a leg while you have ahold of the cuff, this makes it less likely to injure your hand. Also, be sure that the horse is no longer tied with a lead rope to the stock. Before undoing the last butt chain, I always take a moment to be sure everything else is off of the horse as planned. If a horse was allowed to come out of the stocks while a foot was still tied to the stocks, it wouldn’t be a happy ending.
From the stories I’ve heard from those who have had trouble with shoeing stocks, it seems their problems occur because of mistakes made in the use of stocks. These problems arise mostly from lack of knowledge about the proper use of stocks, but they also arise from deficiencies in how stocks are manufactured and from deficiencies in the fastening equipment that is provided by some manufacturers. These deficiencies are usually very easy and inexpensive to remedy. Some examples of these deficiencies follow.
If The Horse Doesn’t Fit The Stocks
If the horse is too long of body to fit in the stock, there will be problems. Many of the shoeing stocks being sold for draft horse use fit only small to medium-sized horses. Really big draft horses can’t get their hind feet up onto the platform of the stock, which greatly compromises the stability. My favorite way to make stocks longer is to start at the foundation and replace the two “sleeper” beams that the four uprights are fastened into. Usually they need to be about a foot longer in order to fit most draft horses. An alternative that would probably work just fine would be to use steel strapping to scab on some extra length to the sleepers at the rear of the stocks and then nail on more deck planking.
If the horse is too small, this will also cause problems. Rattling around because of too much space front to rear and side to side will cause all kinds of problems. Some manufacturers offer a stock that is sized to handle light horses.
Not Enough Cuffs
If the stock manufacturer didn’t provide enough cuffs for picking up the feet, there is great potential for the horse to do a move that I call “the bunny hop.” When a horse gets his rear feet forward of his fronts, he’ll be helplessly laying on the rear support chain, which then works its way up into the horse’s flank. This process is particularly dangerous. Being in this position quickly deadens the nerves that provide muscle response in the rear limbs. Just a couple of minutes of laying there in the bunny hope position makes it almost completely impossible to get the horse to a standing position again. I’ve herd of shoers having to hammer lost the chain fastenings on such horses and they try to figure out how to roll the horse backward out of the stocks, or, having to cut apart the stock with a saw to get the horse out.
If you are presented with the problem of having a bunny in your shoeing stocks, the first thing to try is to put a cuff on both hind feet and then pull the back feet one at a time back to a position where the horse can use its legs again. It’s normal for some horses to lay down on the support chains while in the stock, but if the rear feet are tethered, the horse will usually stand up again when the foot being worked on is lowered.
The new stocks I’ve seen recently come with only one cuff with a rope attached to the rung on the cuff, plus one narrow strap for securing the front feet to the trimming position (photo 11). While shoeing, you’ll need to use at least two cuffs with ropes attached while working on a front foot: one cuff on a rear leg to tether it to the rear; and one cuff on the front leg being picked up. I generally use at least three cuffs on both rear feet, just in case one of the rear cuffs comes off unintentionally. Also, having both back feet tethered to the rear prevents a kicky horse from cow-kicking your heard as you work on a front foot – a nice safely measure.
Extra Strap For Rear Leg (photo 12)
If not provided by the manufacturer, obtain a wide nylon strap that is long enough to go around the leg and the stock for helping to secure the rear legs. This strap helps secure the rear leg when it is being held at the rear side of the post, which is the position where the horse has the most power, and is most likely to break cuffs, cleats and ropes. This strap is put on after the back foot is secured with the cuff and it is cinched down tight to discourage any movement and strengthen the hold there.
Extra Bracing (photo 13)
If the framework of the stock is wobbling around, the horse will be encouraged to thrash around. My favorite extra bracing is the steel bracing between the horizontal and vertical main beams of the stocks, as seen in the pictures. Most manufacturer are now using some sort of bracing there, either steel or wood, to prevent wobbling. I also like to put in extra bracing at the upper parts of the stock to prevent any movement of the framework. Some manufacturers offer all steel stock construction, which, if made well, seems to be a good options to prevent any wobbling.
The Need For Shoeing Stocks
It’s not a good thing, but the truth is that many draft horse breeders and trainers neglect to do the training necessary to make horses willingly cooperative about having their feet handled. Many horses are then sentenced to a lifetime of hoof neglect because of the (seemingly) overwhelming difficulty of getting them over their hoof handling fears. If draft horse people knew enough to get along well with having horses in shoeing stocks, it would be very good for those horses that have missed out on hoof handling training. With the high demand for competent shoers, there is no real reason for shoers to take on clients who own big horses that plunge around and are difficult to hold their feet up. If you shoer has access to a well made, well-equipped shoeing stock, and the horse owner or the shoer knows how to handle the horse while it is in the stock, shoeing then becomes much safer and much more easily accomplished – for both humans and horses.