From time to time at our practice, we see horses that the farrier has a difficult time trimming and shoeing. Some of these horses will continuously pull their foot away, rear or back up, will not stand still and constantly move away from the farrier. Others will be aggressive toward the farrier and try to bite or kick. There are many possible reasons for this behavior and usually the horse is simply believed to be untrained, handled incorrectly, or had a previous bad experience with a farrier.
However, the veterinarians at North Carolina State believed some of these difficult horses may be in pain and this could be causing the behavior. They performed a study on 11 horses that required sedation for foot work. Surprisingly, after two to three shoeing cycles, the horses no longer needed sedation. Now it is possible that the sedative allowed the horses to understand the shoeing was not painful and trained them. It is also possible the horses became comfortable with the farrier and the surroundings and did not require further sedation. However, both of these were considered unlikely by the authors in that the change occurred quickly after the original problem was addressed. The authors believe some horses that will not stand for the farrier and are difficult may be in pain and the pain is causing the behavior problem. Consequently, after the foot problems were treated and the pain was decreased, the horses stood better for the farrier. So if you have a horse that does not stand well for the farrier, it is possible the horse could be in pain anywhere in the leg, not just in the foot, and your vet needs to check this out before you blame it on bad behavior.