Occasionally I forget horses live in their bodies 24/7, so they know more about themselves than we do. I shouldn't be surprised or amazed but I am sometimes when they stick their feet and won't budge.
I watched while a lady asked her horse to go into her trailer. I observed the horse's front feet inch forward to a foot from the end of her trailer and go no further. When she asked her horse to move forward past that foot of spacing into the trailer, instead of her horse going forward, he started to go left or right past the trailer opening. When that didn't work, her horse just stood in front of the trailer opening and started to inch his hind feet forward hoping that would satisfy her. When that didn't work, her horse tried rearing and backing up to get away from the pressure of going into the trailer.
I saw similar behavior when someone tried to back their horse out of their trailer. The horse came to the trailer edge and instead of stepping down out of the trailer, he began inching his front feet towards his planted hind feet. If that didn't take the pressure off and the owner still wanted him to step down out of the trailer backwards, he tried turning around or pushing to the front of the trailer again.
I will use the horse who didn’t think he could back out of the trailer. He could be backed to the very edge. He couldn’t really see the edge very well because his eyes were too far ahead of his hind feet so he had to go more with the feel of what his hind feet were telling him about the terrain. He knew he was close to something with a lot of air and empty space with nothing solid behind him. He did try a time or two to place a hind foot out there in space but he couldn’t find anything solid to touch since the ground was about 6-8 inches below the edge of the trailer. In his mind, he knew the Grand Canyon was just inches outside that backdoor! The next thing he tried to do was go forward inside the trailer and then attempted to turn around. When that didn’t work he allowed to be backed up to the trailer edge again and planted his hind feet there. He then started to inch his front feet towards his back feet until they got pretty close together. He was a really good horse and was still trying to work with his handler but he was pretty worried about the thin air outside the trailer.
The handler started to ask him to back up some more but took off the pressure anytime he started to explore the thin air behind him. Sometime during this process he realized that the handler wanted him to explore. He used one of his hind feet similar to how a blind person uses his arm and hand to explore his surroundings. He kept searching until he found out there was another narrow ledge just below the upper trailer edge and also there was some rubber below the narrower ledge. In the process of finally backing out of the trailer he used the narrow ledge to rest the toe of one hind foot while he explored some more of the thin air with the other hind foot. Sometimes he also used the rubber edge to balance his hind foot on and did some more exploring which brought him much closer to the ground below the thin air. He finally started to find the solid ground which he felt and recognized right away and then he started to really get serious about finding a way out to that solid ground since his handler wasn’t going to let him turn around or stay in the trailer. He still had to learn about softening and flexing the joints of one back leg in order to squat enough to get the other leg on the ground but he finally did it and knew how he had accomplished it. From that point on he came out of the trailer without sticking his feet. I could see the confidence and understanding he had gained by his attitude and calmness.
Because of these kinds of experiences when I run into a horse that doesn’t move or respond well to his rider, I know (for whatever reason) he has decided to stick his feet to the ground. The issue of the feet being stuck to the ground starts in the mind because it’s the horse’s mind which is telling his feet to stay planted. I can give you a very good example from my own life. There is a piece of me that would love to experience the thrill of jumping off a high diving board or rocky cliff into the water below. I have actually gone to the edge of a diving board and to an edge of a cliff but my feet seem to always stay firmly planted. Why? Because my mind won’t turn loose of my fear that I won’t come back to the surface before I need another breathe of air. Because I know how panicked I would get if someone tried to push me in, I can empathize with horses. I don’t like to be on top of any horse that sticks his feet into the ground and doesn’t want to go forward. I believe I am at the mercy of the horse’s mind when I am in the saddle but on the ground I feel safer. I realize I still need to take whatever time it takes until I get the horse’s mind to start moving his feet. And I have noticed as the horse gains confidence that he can do something, his feet start loosening up and he starts exploring and finding a way thru the obstacle he thought was impossible. All the rearing, bucking, spinning, pushing sideways or balking ends the moment the horse’s mind sees a light at the end of the tunnel and has enough confidence that he can get there.
Sticky feet should be a signal to all of us that our horse is getting mentally unsure and we need to become more willing to help him to learn and understand the situation instead of trying to push him through it. It should be a red flag that our horse’s mind is shutting down. I encourage riders to find creative ways to loosen up their horse’s mind before his feet become stuck solid!