Love Thy Farrier Love Thy Veterinarian
by Kim Sanford.
These are two individuals who are important to the health and comfort of your horse. As horse owners we want to take good care of our equine friends and that includes regular visits by the farrier… accepted wisdom calls for every 6-8 weeks, depending on your horse’s individual needs; and at the very least an annual visit from the vet for a checkup and inoculations. Because they are necessary to the well being of our horses we need to be sure that their needs and especially their safety are taken into consideration every time they step into our barns. Seeing to their personal comfort with a hot or cold beverage, depending on the weather never hurts either.
Your veterinarian can be someone who is specialist in equine care or he/she is affiliated with a multiple species practice that can handle the medical needs of your dog, cat, cow, etc., as well as your horse. If your horse has specific issues a specialist may be in order to be sure he is getting the best, most up-to-date care available.
A farrier is a specialist in equine hoof care, including the trimming and balancing of horse's hooves and/or the placing of a shoe, if necessary. He/she often combines the skills of a blacksmith with the expertise of a veterinarian ie: knowledge of the anatomy/physiology of the lower limb to care for the horse's feet. However, when it comes to conformation problems, they just have to deal with the hand that’s been dealt to them and try to figure out how to help the horse to travel as best they can. Ideally your vet and your farrier will work hand in glove to help improve/maintain your horse’s well-being.
If you are especially lucky, your farrier’s knowledge of the “whole” horse will extend beyond just the lower limbs and he/she will be educated about the many ways something like, for instance, your horse’s dental condition may affect his posture. A farrier who is always updating their education through seminars and classes, as well as peer appraisal is invaluable and should be appreciated. We horsemen expect a lot from our equine professionals and it is necessary that we do some simple things to show them the respect they richly deserve.
We will discuss the needs of your farrier in depth because as a rule the farrier will be seeing your horse more often than the vet. So many tips will apply to both professionals though as far as work area, safety concerns, and appointment etiquette.
What the Farrier/Vet Needs and Expects:
• Be on time for the appointment and if you need to cancel or reschedule do it in a timely manner. Vets and Farriers are often heavily booked and with the travel time to farms it is difficult to “turn on a dime” and make changes. Tardiness will set them behind in a snowballing effect that affects customers following you.
• If at all possible, especially where the farrier is concerned, make the next appointment before he/she leaves…and remember it, write it down.
• As always payment is usually due when services are rendered and it is expected. If something happens and you do not have the payment it is important that you let the vet/farrier know BEFORE they arrive to do the work so they are expecting it and can make other arrangements if possible. Good communication will all concerned is very important.
• Specific to the vet…have all the information for each horse ready when you call to make an appointment. If it is an emergency give clear, concise information regarding symptoms and vital signs. EVERY horseman should know what a horse’s TPR (temp, pulse, respiration) and know how to find that information. They should also know what is normal for each horse. This will assist the vet in diagnosis and also let them give the horse owner instructions prior to their arrival if appropriate.
• You should have a clean dry area for your professional to work in. A well-lit, either by a good source of daylight or electric lights, level aisle in a barn is ideal, or even a ready stall. If a run in shelter situation is what you have, then you need to have your horse acclimated to a garage/outbuilding which can be used on trimming/shoeing days, or you need to have rubber mats in the shelter. The run in shed should be clean and free from muck and deep manure.
• Safety for the horse and the farrier/vet is paramount. Please be sure that the area you choose for this process is large enough for them to maneuver in and to be able to get out of the way of a spooked or unruly horse. It also should be big enough that the handler remains safe.
• Ideally the working area should be out of barn traffic if you keep your horse in a boarding or training facility...your vet/farrier should not have to stop what they are doing so others can pass by with horses.
• Another thing to consider is that there should not be kids or dogs running around. Many times vet or farrier work is stressful, even if your horse is not normally bothered by barn activities OR the farrier…remember Murphy’s Law…anything that could possibly spook a horse or cause an accident has to be avoided as best you can. Dogs and even chickens run under foot to grab hoof clippings. It can be very unsafe for all concerned and should be prevented to the best of your ability.
• Your trimming area should be near to where your farrier can drive his/her vehicle to the horse. It is just too inefficient to have the vet/farrier walking back and forth for tools or materials. The area should also have electrical outlets because power tools are often needed for medical and farrier jobs. A handy outlet or two is appreciated.
A Knowledgeable Handler:
• The handler is an integral part to the success of the vet/farrier visit. They have a more important job than to just stand at the head of a horse. They must monitor and often anticipate the horse’s behavior and reactions. Their responsibility is to keep the farrier safe.
• One of the essential skills they should have is to know what side of the horse to stand on, and what way to turn a horse's head if they spook or try to kick the farrier.
• It is also important to be able to keep a nervous horse calm with a soothing personality, or conversely get loud when necessary.
• A handler should know the horse well and understand the concept of using appropriate energy for the desired behavior.
•IMPORTANT: If the handler is under 18yrs of age, their legal guardian should be present due to liability issues.
Prep Your Horse:
It is always a good thing to keep in mind that the vet/farrier has had or is facing a long hard day of work depending on the time of your appointment. I bet you have all seen he/she at the end of a long day, slowly stand up, arching their back and taking a deep breath. It is because they are usually sore and tired. Being a farrier, and in many cases a veterinarian is physically and mentally exhausting occupation.
When horses are not ready then that sets them back and often makes them late for the next appointment. The horse needs to be ready BEFORE he/she arrives.
• Preferably the horse should be in the barn…but if not they should be caught and cleaned before the farrier arrives. All the mud should be brushed or hosed off the horse’s lower legs and hooves. Mud not only gets your farrier all dirty and unhappy, but it also ruins very expensive tools. It is the owner’s job to prep the horse for a good trim.
• If your horse's body is very muddy, that should be cleaned off as well.
• If you choose to hose down your horse, do it in time for him to dry, or towel off your horse…especially wherever the professional will be handling his body/legs
• Fly spray the horse if conditions warrant it, keep some of that on hand and use it as needed. The farrier usually will have some but he/she should not be expected to supply it on a regular basis.
• HOW THE HORSE STANDS… is this sucker gonna let me pick a foot up or is he gonna kick me through the wall?!?!
• If your horse is obstinate about picking up his feet, it is the owner’s responsibility to train that horse, not the farrier. Some farriers will offer to train a horse for an additional fee. Beware though, some farriers may fight with a horse making the situation worse and possibly creating a bad relationship between that horse and any farrier who comes in afterward. Another thing to remember…an untrained horse will not get the best trim possible and the medical exam may not be as thorough as it could be. So please train or hire a trainer to teach your horse to stand patiently, not lean, and no kicking/biting.
• Do not allow your horse to rest his head on the vet/farrier for any reason. It is disrespectful and can be potentially dangerous to the professional.
• DO NOT feed or treat the horses while they are working. Too many owners think they are doing the vet/farrier a favor keeping the horse occupied. Using food for this creates a myriad of problems for the professional working on the horse. All it will do is cause the horse to start begging and swinging its head looking for more food. Hay nets are another bad idea. The pulling at hay nets actually causes the horse to lean more on the farrier and nothing is worse on a blistering, hot, sweaty day than having hay fall down the back of the neck. These horses often find the farrier to be a nuisance while they are trying to reach food and they aggressively pull their legs away or fall off balance at times. So if you feel you must use food to reward your horse, it is best to wait until your farrier is done.
• It is a good idea to make sure your horse has been fed first or out at pasture before your farrier arrives. Avoid having the farrier working on a horse during feeding time, or when others are being fed in the barn. The horse will not be paying attention to the handler or farrier but will instead be focused on the feeding time activity which makes an antsy horse that can endanger a vet/farrier/handler.
Now that we have talked about the nuts and bolts of appreciating your equine professional here are some things that can make you one of their preferred clients.
• Prompt payment for services is greatly appreciated.
• Worth repeating again….good communication between client and professional as well as facilitating good communication between vet and farrier. Do not play one against the other.
• Follow-up care done promptly and diligently when recommended by either the vet or the farrier.
• Have a cold or hot beverage of their choice available to them. This would of course, depend on the weather conditions at the time. A little “goodie” never hurts either.
It is easy to take these pros for granted in the day-to-day life at the barn but they are hard working men and women who care about what they do. They deserve our respect and our utmost for being there in the heat and cold, caring for our animals…the upside is that some of them even become our friends.