National Farriers Week 2018 runs from July 8th through July 14th! Not that there needs to be an excuse to appreciate your faithful farrier, mind you… If you have been around horses for any time at all, you recognize the skill, hard work, and dedication of the folks who keep our horses’ feet sound and healthy. No hoof, no horse! Here are a few things that horse owners can do throughout the year to make their farriers’ lives a little bit easier.
Don’t Expect Your Farrier To Train Your Horse
I’ve seen a few farriers over the years have to do battle with horses who lack the basic ability to stand nicely. They should not have to take time to teach this basic skill — building that habit is your job as an owner, perhaps with the assistance of a trainer or more knowledgeable horseman if you don’t know how to go about it.
How do you tell ahead of time if your horse is going to be the “problem child” on your farrier’s route? If you physically struggle at hoof-picking time, that is a very good sign that it will be a challenge to perform more intensive hoof-care procedures.
Being able to stand for the farrier is more than a convenience for all involved: it is a matter of basic safety. Your farrier is in a very compromised position under your horse. The environment will never be absolutely safe, but it is your responsibility to do your part to ensure that your horse has the education and manners to make the process as safe as possible.
Provide a Reasonable Working Environment for your Farrier
This entails making sure your farrier has a clean, dry, level surface on which to work. Also, be sure that there is enough light for them to see what they are doing. Your farrier cannot do their best work for you or your horse if they are working in dark and shadow, and trying to create a straight even trim on uneven ground.
A further consideration is making sure the environment is reasonably free of distractions, especially things that would distract your horse. Confine loose pets during the visit to keep them out from underfoot. Turn the radio down, and ask hubby to maybe wait to run the horse-eating weed whacker a little later. This is not the time to experiment with separating the buddy sour horses, or to feed every horse who isn’t in the midst of a trim. These considerations go back to the issue of basic safety, and also give your farrier the environment that they need to work their craft to their best ability.
Most farriers travel with a thermos, but I still like to keep some fresh coffee or hot cocoa handy in the winter and cold water, Gatorade, or lemonade in the summer. I’m also a fan of having cash or the checkbook handy, and my farrier doesn’t usually travel with change for a $100 bill.
Be a “Good Holder”
Something that my own farrier has expressed his appreciation of over the years has been having a “good holder.” A good holder doesn’t tie their horse up and tinker around the barn while the farrier works. Rather, they hold the horse as actively as necessary to assist the farrier while they work. A good and attentive holder can tell when the horse is leaning, and ask for a slight weight shift to correct the lean without causing a “dance.” They can distract and soothe the horse appropriately when needed, tickling lips or rubbing the crest. Perhaps feeding a treat here or there to reinforce good behavior. A good holder may need to pick up a foot to ensure that another foot stays planted for the farrier to observe. In general, a good holder is useful and helpful throughout the trimming and shoeing process.
Being a good holder begins before the farrier arrives. A good holder won’t have horses drippy with mud and slop waiting for their trims. Instead, the horses will be ready, clean and dry. Your farrier probably doesn’t mind cleaning superficial dirt from the underside of the hoof. He probably does mind trying to hold on to a slimy leg. Even if the weather is damp and muddy, your farrier will appreciate the effort of a quick blast with the garden hose and a rubdown with a dry towel before he pulls in the driveway.
In my experience, most farriers love their jobs and are very willing to share their knowledge with interested owners. Don’t ever hesitate to ask questions. Maybe not while your farrier has his face in your horse’s frog, but when he “comes up for air.” Informed and educated owners are more helpful to farriers, and better able to maintain hoof health between trims. Even if you tend to defer to their expert opinion on what type of shoes to use, studs or no studs, etc., it is very helpful to understand your farrier’s logic for the work.
Don’t be afraid to share your observations and riding or conditioning goals. Your farrier might be able to recommend a change and work proactively to optimize his work for you and your horse.
Farriers are people, too, and some are folks of few words. However, even the most taciturn should be willing to discuss the details of their craft as applied to your, the client’s, horse when they are in a safe position to do so.
Work with your farrier to maintain a regular schedule of visits. Everyone does better if trimming happens routinely, and if good hoof care and hygiene are practiced between trims. 6-8 weeks between trims is a good general rule, but some horses require more frequency, or can get away with less.
My own farrier operates on a “call me when you need me” basis, which works, but it is up to me to track and reschedule and coordinate more. This system seems to be the general case in very rural areas, where two clients might be at opposite ends of the county. Other farriers will schedule the next appointment before they leave today’s. Still others will put owners into standing appointment slots with the assumption of visiting their barn at 2:30 in the afternoon on the 16th of every other month.
Your farrier will also be able to advise you on what to do between trims, whether to implement a hoof health supplement or a moisturizing dressing. Regular trims will also help keep ahead of possible problems, like flares and cracks, or even catching things like brewing thrush or scratches (be watching for these anyway!) early for optimizing treatment.
Say Thank You!
This is possibly the easiest thing to do! Take a moment as your farrier is picking up their tools and preparing to head off to the next client to thank them for their work – these two little words make all the difference in a long, hot (or cold) day of trimming the toenails of half-ton drama queens.
How about you? What are some things that your farrier appreciates or makes his or her day a little easier? Farriers out there — what are some things that owners don’t usually consider that make a world of difference to you and your work? Share your ideas in the comments! And remember, you should be riding!