Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

   Hard to get into the spirit of the season when it's been swampy warm and raining the last week.  And to think, we missed a White Christmas by a matter of hours here last year.

You know what?
This guy is starting to look WAY too familiar.

   Hope you're all having a fine holiday season, and are all ready to saddle up and canter into the New Year sound and happy.

   For those of you wanting to stretch your Christmas money, I've got a 40% discount on the Millwater's Farriery trade paperback set-up to run through Boxing Day only.  That's about as low as I can go without stepping on retailers.  Use the check-out code "YPLFZ3CT" when ordering direct.  The code doesn't work on Amazon.

   Also keep an eye on the Millwater Publishing FaceBook page, where discounts and specials are usually posted.  (I don't control the discount codes on the hardcover version, but report them as soon as the info is available to me.)

   If anyone has any questions or suggestions for blog topics going into the new year, feel free to let me know!

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Farrier Competency.

   Over the years I've read and heard a lot of folks decrying the 'evils' of horseshoeing.  When I point-out that they are describing the effects of poor horseshoeing, they often deny that they cut corners, and claim that the work was done by "good farriers".  Which causes me to question just what some people think a good farrier really is.

   Admittedly, finding and recognizing a competent farrier isn't an easy task for today's horseowner.  You can ask your vet or trainer, but they aren't experts in applied farriery, and their opinions are often colored by how willing a farrier is to let them call the shots for shoeing without question.  You can get recommendations from other horseowners, and they will likely suggest a guy based more on likability than actual competence.  Many people are more concerned with price and easy scheduling than knowledge and skill.

   So what does it take to be a truly competent farrier, and how can the horseowner recognize these attributes?

Shoeing School Diploma...

   A lot of people seem to think that going to horseshoeing school is how one becomes a farrier, so a diploma means that a shoer is qualified to practice farriery.  Truth is that horseshoeing schools run the gamut from embarrassments to the trade through excellent programs run by highly credentialed instructors.  Courses range from a few hours to several months.  So all diplomas are definitely not created equal.

   The better schools are a great way to start training as a farrier.  But even the best are only a beginning.  A horseshoer advertising his horseshoeing school diploma actually strikes me as being like a neurosurgeon bragging about passing his high school biology class.


   There was a time, not all that long ago, when the big kahunas of the horse business in some parts of the country were the Ol' Horsetraders.  Their claim to fame was usually that they'd "been in th' hoss bizniss f' thutty-odd years!"  One didn't have to be a great mathematician to figure out that, factoring in their age, Navy service (not a whole slew of horses on battleships), etc., most of the Ol' Horsetraders where I grew-up were calculating their 'careers' from occasionally playing with their grandpa's retired plow horse as a kid straight through to thirty or so years later without regard to a whole lot of non-horsey time in-between.

   Of course, even some fellows who had actually been continuously active with horses for many years appeared to have originally learned 'horsemanship' from dime novels and Hollywood westerns, and never improved much from that point.  So clearly, experience doesn't guarantee competence.

   On the other hand, experience can provide insight and deep understanding that no amount of academic study can.  Especially in regard to horses, who take years to progress from one phase of life to the next.  It takes a full year just to observe an individual horse's 'normal' transitions across the seasons.  Developing a pathology, then re-stabilizing afterwards can take over a year.  Then another year is needed to observe the post-pathology 'new norms'.

   Ideally, would-be farriers should spend their first four years in apprenticeship under the direction of an established farrier while they gain the needed basic experience.  Unfortunately, this isn't practical in the modern horse world.  But a wise horseowner will understand that any horseshoer with less than a half-decade in the trade should be considered a trainee, and should be employed only on the advice of a real farrier who knows whether your horses' needs and the trainee's ability level are compatible.

   Let the mentorless  rookies 'practice' on other peoples' horses.

   Also keep in-mind that (for reasons I find rather disrespectful to the profession) quite a few middle-aged men decide to take up horseshoeing.  Having some gray around the temples doesn't preclude the shoer from being a green rookie.

Not necessarily an expert farrier.

Professional status...

   There was a time when setting up a horseshoeing business was a pretty big deal.  You needed a good-sized shop in a prominent location, forges, anvils, vises, stocks, and a crew of employees usually working in teams.  Not unlike a full-service auto repair shop today.

   Then came the crash of the horse population and the rise of automotive transport in the 20th Century.  The typical horseshoeing business devolved into a guy with a few tools in a truck.  Horseshoeing became a low-investment way for a dude to be able to claim to be in the 'hoss bizniss'.

   Despite the re-development of farriery as a profession since then, there are still plenty of horseshoers who treat it as an avocation.  A less than competent part-time horseshoer can stay in business indefinitely, since he doesn't have to make a living at it.  Being a successful, full-time farrier over an extended period of time may not absolutely prove competence, but it is certainly evidence in favor.

Journeyman level knowledge and skills...

   A competent farrier has to understand hoof and limb anatomy and biomechanics, including hoof flexing and growth, as well as gait dynamics.  He must have comprehensive insight into the effects of hoof capsule modification on protection and support of internal structures, as well as the functional balance of the digit...  In other words, he should know how to trim hooves to preserve or restore soundness.

   Unfortunately, this essential feature of farriery is under-emphasized.  This is partly because other aspects of applied farriery as so much more impressive-looking.  But mostly because hoof balance is a bit complex and inherently subjective, so that most laymen (and non-farrier professionals) can't easily recognize the quality of hoof trimming.  But horses who routinely come-up sore after trimming are compelling evidence that a horseshoer doesn't understand the hoof capsule sufficiently.

   A professional-level farrier must also have fine control over the prosthetic devices (aka horseshoes, pads, etc.) he applies to hooves.  This means the ability to forge good handmade shoes, including bar shoes.

   It may seem a bit archaic in this era of countless brands, styles, and sizes of quality factory-made horseshoes.  Indeed, many fully competent farriers rarely turn handmade shoes in the field, or even use the forge with many of their keg shoes.  But the ability to produce appropriate, well-fit shoes from raw bar stock demonstrates that the farrier is never limited by the factory shoe design, and doesn't have to compromise the good of the hoof to make it fit the shoe.  Real farriers have forges and know how to use them.

   A journeyman farrier must also be a horseman.  Able to handle and get-along with the animals, as well as to understand the demands their occupations put upon them, and how to best enable them to meet these demands.


   Because farrier skills are difficult for non-farriers to effectively evaluate, formal examination and credential systems would seem to be called-for.

   The American Farriers Association Certified Journeyman Farrier (CJF) level indicates an admirable level of technical knowledge and precision/efficiency in the forging and application of horseshoes.  In fact, the difficulty of the exam (due largely to tight time limits and exam procedures apparently designed to interfere with the normal flow of work) makes it almost more of a hazing ritual than an evaluation of practical competence.

   The AFA has tended to discourage the use of its certifications as field credentials.  Even CJF, their highest level, is available to hobbyists with only two years' experience.  (They have three lower level certifications as well.)  Their certification system grew out of horseshoeing contests which, for the sake of objectivity, require fixed standards.  This means their examinations are strong on testing the ability to perform operations to precise, pre-published parameters, but are short on variables which might insure the applicant has a wider array of skills than those practiced specifically for the examination.

   The Brotherhood of Working Farriers Association has actively promoted their certifications as field credentials for farriers.  Unfortunately, their lower level certifications don't approach anything that could be considered minimal competence, and irregularities with their higher level certifications render them unreliable as evidence of knowledge or skill.  There have been many good farriers in the BWFA, but BWFA certification doesn't tell you anything about a horseshoer's practical competence.

   The Guild of Professional Farriers was founded specifically to establish a formal standard of competence for professional farriers.  Its minimum credential, required for membership, is Registered Journeyman Farrier (RJF), which is available only to full-time farriers with over four years' verifiable field experience.  The exams include double-aspect written test questions (to discourage rote memorization), and practical skills tests designed to demonstrate both precision of work and the ability to effectively evaluate a horse's needs.

    The high minimum standard of the GPF tends to keep membership low, and most of the RJFs have full books, which limits the usefulness of the credential to horseowners.

   Two new systems have been announced.  The AAPF and FITS...  These are still in development and are unknown quantities at this writing.

   So, when seeking a really competent farrier, the horseowner should look for a full-timer with at least five years in the trade who can do hot shoeing with handmades (even if that's not what your horses need right now)...  Even better if he (or she) is an RJF or CJF.  'Extra points' for actively continuing education via clinics, symposiums, technical journals, and participation in farrier organizations.

   If you can't find anyone like this who can put you on schedule, at least try to find one who can recommend a protege or associate with abilities sufficient to meet your horses' needs.  They should be able to provide better guidance than the non-farriers horseowners often get recommendations from.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: And Other Hoofcare Books...

   It's been another rough, and kinda' sad week here at Prophet's Thumb.  Haven't had a lot of time or inclination to finish the next post on what makes a qualified farrier...

   Fortunately, I've got some nice content to fill the gap, thanks to Fran Jurga (Of Hoofcare & Lameness, the Hoof Blog, and the Equus Jurga Report.)

Fran Jurga on Horse Radio Network.

HRN Episode Page.

   Fran reviews various hoofcare books available as holiday gifts, including Millwater's Farriery.  (That bit starts about 21:30 minutes in, or 8:30 from the end.)

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Words Mean Things.


   Kinda' swamped this week...  Since I'll be commenting on the practice and profession of farriery in upcoming blog entries, here are a handful of selected definitions from Millwater's Farriery: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare covering terms which seem to be misunderstood in the horse world today.

   {Italic boldface words in definitions have their own entries in the book.  Illustration resolution has been reduced for online viewing.}

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Farriery...

   Okay.  Following the various equestrian communities lately, I've noticed some troubling notions about farriery that I'd like to address...

   SHOEING SHOULD NOT MAKE HORSES SORE.  Okay, to err is human.  Anyone can misread a foot now and then.  But it is not normal or acceptable for previously sound horses to be sore after shoeing or trimming.  If someone tells you otherwise, they don't know what in the hell they're doing.  (Note that making major adjustments in balance, such as trimming a severely overgrown hoof back to some semblance of normal, can cause ligament soreness if the horse isn't rested for a couple days afterward.  That is a different matter entirely.)

   IF A HORSE CAN'T GO BAREFOOT ON MODERATE GROUND, HE IS NOT SOUND.  A freshly shod horse should be able to have his shoes pulled and immediately go on normal ground without being tender-footed.  If he can't, the foot has been over-trimmed and the sole is too thin.  Shoes on sound horses are supposed to be an enhancement for heavy use, severe terrain, or high performance, not a necessity for light use on turf.

    NO HORSE SHOULD ROUTINELY BE SORE AFTER EVERY TRIM.  Some horses have weak, sensitive feet and thin soles, and are easier to make tender than others...  But a competent farrier should recognize such feet and trim accordingly, or, at the very least, realize that he over-trimmed after the first time and preserve more horn mass thereafter!  If trimming results in soreness, too much was taken-off.  Period.

    THE FARRIER NEEDS YOUR INPUT.  You can tell the farrier about the horse's history (especially laminitis issues), tendencies, past problems, and the kind of use you intend to put the him to.  This information will help the farrier tailor the work to the animal's individual needs.

   A FARRIER DOES NOT NEED TO BE TOLD HOW TO DO HIS JOB.  If you feel the need to give the farrier specific instruction on trimming and/or shoe application, you need to either get a better farrier or buy some tools and do it yourself, since you obviously know how better than the professional expert you hired.

   YOUR VET, TRAINER, RIDING INSTRUCTOR, AND STABLE MANAGER ARE NOT EXPERTS IN APPLIED FARRIERY.  Yes, vets have tons of formal training, but almost none of it has anything to do with trimming and shoeing the equine hoof.  He has no more business giving shoeing instructions than the farrier has dictating colic surgery technique.  Trainers are notorious for buying into fads... Wanting to believe that their horses lost because the competition had magic shoes rather than admitting the other guy had a higher quality horse with better training who would have won even with cinder-blocks strapped to his feet.

   SHOEING JOBS THAT LAST 12 WEEKS ARE NOT A BRAGGING POINT!  It is actually not difficult to apply shoes in such a way that they will stay on a long time.  But doing so is usually not good for the horse.  Shoeing for long intervals encourages shoers to take away as much horn as possible without spilling blood (to get a head start against the extra weeks of growth before the next shoeing) which weakens the sole arch and precipitates the collapse of the foot into chronic "thin soles".  Shoers will also fit the shoes short and tight at the heels, usually with the heel nails placed behind the widest part of the foot.  This can result in corns as the heels overgrow the shoe and the load starts to grind against the sole.  This fit exacerbates the tendency of the bearing surface to shift forward as the hoof grows out, stressing the flexor/navicular interface and the anterior laminae.  Most horses need a 4-6 week shoeing cycle.  And no, that's not just shoers trying to get more work.

   NOT ALL HORSESHOERS ARE CREATED EQUAL!  So many people complain that they've used multiple "farriers" with poor results.  But I know how a lot of horseowners choose their shoers.  Back when I was in the Yellow Pages (before switching to referal-only), I'd come home almost every day to find messages on my machine from people wanting their horses shod.  More often than not, when we returned the calls, they'd already got someone else.  Or they couldn't wait until we had an opening.  Or they developed a speech impediment when we told them our rates...  If you're selecting a horseshoer based on the fact that he's got nothing better to do than answer the phone in the middle of the day, and is in so little demand that he can come out on short notice and is willing to shoe for beer money, you are not likely to get a top-quality professional farrier.  Being the handy "barn shoer", looking good in jeans, and being buddies with the vet/trainer/etc. are also less than impressive evidence of competence under the horse.

   LOOKS AREN'T EVERYTHING.  Form follows function, so usually a good shoeing job will be nice-looking.  High, even, smooth clinches.  That sort of thing...  But too often horseshoers get carried-away trying to make the foot look "perfect", even to the point of doing structural harm.  "Cupping" the sole... Trimming away horn to create apparent concavity... Actually weakens the solar arch and promotes the devolution of thin, flat soles in the long run.  Everything taken from the bottom of the foot leaves that much less protection.  The goal is to keep the horse sound.  Not to make the bottom of the foot look like an idealized plastic model.

   FARRIERS SHOULD BE UNSURPASSED AT HOOF TRIMMING.  We tend to focus on forging skills because fire, sparks, heavy tools, smoke, and bending steel to our precise will are just plain awesome...  It wasn't that long ago that the ability to turn a decent shoe was a rare thing, helping to separate the real farrier from the backyard shoe-horser...  But trimming horses to go barefoot makes up a large portion of the typical farrier's trade.  And, for all the emphasis on forging fancy therapeutic and corrective shoes, the majority of practical therapeutic and corrective shoeing is applying fairly ordinary shoes onto properly trimmed hooves.  The bulk of farriery is about recognizing what the individual needs and balancing the hooves accordingly.  A good barefoot trimming specialist may be able to do it as well, but nobody should be able to do it better than a fully competent professional farrier.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Barefoot Movement III...

Horseshoe Alternatives.

   "My Natural Barefoot Trimmed horses get ridden nine-hundred miles per day, eight days a week, over broken glass and twisted scrap metal, and they're never lame and have beautiful feet!"

   That's the song many Barefoot Enthusiasts sang when prospective barefooters weren't sure their horses could handle working without shoes.  We still hear that sort of thing from a few of them today...

   Indeed, under the right conditions, some horses can develop remarkably durable hooves that hold-up well barefoot where one would expect shoes to be a necessity.  But not all horses have the genetic potential to become shoeless rock crushers, and not everyone has the option of providing the diet and lifestyle needed to produce optimum hoof capsule strength.  Eventually, the Barefoot Movement had to admit that some horses might need artificial protection for their feet...

   But, after going to great lengths to paint conventional farriery as the root of all hoofcare evils, they couldn't very well go back to horseshoes.  So alternatives were embraced.

Nothing new under the sun...
19th Century precursor to the Easyboot.
from Millwater's Farriery Historical Reference Appendix.

   Most of these alternatives actually have a place in practical hoofcare.  Hoof boots, for instance, can be handy 'spare tires' if a horse throws a shoe.  They also make sense if extra protection is only needed once in a while.  (Even though shoes need not be detrimental to the hooves, it just doesn't make sense to keep a horse shod all season long for the sake of a couple day-trips to the mountains.)

   For frequent, extended use, however, boots may not be such a great idea.

   First off, one of the supposed draw-backs of conventional horseshoes is that they interfere with hoof capsule flexing.  But the hoof sits on top of the shoe, and is attached only at the front...  Boots, hoof casting, and most glue-on shoes encase the hoof.  We only do that with a steel shoe (continuous clip) when we want to immobilize the hoof after a P3 fracture.  Otherwise, the conventional horseshoe is more like a flip-flop sandal compared to the alternatives, which are akin to tight-fitting full shoes.  Which really seems like it would allow more natural foot function?

   The hoof is more of a living, 'breathing' thing than most people realize.  One of the prime-movers in hoof capsule strength and function is moisture content and gradient.  The hoof gets plenty of moisture from within.  It evaporates moisture out through the wall and sole.  Ideally, the wall is relatively dry, rigid, and hard on the outside, while being wet, flexible, and soft inside.  The balanced combination allows maximum durability.  The sole can release even more moisture in less time, to regulate overall content in the hoof.  (You may have noticed that an apparently dry horse can leave damp footprints on white pavement after standing in one place for a few minutes.)

   Encasing the hoof capsule for extended periods interferes with the release of excess moisture, and can invert the moisture gradient of the wall.  A couple hours in boots for a rocky trail ride now and then won't do any real harm.  But extended, constant use of anything that 'seals in the juices' can eventually be bad news.

   Another frequent claim against conventional shoes is that they isolate the hoof from the ground, depriving it of the stimulation that would make it strong and tough.  But the conventional shoe only armors the bearing surface of the hoof wall and perimeter of the sole, leaving most of the sole and frog exposed to direct stimulation from the ground, and increasing their net elevation only by around 1/16" inch.

   Boots, casts, plastic, and synthetic rubber alternatives tend to cover all, or much, of the bottom of the foot.  They are also thicker than modern steel shoes, especially if used in conjunction with pads, as is popular practice.  They boast greater shock absorption than steel shoes, but is that really a good thing?  If a wafer of steel isolates the foot from the ground and prevents it from being as strong and tough as it could be, wouldn't having the horse walk around with veritable pillows strapped to his feet be much worse?

   Horseshoe alternatives actually predate horseshoes by centuries.  The steel horseshoe wasn't imposed on the horse world by arbitrary decree, nor did it spring fully-formed from the brow of Zeus.  It evolved and was refined over generations, competing with various well-established hoof protection devices all the while.  The horseshoe as we know it emerged as the standard because it was more effective, reliable, and practical than the other options.  

   It should also be noted that applying shoes does not inherently preclude the preservation of sole mass and the process of building concavity.  It's just a wear plate, and can be applied to hooves trimmed to the same fundamental parameters as a restorative Barefoot Trim.

   Some have wondered why farriers react so negatively to the Natural Barefoot Movement...  But, when you really look at it, the movement isn't that emphatic about "natural"  (synthetic rubber, acrylics, polymers, etc.) or "barefoot" (hooves encased in boots, casts, epoxies can't really be considered "bare", can they?)  It appears that the movement is really Anti-Farrier, rejecting conventional horseshoes primarily because they are conventional...  Even if that means relying on inferior, even counter-productive alternatives.

  The ultimate silliness of the 'ANYTHING but convention farriery' thinking has got to be the alternative solution based on affixing a steel wear plate with nails.  The Laser Tip!

"Then I'll ram my ovipositor down your throat and lay my eggs in your chest...
But I'm NOT an alien!"
(Tom Servo.)

   Seriously folks...  If your horse does well barefoot, terrific.  But if it needs shoes, find a competent farrier and have it shod.  Don't go to ridiculous lengths to avoid what works so well just because some think conventional farriery is unfashionable these days.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Barefoot Movement II...

   When the current wave of enthusiasm for shoeless horses crashed ashore some years ago, a lot of the Barefoot Movement folks displayed an almost disturbing, pseudo-religious mindset.  This seems to have largely subsided, but there is still tendency for Barefoot Enthusiasts to take the whole thing a bit overboard in some respects.

   Of course, it's only human nature to want to believe that the great new thing you're focusing-on is really, really special.  Complex.  Revolutionary.  And, if you're trying to make a trade of something, you naturally want to foster the perception that it takes extraordinary skill and know-how.

   We see a lot of this in hoof care.  Despite the fact that mustangs (not one of whom has so much as a high school diploma!) are able to do a pretty good job of it with nothing but abrasive ground, some folks are intent on making trimming into quantum physics.

   Truth is, there is only just so much you can do by subtracting horn.  And there are only three essential commandments for trimming sound hooves to go barefoot...

I.  Thou shalt always preserve the integrity of the hoof capsule.
   (i.o.w. Don't take off anything the horse still needs!)

II.  Suffer not an edge to live.
   (i.o.w. Round, bevel, radius the heck out of everything.  Leave no sharp corners anywhere.)

III.  Make not any catastrophic errors in fundamental balance.
   (i.o.w.  Seriously. Just get it into the ballpark somewhere.)

   You see, the dirty little secret of farriers (and now Barefoot Specialists) is that unshod hooves on reasonably sound and straight horses are quite forgiving and self-correcting if you just obey the Three Commandments above. 

    The so-called Traditional Farrier's Trim breaks the second and often the first commandments.  The original Strasser barefoot trim breaks the first and third commandments.  So both of these should be avoided like the plaque.

   The Four Point, Natural Balance, Mustang Roll, HPT, and most other barefoot trims do not inherently break any of the commandments, assuming reasonably competent implementation.  While there are some functional differences between the approaches, these are inherently limited and transient.

   Competent farriers have to be very precise about how they balance a hoof for shoeing, because we are going to apply a metal plate to 'lock-in' the trim job.  But, when trimming to go barefoot, the farrier or trimmer has a partner.


   That partner doesn't read any scientific research, cares not a whit for the teachings of the guru du jour...  And he gets to keep working on the hooves after we are finished!

   This is usually a blessing.  If the trimmer makes minor errors in hoof balance, it won't take the horse long to fix them by wearing off the overloaded part of the bearing surface while the underloaded areas grow down.  But there is a limit to how much the horse can fix.  And, if trimmed radically out of balance, limb function can be thrown so far out of whack that the self-correcting wear mechanism no longer works and the hoof gets worse over time...  But the idea that precise fine-tuning of the hoof trim has any great long-term effect is really kind of silly when you realize that the horse is basically going to overwrite the finer aspects of the trimmer's work in a matter of days.

   This can also be a bit of a curse, if the horse 'wants' to adapt its feet in detrimental ways.  For instance, take a toed-out horse who wings-in and interferes.  A strong Four Point type trim may get him to breakover towards the center of the toe, setting the foot up for a straighter flight that avoids the interference...  At least for a few day to a couple of weeks, when the medial 'points' wear down and allow the horse to resume breaking over the insides of its hooves.

   Just as farriers are too preoccupied with forging the perfect specimen shoe, or being able to precisely perform a shoeing job to arbitrary standards in the fastest time, rather than mastering the practical fundamentals of giving the horse what it needs to work sound,  Barefoot Enthusiasts appear to be preoccupied with aspects of the hoof that the very nature of a barefoot horse renders pretty much moot. 

   When it comes right down to it, all you can really do is preserve the useful hoof capsule, get rid of the edges and corners which create foot-stressing leverage until they ultimately split and peel off, and try to get the foot reasonably into balance.  Even practical therapeutic trimming is usually based on trying to coax the hoof back into something akin to normal form. 

   And you know what?  These things are more than enough of a challenge for most people to master.  Look at all these reports of "my horse comes up sore after every trim", and "my horse has thin soles".  That's a First Commandment fail.  The jammed heels and distorted hooves we see pictured are not the result of someone failing to comprehend the latest super-scientific studies of hoof function on the microscopic level.  They're the result of someone breaking the Third Commandment in a big way.

   Before going all rocket science, hoof care providers (farriers and trim specialists alike) probably need to make a push to get the basics down-pat.

   Don't get me wrong.  I've got about a tractor-trailer load of books, trade journals, speaker's notes, videos, audio tapes, and other materials laden with advanced research and academic theory.  Before the Gestapo took over America's airports, I was a frequent flyer to cutting-edge events far and wide.  I love science for science's sake...  But I've also learned to give priority to knowledge that can actually be applied in a practical manner.  There are limits to how much you can accomplish with nippers and a rasp, especially when the horse is going to be free to tweak your work after you're done.

P.S.  I know that the Natural Horse approach involves dietary, environmental, and lifestyle adjustments for the horses as well.  Good luck with that.  It'll work with horses under your 24/7 care, but clients' horses are often a different story.  We can advise and hope folks will pay heed, but all we really control is what we do with our brief time under the horse.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Hardcover News...

   After a printer's mishap on the first proof, we finally got a proper copy of the hardcover version of Millwater's FARRIERY, and it looks great, if I do say so myself.

   For technical reasons, I can't do a introductory discount coupon code like I did with the trade paperback.  But you can get a copy for 25% on eBay for a limited time only.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: On the Barefoot Movement...

...versus the "Traditional Farrier Trim"

   Not all horses need horseshoes all the time.  In fact, some horses can do everything their masters require of them perfectly well barefoot, and may never need shoes at all.

   The economic reality of today is that there is a shortage of truly competent farriers, especially when it comes to those available to 'small time' horseowners.

   These to factors create a niche for the hoof trimming specialist.  Competent trimmers to handle some of the horses who don't need iron, freeing-up the farriers to focus primarily on those that do. And saving the horseowners from having to rely on Cheap John horseshoers for trim work.

   So, just to be clear: I don't have a problem with some horses going barefoot, or with competent trim-only services.  (a.k.a. Barefoot Trimmers.)

   A bit over a decade ago, there was a wave of anti-horseshoeing zealotry inspired by the much-vaunted Strasser barefoot trimming approach.  To their credit, barefoot enthusiasts appear to have become somewhat less militant, and to have moved away from Strasser in favor of much more sensible trimming models in recent years.

   But there's still an anti-horseshoeing vibe out there.  In equestrian forums, people feel the need to be apologetic about having their horses shod.  Starting posts with "I'd really prefer to have my horses barefoot, but..."   And heaven forbid anyone suggest shoes as a solution to any hoofcare problem, as someone will usually feel obligated to jump-in and claim it's crazy to expect shoes to fix problems they insist were created by using shoes in the first place...  Or to push their favorite barefoot guru's protocol and/or shoeing alternative, despite it being an iffy and cumbersome way to do what appropriate shoeing could accomplish immediately.

   One thing that really rubs me the wrong way is the implied claim that Barefoot Trimmers have some sort special approach that is dramatically better for shoeless horses than the "traditional farrier trim"...

   The supposition being that farriers trim all horses as if we were going to fit them with shoes...  Flat, and with relatively low depth of foot.

   I spent my formative years in the coastal lowcountry, where a large percentage of horses go barefoot.  The humidity and moisture tended to keep hooves a little soft, and the ground was sand, black sod, clay, and limestone.  Abrasive, rather than rocky. 

   Early-on, I noticed that the barefoot horses with the best feet coming in for trimming didn't have flat bearing surfaces.  This was especially noticeable when someone had worked the horse enough to need shoes due to excessive wear.  Even after trying to flatten the foot to receive the shoe, I'd still wind-up with some daylight between shoe and hoof through the quarters, and a bit alligator-mouthed at the toe. 

   The non-flat, worn surfaces of bare hooves weren't too mystifying.  One problem a lot of rookie horseshoers have is accidentally "gutting the quarters" when they're trying to rasp the foot flat.  The structure of the hoof makes it easy to grind-away the quarters...

  It's also obvious to even a greenhorn that horseshoes typically wear thin at the toe first...  So the fact that worn, bare hooves had gutted quarters and beveled-up toes made perfect sense.

   It also didn't take long to observe that the non-flat bottomed hooves generally looked pretty good, even when due for a trim, while hooves trimmed neat and flat quickly split and peeled.  It's not great for business to have hooves look way worse a week after trimming than they did a week before you did them.

   So, when trimming horses to be left barefoot, I developed the approach of doing the main trim with three nipper passes, each done with the reins swung slightly to the outside, making the cuts at a bit of an angle.  One pass, heel-to-toe bend on one side of the hoof.  Another on the opposite side, then the third across the toe.  After rounding everything up with the rasp, this left the horse standing on four spots of the wall on each hoof.  One on each side of the toe, and one at each heel buttress.

   In mechanical terms, this trim reduces breakover resistance both when going forward and moving laterally (which is why I got less chipping and peeling), while maintaining good overall depth of foot thanks to the four loading spots holding the sole up off harder ground, so the horses weren't sore-footed.

    Fast-forward to the early 1990s, when I met Ric Redden and Gene Ovnicek, and attended symposiums featuring their Four Point and Natural Balance trimming approaches.  Gene, like Jaime Jackson, had taken an interest in mustangs, and had used his observations to guide his trimming technique.  The Four Point and Natural Balance protocols corroborated what I'd been seeing and doing all along...  And expanded my understanding of why it worked.

   Around that time, I was interacting with some of the elder statesmen of farriery. (Somehow, I had a lot more elders back then.  Funny how that works.)  Several of them told me the same thing.  They'd been doing bevel-based, three-pass, Four Point, Natural Balance trims for barefoot horses for decades.  It never occurred to them that it was really a 'thing'.  It's just the way that worked for them.

   Checking the leading farrier school textbook from over a quarter century ago, I find that extensive beveling, starting with using the nippers at an angle, is instructed under "trimming to go barefoot".  Even my 1898 textbook emphasizes the need to preserve extra horn and aggressively round-off the walls on horses who will be going without shoes.

   So, if the "traditional farrier trim" is flat and short, same as if the horse was going to be shod, it must be a pretty darned new tradition!

   I know that there are some horseshoers out there who do every foot the same way, whether shoes are going-on or not.  A decent Barefoot Trimmer would certainly be better for the horse than going with such a shoer.

   But the notion that Barefoot Trimmers have had some sort of divine revelation that showed them how to trim horses better than competent farriers is just an insult to generations of professionals.

   You see, when Barefoot Enthusiasts tell veteran farriers to go read-up on the teaching from the latest guru, we roll our eyes not because these approaches are wrong, but because you're trying to teach grandma how to suck eggs!

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Okay Bargain-Hunters...

   Millwater's FARRIERY: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare is out, and to get things rolling, we have some promotional deals you can take advantage of...

   There are promo copies of the trade paperback available on eBay with starting bids (and Buy It Now options) well under the Amazon list price.

   The 25% off discount code ( YPLFZ3CT ) is also still working on direct orders.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Official book launch...

Now that Hallowe'en is wrapped-up...

The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare
Encyclopedic Reference for Professionals, Students, and Horseowners.
Available NOW!

*** Special Launch Discount ***
Use code YPLFZ3CT at checkout on the Trade Paperback for 25% off.
(Works only on the direct link. Not on Amazon.)

For more information see

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Millwater's Farriery... It's Alive!

Millwater's Farriery:
The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare
Encyclopedic Reference for Students, Professionals, and Horseowners...

The Millwater Publishing website has been updated...

The book is available in Trade PaperbackHardcover,  and on Amazon.
More information available on our main blog and FaceBook.

Happy Hallowe'en, y'all!

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cover Story: Putting the Horses Back Into Horseshoeing.

   A considerable segment of the horse owning public, especially the barefoot horse enthusiasts, seem to think farriers are preoccupied with beating on iron and playing in fire.

   They might just have a point.

         The farriers on FaceBook and the F&HRC post a multitude of pictures showing off their hand-forged horseshoes of all types.  Fullered, swedged, concave, straight bar, heartbar, whip-across, onion heels, trailers, patten shoes, etc., etc.  And darned if there isn't some beautiful work on display.

   And the ability to properly form horseshoes (whether forging from bar stock or modifying keg shoes) is indeed essential to good farriery.  These skills are certainly worthy of praise and admiration...

   But they're ultimately only a means to an end...  And that end is a sound, useful horse.

   When I started the lexicon project with the Pocket Dictionary, my only practical choice for the cover design was black ink on a light-colored background.  In the years since then, mass-printing tech has given publishers more options, including full-color covers on most books.

   Many recent horseshoeing books take advantage of this with photographic covers.  The most common theme seems to be brightly glowing shoes, flames, and sparks.  Guys hammering-away at the anvil are popular.  Tools, shoes, radiographs, and diagrams...

   Conspicuous by their absence are HORSES.  Very few horses are seen on these covers, except maybe the parts of the critters unavoidably included in pictures centered on the farrier and the shoe he's burning or nailing-on.

   Forgework is just the most obvious thing that distinguishes the serious, professional farrier from the Cheap John shoer.  So it's natural that farriers, and authors writing about the trade, would focus on it.  Even to the point of omitting the horses from the shoeing picture.

   I'm familiar with many of these authors and their work, and know full-well that they are aware that there's more to horses than nailing iron onto their feet.  Most include relevant horsemanship and care in their writing.

   It's just a sort of subliminal effect that the lack of horse images has...  Of course, it's not just horseshoeing books.  Even the logos of the farrier organizations tend to be horseless.  Bar shoes, anvils, tools...  The GPF features at least part of a horse in the logo.

   Of course, Millwater's Farriery features the usual hot steel, sparks, and smoke on the cover...  Along with the common feature of diagrams and some tools...  But I made a conscious effort to "horsey" it up a bit.  A reminder that all the forgework, tools, technical study, and smoke exist to serve sound, working horses like those featured on the cover.

   It was also a chance to give some of our four-legged favorites, past and present, a bit of a cameo.

   By the way, the trade paperback proofs have been approved, and the hardcover proofs should arrive tomorrow or the next day.  The official release is coming soon!

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: "Rotation"...

   Well, Millwater's Farriery: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare is pretty much wrapped-up and should be going to the printer for proofs this week!

   So the promotional push will be kicking into gear.  Please feel welcome to pop-in and say "hi" and maybe even "friend", "follow", "like", "circle" or whatever applies at the various places in cyberspace where you can keep-up with the project!

and, of course
This Very Blog!

And maybe tell a friend or two!

   Now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

   One of my pet peeves with founder cases is folks talking about "x-rays" and how many "degrees of rotation" the vet says a horse has...  As though this really meant something.

   For one thing, they don't usually know which kind of rotation they're talking about.

  For another, their "measurements" are a often total guesses.  To measure capsular rotation, you'd need to properly mark the dorsal wall to make it clearly visible in the rads.  It only tales some duct tape and a little soft wire, but it's often neglected.  To measure true PIII rotation, you need a pre-laminitis rad to establish the horse's "normal" alignment.  Some horses never were at textbook normal to begin-with!

   Of course, any horse with a substantial toe flare is going to show capsular rotation on rads.  Many a serviceably sound horse with mild club feet might be judged to have PIII rotation based on rads.

   Then there are sinkers...  The worst of the founder cases.  They may show no rotation at all. 

   This is why I'm not all that enthusiastic about racing to get radiographs on horses in acute laminitis.  Truth is, they don't really tell you much that's going to change how you manage the horse anyway.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Hoofcare for Horseowners...

   When the first modern lexicon of farriery was done in '94, we didn't have the wherewithal to do a lot of fancy stuff like in-context illustrations, so we settled for an appendix of line-drawings to which the dictionary entries could refer...  Later versions got the in-column illustrations, but the appendix was retained as an efficient way to provide full-page illustrations that could serve multiple entries.  While the illustration appendix pages stayed the same, the illustrations have been upgraded as available print quality has allowed.

   Now, for the first time, we're actually adding some new appendix pages for Millwater's Farriery: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare.

   This one touches on something I've been trying to get across for some time...  

   Horseowners often complain that it's hard to get a decent farrier to come out to there area to do their horses.  The pros seem to only want to do big barns...  Well, part of the reason for that is that pros think about more than just making the trip out to shoe your horses.  They know that shoes sometimes get stepped-on or pulled.  Not too much of a problem at the big barn, where the farrier probably swings-by on a regular basis and can do patchwork without screwing-up his schedule.  If he only comes out your way once every six weeks, and your horse messes up a shoe halfway through the cycle, he knows he either has to make your horse wait (which sucks for you), or shuffle around his schedule to get out there to patch (which sucks for his other clients)...

   To avoid this, a farrier will often simply not take-on clients he knows he can't provide full service to...  A horseshoer might just short the heels, nail behind the bend, and use other physiologically unsound methods to keep the shoes on tight between visits.

   But, if more horseowners would put together an inexpensive kit, and learn a few basic skills, farriers would know that his clients won't be SOL if Dobbin' eases a heel.  

   Pulling off a bent shoe, flattening it out, and nailing it back on through the established nail holes doesn't require the skills or tools of a qualified farrier.  Used to be a pretty common thing for horseowners to be able to do.  With competent farriers getting to be spread pretty thin these days, this ability will make one an asset to the horsekeeping neighborhood.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Navicular and Eggbars.

   A double-shot sample from next year's Millwater's Farriery: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare, combining the related topics of navicular disease and eggbar horseshoes.

   Terms within the entries printed in italic boldface have their own entries in this encyclopedic dictionary.  Illustrations here have been reduced in resolution compared to the printed version.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Balance...

   Bee... ay... ehl... ay... ehn... see... ee... BALANCE!

   It's a bit of a tricky thing to grasp, but rather essential if you're trying to keep horses sound...

   Shifting into book page format for the samples from Millwater's Farriery: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare now.  Keep in-mind that the book is designed for cross-referencing, so the words appearing in the entry in boldface italic have their own articles as well.

   Illustrations in the online file have had their resolution decreased from what will be used to print the book.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Preface...

   Farriery is one of America's last free professions. As such, there are many avenues to learning the trade. A multitude of schools with different course lengths and curricula. Apprenticeships formal and casual. Clinics, workshops, and symposiums. And individual study. Lots of it. All in all, education in the art and science is a unique experience for each farrier.

   So there are always gaps in our knowledge to be filled, whether we're rookies or grizzled veterans. Always something new to learn.

   Millwater Publishing's lexicon project started with The Pocket Dictionary of Farrier Terms and Technical Language in 1994. A humble little glossary to help farriers, horseowners, and researchers understand one-another better. Over the many print and virtual editions which followed, it evolved to include more extensive definitions and illustrations. With this, its 10th print incarnation, the lexicon makes the jump to being an encyclopedic dictionary.

   The encyclopedic format is particularly suited to the free-form learning of farriery. Each article is designed to cross-reference with others, so that readers can easily fill in the basics required to comprehend a given topic, or follow on to more advanced information as needed.

   This book is a collection and distillation of the ideas and observations of many farriers I've learned from over the years. Some I've had the privilege of knowing personally. Others, only through their work. The names of several appear within the entries. Many more have made contributions to the sum of hoofcare knowledge which have come down to me without attribution. Famous, anonymous, or somewhere in-between, these pathfinders are recognized and appreciated.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Snow Shoeing...

   Sorry I've been awol lately.  Had a retina go and detach on me for no good reason (other than "getting old" says the doctor, whom I might've punched if'n I could have seen where he was!)...  Now recovering from a horrific surgery they tell me was successful.

   Anyway... With the first hints of Autumn chill due to roll-in on the morrow, I thought I'd make the next sample draft from Millwater's Farriery: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare the entry on preventing snowballing in horses' hooves...  Not that we have to deal with this too much here in Dixie.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Founder Illustrated...

   It is Millwater's Farriery: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare...  So a feature entry article like "founder" is going to get some pictures...

Starting point...  Simplified cross-section diagram of the hoof.
Has been tweaked a bit since this scaled-down version was saved.

A-hoof wall,  B-laminae,   C-horny sole,   D-coffin bone (PIII),
E-short pastern bone,   F-navicular,   G-deep flexor tendon,
H-digital cushion/frog,   I-solar corium.
Dotted line shows the bearing surface extent of the wall.

Changes and rotational forces during founder.

Traditional trim to counter rotation.

Foundered hoof with heartbar and resection.
Dotted line here shows the ground surface of the shoe,

Solar view, full-support heartbar on hoof.
Note that the tip and outer edge of frog are not covered.

Solar view of dynamic heartbar variation with a
Thera-Flex insert and abbreviated shoe.

Note the "window" in the pad to prevent it pressuring the anterior sole.

Flexor relief by wedge shoeing for founder,
as suggested by Dr. Redden in the '90s.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Millwater's Farriery: Founder...

   I caught a little flack from some folks last week for using a founder image for the link button to the laminitis entry...  I'm just pleased that some folks out there know the difference well enough to complain about it.

   Now moving-on to the entry on founder proper...  It's one of the anchor articles in the book, and will have a lot of illustrations.  The heartbar entry has more detailed info on applying that shoe.  Of course, the anatomy anchor entry and full-page anatomical illustrations in the appendix also support this piece in the encyclopedic dictionary of farriery.

The late, great Burney Chapman and part of his collection
of heartbars and unreasonable facsimiles thereof.
(Photo by me. Kentucky, 1994.)

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Somebody get Ma Nature a calendar...

   Summer's supposed to be wrapping-up now, right?  That's why I put the final illustration photo shooting off until last...  But here it is, September, and everyone outdoors is still a sweaty mess.

   Oh well... Deadlines approaching. Gotta shoot anyway!

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Encyclopedia of Farriery: Laminitis.

   Getting into the heavier stuff now...  This entry in Millwater's Farriery: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare really just serves to set the stage for the anchor entry on founder, which is more firmly in the farrier's bailiwick than the systemic crisis that sets the mechanical collapse into motion.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Farrier Encyclopedia: Diseases that Impact Soundness.

   There are a lot of things that can happen to a horse that will impact soundness that don't start-out in the hooves.  Naturally, many of these conditions and diseases are defined in Millwater's Farriery: The Illustrated Dictionary of Horseshoeing and Hoofcare.

   Here are a few of the shorter ones...

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