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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  1. Totally agree with all points except...LOL

    There are times when a vet will give a "prescription" for shoeing to help heal and injury. We had a pony with a very low bow once, which takes a long time to heal. To help, the vet (who first asked me who my farrier was because the ponies angles were spot on - he was impressed) asked for a specific trim and shoe set up. IT WORKED! The pony was set up this way for 6 months, was sound from then on.

    Also, there are horses, who are slower growers in the hoof dept. (like some people are with hair) who don't need trimmed or reset as often. I think a good farrier can see this as well and makes allowances.

    I will add, if I am given advice about my horses feet, I always check with my farrier regarding it. It's nice to get differing perspectives, and he knows my horses feet better than the vet, trainer, etc...because he sees them more if nothing else. At times he agrees, at times he offers other alternatives and at times he says BS. But I trust him and I take was he says seriously.

    Like you, m farrier doesn't advertise and he is picky about his clientele now. He can be, he's good, he's reliable, and he's honest. He's NOT cheap, He's NOT a trainer (tame the tiger before he comes). He has earned the right to charge what he does and I would pay whatever he needs to charge. He shouldn't have to train the horse to stand or put his life in danger to trim it. A good farrier is priceless to a horse owner, and I thank mine every chance I get!

  2. .

    It's one thing for a farrier and vet to consult one-another, compare notes, and work cooperatively... But the vet really shouldn't be writing prescriptions for the farrier to fill, although it is often done. It's disrespectful, and discourages input from the farrier, who really should know a lot more about supporting recovery via trimming and shoeing than the vet does.

    The last time I shod to a Rx, the vet had left instructions for a specific shoeing package on a sore horse... He liked that approach because it worked well for another farrier he knew in some other cases. It wasn't really a bad way to shoe the horse, but not the way I would have done it. And it required assembly methods quite different than my usual. So the poor, sore horse winds up having to suffer through an extra-long shoeing session while I figure out how to do things someone else's way and isn't happy about it. I'm trying to hurry, running out of patience... Got it done okay, but wasn't happy with the finished job.

    Could have accomplished the same functional ends better with my own approach much quicker and easier on me and the horse. (The farrier whose approach I was mimicking is a good hand, but he's more inclined to use the "assemble components" approach, while I tend to "forge the shoe". Neither approach is inherently better, but they take different tools and skill sets. He'd have had similar trouble trying to shoe the horse my way.)

    After that, I decided that if the vets want an obedient mechanic, they'd have to look elsewhere.