Horse farriers have a difficult job. There are so many variables: the horse’s demeanor and personality, the owner’s expectations, the weather and work conditions, to name a few. Whether your horse requires shoes or goes the “natural” route without them, a farrier is a must to help keep your horse buddy’s hooves healthy. But hiring just any farrier could be dangerous -- to your horse, to the farrier and to your wallet. Take the time to learn the basics of a farrier’s job so you can make an educated decision about the best one to hire.
Increase your knowledge of horses’ foot anatomy by reading books such as Jaime Jackson’s The Natural Horse, Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care, or by visiting websites devoted to the subject, such as http://www.horseshoes.com/farrierssites/sites/rooney/index.htm. Being aware of conditions that can aggravate your horse’s hooves is also smart. Visit http://www.personal.psu.edu/wbs14/blogs/equine_hoof_anatomy/ to learn about such ailments.
Spend time handling your horse’s feet by regularly lifting his hooves, using a pick, and generally getting him used to having you messing around with his legs and feet. Make it enjoyable for your pony; use soothing words, regular stroking, maybe some scratching of a particularly itchy spot, and calming body language. By the time your farrier gets to him, your horse should be fully conditioned to accept hoof-handling -- don’t expect your farrier to do the conditioning for you.
Find out if your farrier has been properly trained and knows the optimum way to shoe your horse. The following is from the “Horse Problems, Australia” website (http://www.horseproblems.com.au/horse_shoeing_explained_page.htm):
- Prepare the shoe to fit the finished hoof, not the hoof to fit the shaped shoe.
- Under normal circumstances, do not nail further back than the 4th nail hole. Use a maximum of 7 nails and preferably 6.
- Unless a horse has a tendency to be club-hoofed, remove mostly toe and not heel.
- Nail approximately one third up between the bottom of the hoof and the coronet band.
- As nails progress from toe towards heel, they should maintain a parallel line and height.
- Clinches should be no more than 3mm long, squared off on the end and all facing the same direction in a straight line down the grain of the hoof.
- The shoe at the heel should cover the heel by protruding about the thickness of a 10 cent piece past the end of the hoof.
- The shoe should hang over and outside the heel of the horse by a thickness of at least a 10 cent piece, commencing from about 3cm before the end of the heel.
- When the shoe is fitted to the hoof, both heels should be covered regardless of whether they are slightly forward or back.
- The toe clip should be roughly in the center of the toe when looking from the front.
- When you look from the side, there should be near to a straight line from the center of the fetlock, down through the center of the pastern and then the hoof. There should not be a change in the angle when the line meets the hoof. In other words, the lines in the hoof should be the same angle as the pastern.
Be aware of what your farrier should NOT be doing, such as “blocking” (nailing on a shoe and then rasping off the excess hoof around the shoe). Some farriers engage in this practice to speed up the process, allowing them to take on more jobs. A good farrier will take the time to properly fit the shoe from the get-go.
Of course, farriers have feelings, too! If you find a good one, you’ll want to keep him or her happy. You can do that by:
- Having a horse that will not present a danger to your farrier -- in other words, a calm horse that is used to having his feet handled.
- Not expecting to shoe a horse that is in pain.
- Providing a sheltered place to do the work, such as a place protected from the weather.
- Having a place to tie the horse, if the horse needs it to stand still.
- Having the money ready to pay the farrier when his job is completed.
Get recommendations from other horse owners to find the perfect farrier for you and your horse. A good farrier can be as valuable as your vet. If your prized friend is well-treated by your farrier, your farrier should be well-treated by you!
Photo: Olga Itina
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