Last time in Behind the Anvil, I touched on the important role of the professional farrier in the care of your horses. But even the best of horseshoers will find it difficult to do top notch work in a bad shoeing environment.
I enjoy the conversations that usually go on after hours at farrier conventions, clinics, and symposiums. Especially when we start swapping BS stories. BS is for Bad Situation! One farrier tells me that he looked up from his work to find that somebody had tied a horse to his anvil... Tales of working in knee-deep mud and manure abound... I think that I might personally have the record for most dogs under the horse with me at one time.
While these stories are good for a laugh, if you ask the farriers how they would rate their work in such BS conditions, the answer is usually something like: "Pretty good considering the situation; pretty poor compared to my usual work!"
To allow your farrier to do his best work on your horse, you need to provide him with a good working environment, which consists of the following elements...
A good working area. The surface should be level, large enough to set up the farriers rig and still have room for one to move around the horse safely. There should be no dangerous obstructions around for man or beast to collide with. A firm, dry surface is greatly preferred. The ground can come up and hit you pretty fast if your feet slip while a 1200 pound horse is leaning on you. And wire-brushing the foot every time you pick it up can get old pretty quick.
Since horses have rather a short attention span, they tend to get bored with the shoeing process and wander off. Thus, they need to be either held or tied for the farrier.
If you are going to hold the horse for shoeing, hold the animal... Not the loose end of the lead rope. Keep his head up and forward, and stay on the same side of the horse as the farrier. That way you can pull the beast's nose towards you should he lurch forward, which will move his rump away from the horseshoer. Try to avoid doing anything to make the horse shake or bob his head, as this often shakes the upheld hoof, making accuracy in shoeing nearly impossible. This is probably NOT the time to pull your horse's mane or examine his teeth.
If you are going to have the horse shod while tied; you need a good halter and a solid tie-rack or, better yet, a good pair of cross-ties. Cross-ties should be anchored above head level. Quick-release snaps at the anchor ends are a good idea. Break-away haystring attachments are not. It is hard to shoe a horse who can leave at will. In the unlikely event that your horse should get in trouble in the cross-ties and the quick-release snaps won't work, the farrier has dozens of tools handy that can cut him loose in a jiffy.
It is also tough to do a good shoeing job in the dark. Natural light is best, but in the heat of summer it is sometimes preferable to shoe in the late afternoon and early night. Before you schedule a shoeing appointment that could run past sunset, be sure that you have good artificial lighting available. Fluorescents are preferable. Incandescent bulbs throw shadows, so the horse will have to be positioned between several bulbs to have adequate light for the work.
Between the blazing sun in the summer and the endless rains in the winter, shelter is usually a great benefit. As most farriers know that they cannot afford to be laid up with either heatstroke or pneumonia, they will postpone unsheltered shoeing jobs until the weather is tolerable. This means that your horse might have to go too long between shoeings.
A fan-generated breeze is most always a blessing when shoeing is done in the summer. A fan combined with good shade seems to discourage insects nicely, in addition to keeping the horseshoer from bursting into flames.
Traffic should be directed around the shoeing area. Children, tractors, other horses, and the aforementioned dogs need to be kept at a safe distance from the horse being shod and the farrier's rig. Remember that horses usually will move backwards if they pull a front foot away from the shoer, so keep everyone out from behind the horse.
When possible, many farriers like to see the horse move before and after shoeing. A level, even surface and somebody to lead or ride the horse is necessary for this kind of evaluation.
If you cannot provide a good working environment in which to have your horse shod, it might be wise to ask your farrier about taking the horse to his place for shoeing. This was once standard practice for horseshoeing, and might not be a bad trend for the future.
Back to EQ Winter 2000 Index.