Part 2 of a 2 part article series. Read part 1 here.
A winning game plan
One of the things that determine success is how far and how well we plan ahead. Most farriers are good at planning for the technical aspect of trimming and shoeing a horse and, by the same token, they may assume that the horse owner has been just as conscientious in preparing a horse for a farrier’s visit. Unfortunately, such an assumption may not be the case. As mentioned in part one, it is the obligation of both the horse owner and the equine professional to come up with a safe, horse logical game plan for shoeing, before the horse’s foot leaves the floor.
A farrier brings a compilation of their prior experiences to each job. Whether good or bad, each experience serves to influence the next. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have had some of the best mentors from both the horse shoeing and horse training worlds. I’ve learned, firsthand, how beneficial the power of planning can be. Our horses depend on us to develop that winning game plan that can bridge the gap between good horse shoeing and good horsemanship. In the second of this two-part article, it’s a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to join my friend and mentor John Lyons as we share some tips on how to maintain control of a shoeing situation to create a positive experience for all. Way too often positive shoeing experiences are lopsided. For example, the outcome is such that the horse seems satisfied, but the farrier and the owner are not; or perhaps the outcome is one where the owner seems satisfied, but the farrier and the horse are left unsatisfied.
Working in the real world
Though it my seem obvious, the first step to creating a positive shoeing experience (like any other) is to do as John often advocates, start where you can, not where you can’t. It’s human nature for a motivated individual to multitask and perhaps shortcut steps to reach a goal more rapidly. But, when it comes to reaching goals with our horses, this approach usually ends in failure. Whether you’re picking up a shoeing hammer or picking up a horse’s foot for the first time, it’s imperative to start with smaller steps that are more obtainable. Unfortunately, in the real world of our horses, there are many opportunities for even the most well planned efforts to go wrong, long before the farrier ever steps foot in the barn. So, now you may ask, how can the farrier have a positive influence, prior to a visit? Here are a few suggestions:
- Get acquainted with a courtesy call – Sometimes we don’t get the right information simply because we forget to ask. Don’t be a victim of a don’t ask, don’t tell situation. Ask for the history of the horse, both in regards to hoof health and behavioral concerns. Also, inquiring about the current level of training and/or the methods the owner may subscribe to, can give you an insight to the reality of the situation. The equine professional must decide if the goals/desires of the horse owner are reasonable and obtainable at this time.
- Observe the horse’s tolerance – Upon arrival, take note of the interaction between the owner and the horse. Who’s setting the tune? Horse or human? Is the main influence by the owner bribery-based or cue-based? Bribery is usually a band-aid approach and will not give the handler enough control to keep the farrier safe and will inhibit the farrier’s ability to work efficiently.
- Neutral is not enough – In many situations, particularly in potentially dangerous ones, some may advise you to stay neutral. However, when dealing with a nervous or pushy horse, this is not going to be the answer. As the leader, we must provide a motivator (or as John describes it, a reason to change). It is best to be directional in your approach. Focus on what you want him to do and not on what he is doing wrong. For example, if he isn’t standing still, attempting to stop and tie him or hold him in place will not be easy if it is even possible. Instead, think of steering him into a standstill. Start by following this simple formula as you or the owner attempts to move the horse around. Pick a spot (such as the tail), a motivator (a noise or a tap), direction (forward/back/left/right) and then a reward (usually just the release or stopping of an action is all it takes). When following this approach, it doesn’t take long to see the positive effects of John’s concept—control without pain will equal trust and respect. It’s always better to avoid scolding your horse. Our goal is to get him to be more responsive, not more apprehensive.
- Offer advice and educate – As farriers we want to be politically correct, but this doesn’t mean it should be at the expense of our safety. It’s not only appropriate, but actually a professional obligation to speak-up and offer advice to help control and set the stage for your shoeing visits. I’ve found it very helpful and ultimately efficient to take a few minutes to give each new client a welcome pamphlet, which states my expectations, work area requirements, and even a list of trainers and/or methods that I recommend to help prepare for future visits.
- Confirm the commitment by following-up – In most cases, the emphasis on the importance of practicing any suggested exercise is most effectively reinforced when we actually follow-up. If we expect a commitment from our horse owners we, professionals, must show our commitment by keeping up with any progress. If the client knows that you will call or check-in with them by scheduling a shorter follow-up re-visit they may be more motivated to develop a more reliable routine. Creating a positive shoeing experience will only become a priority of the horse owner if it’s clear to them that it is your (the farrier’s) priority as well.
Keeping an edge is the key
Among professionals of all crafts, it’s universally understood that the routine sharpening of a tool is the only way to achieve the highest quality product. When it comes to the care of our horses, horse shoeing and horse handling skills are no different. By taking time to hone both our tools of horse shoeing and horsemanship, we can improve all aspects of a shoeing experience. By focusing on the real aspect of horsemanship, we can arrive at real solutions for those all too real, everyday problems that seem to come-up. This is, and will always be, one of the greatest challenges a farrier will ever face.
References / Resources:
Ground Control Manuals-Sec. 1 and 2, John Lyons
Perfect Horse Magazine
The Practical Horse Shoer, M.T. Richardson
A Handbook of Horseshoeing, J. Dollar and A. Wheatley
By Bryan Farcus MA, CJF with John Lyons. From the “Farrier-Friendly™” article series by Bryan Farcus. If you’ve enjoyed Bryan’s articles in magazines or online, you can now purchase them in paperback at: www.amazon.com. You can visit Bryan on the web at FarrierFriendly.com. ©2002 Bryan S. Farcus, CF.
To receive educational materials for you and your horse, or for a clinic near you, visit: www.johnlyons.com