Old age sounds terrible. Physically. Mentally, it sounds amazing because you can say whatever’s on your mind and not care what anybody thinks about it. Being around older horses suggests that our equine partners experience the exact same thing as they age. They care way less about what people think, but they do need some extra attention and tlc. If you shoe an older horse, or own one yourself, here are some considerations for keeping them at their cantankerous best.
Old Feet Are…Well…Old
It’s critical to keep an eye on any changes in the hoof. Hoof growth will usually slow down as the horse ages, and feet might need fewer trims and resets. Vets still recommend that a farrier check in on the animal every 8 weeks,though. It’s not uncommon for hoof quality to go downhill in older horses. Changing hoof quality can be simply a matter of the horse’s body not working as well as it used to, but it can also be the result of a decreased ability to digest nutrients from feed or a condition like Cushing’s disease, so it’s important to be aware of any deterioration in the hooves. Older horses also have less efficient immune systems and heal less quickly than their younger herdmates, so staying on top of abscesses and infections is a priority.
Aside from keeping a close eye on hoof quality and possible infections, farriers need to be careful in their work on older horses. Because aging feet tend to grow more slowly, the foot you take off makes an extra difference. It’s important to leave elderly horses with enough sole to support them and to keep the angles precise to avoid straining joints and soft tissue.
Handle With Care
Senior horses are less flexible. As a farrier, you’ll have to contend with a lifetime’s worth of injuries, strains, arthritis and the general wear and tear that goes with working for a living. It’s something you might already be able to relate to. Flexing a joint might cause discomfort, as could asking a horse to stretch and hold its leg outside of its comfort zone. The general rule is to keep the feet low and the legs within a smaller range of motion. Your clients should be able to tell you where the horse seems most comfortable, if it’s not immediately apparent, but the horse will also likely tell you what’s what (see: cantankerousness, above).
Give the horse plenty of breaks. It’s tempting to keep going, especially when you’re nearing the end on one foot, but it’s obviously better to take your time than to trust to luck that the horse won’t fall over while you finish rasping. Which is a literal thing that could happen. Older horses need all four corners to balance, so if a leg on the left gets tired or sore from being in the air too long, it for sure won’t help you when you go to do the right side. Keep an eye out for subtle signs of fatigue like fidgeting and leaning, in addition to the not so subtle signs of just trying to put the foot back down. You might need to give a horse all of the benefits of the doubt on this one.
Older horses might need a little (or a lot) more support when they’re being trimmed. It’s best if that support isn’t you – otherwise, you will find yourself in the similar position of being inflexible and riddled with joint pain when you get to your own upper years. There are companies out there that make hoofjacks specifically for older horses or horses with compromised balance, which might be an idea if you find your clientele all approaching their golden years. You can also be creative here and diy something that works for you. Farriers report using wood, tree stumps, buckets, even the walls of the barn as tools to help a horse keep itself upright. Some shoers find putting the horse on an incline can help if the horse balances better with one end or another.
Keep the Horse Comfortable
Clients might want to consider timing farrier visits to avoid damp weather or the coldest parts of the day. If the winters are cold and snowy where you are, you could bring a heater, or suggest the owner keep one near the horse while you work. Warmer legs will be a lot easier to bend. Owners can also apply magnetic boots or a warming liniment before the trim to loosen up stiff legs. If the horse is still active, taking it on a short ride prior to the farrier visit might help loosen things up, too.
Stretches are a life saver for both the horse and the person who trims it. Owners should get in the habit of regularly stretching their elderly equines to keep up range of motion and to make it easier for the horse to keep its legs flexed. Equine massage therapist Jessica McLoughlin explains some stretches here and there’s a video from Evention here that shows how to do them.
Finally, owners might consider asking their vets about giving their older equine friends some phenylbutazone or another anti-inflammatory drug in preparation for a trim or reset. If clients are more into homeopathic remedies instead of pharmaceuticals, arnica is an excellent bet. Whatever the preferred pain relief route, making the farrier visit as easy on the aging horse as possible makes everyone happier in the long run. And the long run is what we’re all after for these old coots.
By: Cindy McMann