This month’s question comes from Taylor, who writes: My husband is currently at farrier school, and having to work on some very bad horses – rearing, kicking, leaning, etc. It is causing him to not enjoy shoeing. Is this just the norm for schools to have rank horses brought in? The teachers just kind of say deal with it..
First, Some Bad News
Hi Taylor. I’m sorry your husband is having a tough go with rank horses. Even on the best of days, being a farrier is not an easy job. Unfortunately, it will probably get worse before it gets better. In farrier school, we just had to take the horses we got and do the best we could with them.
When I finished farrier school and started working with different farriers, I got the horses nobody else wanted to deal with. I had to prove that I could do the job. After a couple years, when I picked up enough clients to pay the bills, I could start dropping the clients with badly behaved horses.
That said, I have a few tips that might help a little.
Tips for Dealing with Rank Horses
First off, it is not the farrier’s job to train a client’s horse and you have every right to pack up your tools and walk away, especially if you feel like you’re in a dangerous situation.
Before you give up, try having the owner exercise the horse for a while. A tired horse might be more willing to stand still long enough for you to at least be able to trim it. If that doesn’t work, have the owner hire a professional trainer or work on the horse themselves for a few weeks and try again.
The horse could be acting up out of fear. Did the owner bring the horse in to a barn that it rarely goes in to, or lead it out of sight of its friends? You could try leading the horse somewhere it feels more comfortable, like closer to the rest of the herd.
The horse could also be reacting to how you feel. Horses can sense your fear and anxiety. Try taking a few minutes to let the horse smell you and your tools. Take long deep slow breaths, relax and think happy thoughts. The job will be a lot easier if the horse trusts and likes you.
Sometimes bribery works. I have one client with a mini donkey. The only way I can pick up her feet is if she has a bucket of oats. My horse will only let me trim him when someone is brushing him or scratching his belly.
Another thing to take in to consideration is the way you’re holding the feet. For example, it’s pretty difficult for some tall men to bend down and get right under a horse. It could be equally uncomfortable for the horse to have to stretch its legs up and out and hold that position for a long time.
I use a hoof stand for front feet and try to keep the hind feet as close to the ground as I can. I find the stand saves my back and the big horses can lean on it all they like with no stress on me.
The Good News
It might take a while to figure out how to do the job in a way that’s comfortable for both you and the horse and possibly even longer to build up a good clientele with well behaved horses, but don’t give up. With patience and hard work, you can get there. It’ll be worth it in the long run.
This is our monthly feature, “Ask a Farrier,” a Q and A with farrier Karen McMann. Karen has been a full-time farrier for 17 years. She graduated in 2002 from the Canadian School of Horseshoeing, where she studied under Pat Cullen. She serves on the Advisory Board of Equi-Health Canada and Equi-First Aid USA as a Farrier/Hoof Health Support specialist. Karen lives and works outside of Okotoks, Alberta.
If you have a question you’d like to ask a farrier (about horseshoeing, farriery, hoof and horse health, blacksmith tools, working as a farrier, etc.), email or leave it in the comments below. Every month, we’ll pick one question to answer in our feature.
Image credit: Brett Sayles