Taking care of a horse can be challenging. Apart from providing them with adequate and appropriate hay, pasture, exercise and shelter, you also need to make sure that their hooves are in prime condition.
A horse’s hooves support its balance and movement. Older horses, especially, require regular hoof care to maintain good health, even if they’re not at work.
One of your tasks as a horse owner is to help keep your horse comfortable with their farrier, despite the aches, pains and health issues that frequently accompany old age. Here is a guide that can assist you:
1. Clean The Area
Before the farrier prepares for trimming and other hoof maintenance jobs, clean the space where the process will happen. Remove anything that could hurt or startle your horse, such as pitchforks and other pointed objects. Apart from that, you must also ensure that the area is spacious enough.
Many older horses don't see or hear as well as they used to, and it's essential that their work areas are clear of anything that could harm them if they happen to get frightened.
2. Walk The Horse Before It Meets The Farrier
Letting the horse walk for some minutes may loosen their joints and warm up the muscles they need to hold their feet up for the farrier. If the animal is in any chronic pain, you may consider giving them some bute the evening before and the morning of the appointment, or even postponing their trimming or shoeing until they feel better.
If they feel well but become stressed, you could help them relax by feeding them. Turnout before the appointment can help make them mentally and physically prepared before hoof maintenance, especially if they've learned that the process is uncomfortable.
3. Hold The Horse
Many horse owners prefer holding their horses instead of tying them during shoe application. They think that giving more space and freedom to the horse makes the animal more relaxed. This way, the horse has more options to hold their body in a way that's comfortable for them.
Holding a horse may also be better than tying the animal because it allows the farrier to move more freely. This is especially important if you suspect your horse might act up or kick.
To ensure the safety of the process, horse owners must do their best to keep the animal calm. For that purpose, you may choose one or more of the following items to keep your horse in a relaxed state:
CBD Oil: You may administer an animal-safe full-spectrum CBD oil. This product is believed to relieve pain and stress, ideal for horses undergoing shoe application.
Fly Spray: Insect bites typically trigger a stomping response from horses. Fly spray shoos away insects that may agitate the animal. For best results, spray at least 15 minutes before trimming or shoeing.
Herbs: For organic options, you can feed the horse with valerian root and chamomile to cool down any anxiety. You'll need to plan ahead with this option and give these herbs with breakfast.
Ice Pack: You could apply an ice pack or ice boots to your horse’s stressed hoof and joints if joint pain is an issue.
Even if you've used a calming product on a horse that gets stressed by farrier visits, keep holding your horse firmly yet gently at all times. Always ask a vet before starting your horse on any new supplements.
4. Keep Safe Distances
As much as possible, you should keep your horse from other animals, especially other horses. Older horses can't move as quickly as their young friends, and could have a tougher time staying safe. If your farrier is working in a paddock and has limited space, you could tie the other horses to a corner at least 5 meters away from where trimming and shoeing occur.
If you have a barn, of course, it's easier to have your farrier work in an aisle to provide enough uninterrupted space. Another way to keep the horse comfortable is to do the process in a stall, where there's some bedding to add cushion to the footing.
Apart from the horse’s comfort, always consider how the farrier feels. Most farriers will want the space to get out of the way quickly if they need to, so provide as much room as you can.
5. Choose Between Holding The Hooves Or Using The Stand
Apart from the many things you could learn from horses, considering how they feel will help you understand them better. For example, when choosing between a hoof stand and manually holding hooves, your farrier should rely on the option your horse finds more comfortable.
An experienced and knowledgeable farrier will be comfortable working with both methods, and will likely opt for the method that the horse finds easier because that's what makes the farrier's job easier in the end.
6. Work in Short Bursts
Older horses might not physically be able to hold their feet up as long as a farrier needs them to. Be prepared to give your old friend breaks, to take them for little walks in between feet or to schedule two visits: one for the front feet and one for the back.
Since older horses' hooves don't grow as quickly, you'll likely be using your farrier less than you did when your equine partner was in their prime, so doubling up on farrier appointments to get around all four feet might still work out to be an economic option.
7. Ask The Farrier
Always listen to your farrier if they suggest their preferences to make the process better. Farriers have been through formal training that made them fit for the job, so they'll know what’s best for the horse's, hoof maintenance.
As a horse owner, you probably know important how hoof maintenance is for your horse. To make your farrier visits even more successful, keep an eye on your horse's feet in between visits and watch for any developing signs of discomfort. If you notice signs like lameness, weakness or swelling in the legs, contact a veterinarian to assist you in providing approved medical assistance.
Written by Marc Humphries
Marc Humphries is a horse breeder. He has been in the raising horses for 12 years. Marc shares his experience in breeding horses by writing blog posts. During his free time, he teaches horseback riding to kids.
Feature image: Vivian Arcidiacono; Image 1: Annie Spratt