By Erica Burns
A farrier, or blacksmith, is one of the best people for a horse owner to have a good relationship with. The service he or she provides while caring for your horse’s feet—which may include hoof maintenance, corrective trimming, shoe application—is important for proper horse health and management. However, job of a farrier can be dangerous, and it’s important that you understand how to make the situation as safe as possible. Here are a few tips to help you do that.
- Hold the Horse: Holding your horse for the farrier is safer than having the horse tied, cross-tied, or ground-tied. While your farrier is working on your horse’s feet, he or she will often be in unusual positions underneath or around the horse. The farrier may also use stands to hold up the horse’s feet so he/she can approach the hoof with tools at different angles. If a horse slips or acts up while they have a hoof in the air, it is possible the farrier could get injured in the process. If you are holding the horse, you are most likely able to move the horse away from the farrier, hopefully in turn preventing any injury. A spooked horse, or one that moves the wrong way while tied or in cross ties, might not move away from the farrier. This could potentially result in the horse stepping on him/her, the horse kicking out, or an accidental flying hoof making contact with the farrier.
- Fly Spray Beforehand: Fly spraying your horse’s abdomen and legs will reduce your horse’s desire to stomp flies and swish their tail. A horse who is trying to stomp flies is more likely to pull their hooves away from the farrier while he or she is working or lean extra weight on the farrier in an attempt to move their feet. They may also swish their tail around while the farrier is working on the hind hooves, which can be irritating and disruptive to the farrier’s work.
- Maintain Safe Distances: Be sure to keep your horse a safe distance from other horses that might nip or bite while the farrier is working. If a nearby horse reaches his head out and bites the horse you’re holding for the farrier, the horse you are holding is more likely to be concerned about moving away from the instigator as opposed to looking out for the farrier beneath him. Most farriers will prefer to work on horses in an aisle as opposed to inside a stall, because there is more room to move around and away from the horse in case of an emergency. There are instances, however, where it will be best to trim a horse inside a stall. Generally, it’s best to let your farrier determine if he or she would like to work on the horse’s feet inside the stall or out in the aisle.
- Avoid Hazards: Make sure there is nothing dangerous nearby that the farrier or the horse could trip on or get injured by, like pitchforks, lead ropes, buckets, saddle racks, or other barn items that may become a potential hazard if the horse moves while the farrier is working.
- Practice. If you have a young or stubborn horse, or a horse that is not used to having to hold his feet up for the farrier, go ahead and practice. Work on picking the hooves up, stretch each leg forward or backward like a farrier would do, and even tap gently on the bottom of the hoof with the flat side of a hoof pick or the palm of your hand. This can help the horse get used to things that the farrier is likely to do. The more you handle your horse’s feet, the more used to it they will become, and the better they will behave when the farrier does arrive.
- Safe Handling: The best way for you to be able to move your horse away from the farrier in case of an emergency is to stand on the same side of the horse as the farrier. That is to say, while the farrier is working on the front and hind left hooves, you are on the left side of the horse; likewise, with the right hooves, you are on the right side of the horse. With the lead safely folded in your hand, be sure to be facing your farrier, and paying attention to where he or she is at all times. Don’t stand directly in front of the horse’s shoulder, where the farrier will need to stretch the leg forward if they use a stand. Instead, stand a little further off to the side, so you can see the horse, see the farrier, and are out of the way of the space the farrier needs to work within. When he or she switches sides, you should also switch sides. You should always stand while holding your horse for the farrier. Always stay alert to what’s going on in the barn and the surrounding area. Your farrier may guide you if he or she has different preferences.
- Additional Restraint: Most horses don’t need to be restrained for the farrier, but there may be instances when restraint is appropriate. The most common choices for restraint are a lip chain, lip twitch, or a tranquilizer. You should feel comfortable using restraint if you are going to apply it for the farrier. If you are unsure which one of these methods of restraint is most appropriate, talk to both your veterinarian and your farrier to determine which method is best for your horse. It’s important to remember that state law may dictate that only a veterinarian can give a tranquilizer or other medication to a horse. If this the case in your state, then you will need to plan to have your veterinarian out when the farrier is there.
A life-long lover of horses, Erica Burns comes from a diverse background in the equine industry, with a degree in Equine Studies, as well as work experience with polo horses, Thoroughbreds, and lesson programs, including the programs she currently manages at North Country School and Camp Treetops in Lake Placid, NY.