Horse Farrier Tips and Tactics

How can you make sure your horse farrier is doing a good job on your horse's hooves? Read our simple tips to learn about what your farrier does, and if he's doing it right.

How can we tell if the farrier who trims our horses is doing a good job or not? Did your farrier check everything on your horse’s hooves? You’re not trained as a farrier specialist, so how can you be sure that your farrier is address everything on your horse? You may not be trained in the art of shoeing horses, but there are things you can look for.

Farrier and Horseman
An expensive truck with fancy lettering on the doors doesn’t guarantee that a farrier is good.

There was a horseshoer who used to trim horses wearing gray polyester pants and white suede shoes. He hopped out of an unmarked truck with a hoof knife, a pair of nippers and a rasp in his hand. Looking every bit not the part, he commenced to trim one horse after another and never got a speck of dirt on those shiny trousers or a smudge on his white bucks. He didn’t look like The Village Smithy, but he had horse sense, know-how, and an easiness about him that kept the horses calm.

A farrier should approach a horse like a horseman, with quiet confidence. That’s one of the first indications you might have the right person. Be wary of the farrier who, the first time he picks up your horse’s feet, starts criticizing work done by the previous farrier. This could be an attempt to make himself look good.

Trimming a horse is a little art, but a lot of science. While horse shoeing hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years, there are improvements being made all the time. Clue number two that you have the right guy is a farrier who keeps up with the advancements in his trade. Books, seminars, short courses, association newsletters, etc., are available. Plus, there is enough continuing education to keep any serious farrier up on the latest findings and research. However, you don’t want someone who is ready and willing to go along with every new fad or trend, or to sell you on the idea that your horse needs something extra special in the way of shoes, or wedges, or pads, and the like.

There is little regulation of the trade and almost no testing of competence, outside of what is done by organizations that certify their member farriers. Anyone can take a weekend course, buy a few tools, and stick a flier on the wall of the local tack shop. But that doesn’t make him or her a competent farrer.

On the Level
An ideal hoof trim is one that leaves the foot balanced and level. The bottom of the hoof is parallel to the coronet band. Both heels are the same height. The distance from the center of the frog to the wall is the same on both sides. The angle of the hoof is in line with the angle of the pastern, and that is the same angle as the shoulder. All of this is in a perfect world.

But sometimes our perfect horse does not have perfect feet. So if the way your blacksmith trims your horse doesn’t fit into that neat description, ask why. There can be a valid reason. He or she should be willing to answer your questions and explain why he is trimming your horse the way he is. Don’t accept a vague, “I had to do some corrective work.” Ask what the problem was and what was done to “correct” it. Your farrier should level with you, not evade your questions.

If the Shoe Fits
A well trimmed, level foot should sit on a smooth, level shoe.

If your horse is being shod, the surface of the shoe and the bottom of the hoof should meet perfectly. No gaps, unless there were some chunks missing from the hoof wall. The shoe might be handmade, or a ready-made “keg shoe.” It doesn’t matter. Being fitted properly to the foot is what matters.

The shoe should be shaped to fit the white line (the perimeter between the sole and the inside edge of the hoof wall), not the outer edge of the hoof wall. You will likely see your farrier nail on a shoe, then rasp off the overhanging hoof wall in what might look to some people as an effort to shape the foot to fit the shoe. That’s usually not the case. A good farrier fits the shoe to the shape of the white line and any excess wall hanging over is then rasped off with no harm.

Nailing is the scariest part of shoeing to the untrained owner’s eye. But it doesn’t hurt the horse. At least it shouldn’t. And there are things you can look for.

A well-driven nail should come out of the wall exactly where the farrier intended it to come out. In normal situations, the nails should pop out pretty much in a straight line and not come out of the wall too low. No lower than a half inch above the shoe is something you can look for. Low nails are not good as they usually take some hoof wall with them if the shoe comes off.

If your horse has pieces missing from the wall to begin with, it might not be possible to have all of the nails line up, but they should be at least a half-inch up from the shoe and reasonably straight. Also look for clinches that are pulled straight down and are not pointing this way and that. The clinches should be flush with the hoof wall.

Many master farriers agree that one of the most common errors in horse shoeing is shoes that are too short, with the heel of the shoe too far forward…referred to as “short shoeing.” Here is the guideline for judging this. (Even the untrained eye can learn to see it pretty easily):

Square up the horse on a level surface. If you drop a plumb line down the center of the side of the horse’s leg, the bottom of the plumb line should fall just behind the heel of the shoe. If you look straight down the back of your horse’s leg, you should see a tiny, shiny rim of shoe showing where it curves around at the heels.

Attitude of Kindness
A farrier should know horses and horse behavior. Good farriers understand that it isn’t the most comfortable thing for a horse to stand on three legs with one flexed up or out at an angle.

Old horses, in particular, aren’t as flexible as they used to be. They might not be able to bend a knee or hock to the degree the farrier finds comfortable for trimming and/or shoeing. If your horse is aged-or has joint problems for some other reason-be sure to let the farrier know. He or she should be considerate of your senior citizen by bending its joints a little less-even if it requires him to bend his own joints a little more. He should be sensitive to any discomfort the horse might be experiencing and try to adjust things to make it easier and not just get after the horse for leaning or trying to pull the foot back.

Trained farriers help their own balance, and the horse’s, by standing on the same line as the leg on the opposite side. To help keep the horse comfortable, they generally try to keep a front leg being worked on as close in under the horse’s body as possible. Pulling a front leg out too far to the side stresses the shoulder and can cause the horse pain. Most good farriers try not to raise the foot of a hind leg higher than the hock of the corresponding hind leg. Any higher and it gets uncomfortable for the horse.

Conformation Incompatibilities
It’s a silly thing…but be aware of how well your horse and farrier “fit” together. Some tall farriers find it hard to get “under” shorter breeds of horses. It can cause a horse to fret, lean or struggle if a leg is being pushed up too high, or pulled out too far. The end result can be the farrier getting upset with the horse’s constant fighting.

It is the owner’s job to have the horse trained to stand still for trimming and shoeing. But it’s the farrier’s responsibility not to contort the horse so that it turns into a painful experience. While we certainly don’t recommend choosing a farrier based on his or her height, just be aware of this kind of “conformation incompatibility” as a possible reason for your horse acting up or resisting.

Finding a Good Farrier
Maybe you have some misgivings about the work being done by the farrier you are currently using. Or maybe you just got your first horse, or have moved to a new area and need someone to shoe your horse. How do you find a good farrier?

One of the best ways is to get recommendations. Ask other horse owners in your area not only who they use, but why. The folks at the local tack shop or feed store might know what farriers their customers use. A farrier recommended by people at a well-appointed barn with horses that get used a lot is a good one to check out.

Ask your veterinarian about the farriers he or she works with. It’s important that your vet and farrier get along-or at least communicate with each other. Some foot and leg problems need the attention of both to be resolved. If your farrier feels he knows it all and that consulting with a veterinarian is unnecessary, you might need to think about looking for another farrier.

Finding a farrier who has had proper training, of course, is rule number one. It’s not unfair to ask where he or she learned the trade: at a two-day seminar…or a two-year course? Did he learn to tack shoes on work teams on his father’s farm…or by studying theory at the side of an experienced farrier? How long has he been practicing the trade?

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to go inspect his work for yourself. Some people have a better eye for getting the angles right than others, and you will likely be able to tell a lot by looking at various sets of feet and how those horses perform.

Affiliations and certifications are important, too, as most states do not require farriers to be tested. Farriers who are certified by the national organizations, like the American Farrier’s Association or the Brotherhood of Working Farriers, had to pass a test to gain that certification. These, as well as state associations, also do a lot to help their members keep up their educations. Not having an association’s certification does not mean a farrier isn’t competent, but it does give you some basis for evaluating how much a person who hangs out his shingle actually knows.

10 Ways You Can Help Your Farrier

Ed Warrington, a master farrier with over 50 years of experience both in the field and as the proprietor of Warrington’s Farrier School in Townsend, Delaware, has these suggestions for horse owners so their farriers can do their job to the best of their ability:

1. Prepare you horse in advance. Spend time teaching your horse to pick up his feet and stand still while his feet are being handled.

2. Be there to hold the horse. Don’t expect the horseshoer to work alone with a horse tied to the wall or in crossties.

3. Have the farrier’s work area clear of obstacles or equipment that could endanger horse or human if things get a little hairy.

4. As the handler, it’s your job to prevent the horse from touching or nuzzling the farrier’s back while he’s working.

5. Don’t lean over the farrier’s shoulder to see what he’s doing. The horse’s head will follow you, causing his body to move away and pull the farrier off balance.

6. Don’t apply any hoof dressings before the farrier arrives.

7. Don’t hose off the horse’s feet. Wet feet will make the farrier’s leather apron slippery for the rest of the day.

8. Don’t correct the horse while the farrier is under him.

9. Sweep up the trimmings between work sessions. Push them into a corner or pick them up and dispose of them.

10. Keep dogs out of the work area. Dogs love hoof trimmings and will get under the horse looking for them, endangering both the farrier and the horse.

We all want the best for our horses. But in reality, really good farriers can be really hard to get. Barns with a lot of horses tend to snap them up and keep them busy. It can be difficult to get a highly respected farrier to come out to trim just one or two horses. You might end up having to go with a farrier who has had good training, but is just starting out and doesn’t have as many customers yet. It helps if the farrier is at least familiar with the breed of horse you have and the kind of work those horses are expected to do.

Bragging rights to having a top name trimming your horses isn’t what’s important. You just need to know that your horse is getting good, sound, comfortable footwork. To assure that, take some time to learn a little about the conformation of a horse’s foot and the irregularities and diseases that can affect it. There are books as well as tons of information on the Internet. Learn what you can about leg conformation, leg bones, hooves and trimming.

And after the farrier’s visit, kick the tires. Observe how your horse moves. Check the symmetry and balance of the foot as best you can using a tape measure. If you had shoes put on, look from the side to see if the shoes are long enough. Look at the nails and clinches. If your horse is moving comfortably and freely, and the work looks good, and your horse stays sound, you just might have found yourself the perfect farrier for your perfect horse.

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