by Lindsay Lancaster
Horse folks know the saying “No hoof, no horse” all too well. To select the right farrier to entrust with a horse’s feet, horse owners must know what to look for. Here are a few tips from a farrier and a veterinarian with many years of experience in the field of equine podiatry, Raleigh-based farrier Rick Snead and Dr. Dick Mansmann of Equine Podiatry & Rehabilitation Mobile Practice in Chapel Hill.
“Most people select their farrier by word of mouth, but 95 percent of the time, the only time they’re recommending them is because the foot looks good when they’re done, they’re on time, and the horse didn’t walk away lame. That makes you the best farrier in the world,” says Snead. “This is the worst way to choose a farrier.”
Anyone can slap on a farrier’s apron, get a hammer and anvil and call his or herself a farrier. While there are farrier schools and certification programs, there is no official certification program, licensing exam or schooling that is required to work as a farrier. Horse owners have to be savvy and establish their own standards to make sure their horse is receiving the best possible foot care. One place to start is by talking with the veterinarian.
Horse healthcare team
Determine if potential farriers are willing to work with your veterinarian and if your veterinarian is willing to work with potential farriers
At the top of your to-do list should be contacting a local veterinarian or equine podiatrist known to deal with hoof problems for advice, says Snead.
Veterinarian Richard Mansmann suggests looking for a farrier who is open-minded and willing to work with your veterinarian, as well as a veterinarian willing to work with your farrier.
“I do feel the best thing the owner can do early in the ownership of their horse is to find out if their health care team can work together,” says Mansmann, who owns Equine Podiatry & Rehabilitation Mobile Practice based out of Chapel Hill. A farrier and veterinarian that know and ‘recommend’ each other are likely to work well together; a “we’re all on the same team” approach. A veterinarian that is truly interested in the equine foot, and a farrier who is open-minded and motivated to educate him or herself about complex foot problems are characteristics of people that can make a good health care team for your horse.
When first acquiring a horse or before seeking out a new farrier. Mansmann and Snead both recommend having an equine podiatrist evaluate the current status of a horse’s feet – including taking baseline radiographs to determine what a horse may need.
A good farrier may or may not have learned at a farrier school
Farriers typically learn their trade by attending a farrier school and/or working as an apprentice under an experienced farrier, or both. After they initially learn, it’s the farrier’s responsibility to continue his or her education.
It is crucial that a farrier keeps up with current information and techniques in their field. Ask potential farriers about their commitment to continuing education, or seek out resources that provide the information. For example, the American Association of Professional Farriers, whose membership is open to all farriers and veterinarians (as well as associate membership to anyone in general), lists its members and their history of continuing education on its Web site.
Pay attention and ask questions while the farrier is working on a horse’s feet
Horse owners can learn a lot just from observing farriers while they work on a horse.
“Does he or she take his (or her) time? Do they answer questions that you ask? Does the foot always look as good or better than the last time the horse was shod?” says Snead. “One of the best ways to educate yourself is to be there when the farrier is there and ask questions like, ‘Is there anything I can do to make my horse’s feet better?’”
A good farrier will communicate with clients to let them know if there is a problem and to offer a treatment plan.
When looking at a horse’s foot and noticing that the farrier’s work looks different than what was expected, don’t hesitate to ask about it.
“People shouldn’t judge,” says Snead, “they should ask their farrier why the foot is the way it is.”
Ask how long the farrier has been shoeing that particular horse. Sometimes the foot could look bad, but the farrier has only just begun shoeing the horse or the owner’s budget doesn’t enable them to pay for shoeing the way the farrier or veterinarian recommends. When questioning a farrier’s work, Snead also says to ask how long the owner waits in between shoeing/trims, if the farrier has ever recommended trimming or shoeing the horse more often or a different type of shoe or corrective shoeing. The owner’s care comes into play, as well as his or her budget.
Assessing the job
How long a shoe stays on is not a reliable indicator for evaluating a farrier’s work
Evaluating a farrier’s work is difficult, and a lot of a foot’s health comes down to how the horse’s feet are managed.
“Losing a shoe, in my opinion, is 99 percent the owner’s fault for letting the feet get too wet, letting the shoeing cycle go too long, the horse has an abnormally thin wall, et cetera,” Mansmann says. “That is the most common complaint we hear from owners, that ‘farrier Smith’ is no good because his shoes come off, when it is a management issue.”
Effective dialogue is critical between all members of your horse’s health care team
Is there likely to be effective, timely communication between the farrier, the veterinarian, and the horse’s owner that improves the health of the horse’s feet? A farrier that can have an easy conversation and answer your questions after a shoeing/trim is likely to have a positive impact on your horse’s foot care. Says Bryan Quinsey, executive director of the American Association of Professional Farriers: “Make sure that you can have a dialogue with that person. If you can’t have a conversation with your farrier, find somebody else.”
Article by Lindsay Lancaster, a second-year student at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, plans to become a general small animal and equine practitioner. For more information and past articles featured go to www.NCStateVets.org/equine.