There are a ton of things we horse owners can physically do to keep our four-legged family members healthy, as well as a ton we cannot do and so have to rely on the expertise of others. Trimming/shoeing, for most of us, falls into the latter category. So today, I thought I’d tout the expertise and ingenuity of the good farrier—that highly regarded, highly sought after and often unmentioned guy or gal who goes to extraordinary lengths to keep our beloved equines comfortable.
I’ve spoken about Bear—my thirty-two-year-old Quarter Horse mare—several times on this blog, but haven’t really gotten into her goings-on, so I figure now’s as good a time as any. To look at her, you’d swear she was in her prime. Inside, however, is a whole other story. It all started long before I purchased her, when her previous owner sent her as a four or five-year-old to some big-name whoop-dee-do reining trainer.
Yes, I said reining, and yes, it might ruffle a few reining-lovers. So it goes.
This summer, stiffness and slight lameness increasing to dead lameness forced a vet visit along with his portable x-ray machine. What he found was a very old torque fracture in Bear’s left carpus (knee) which had healed years ago and had over calcified, along with a bone spur and a few other odds and ends. In Dr. Rick’s own words: “This is the type of injury that likely nobody noticed when it happened, but eventually shows up big time.” Then he dropped the other shoe, saying, “It’s common in reining horses.”
Common! Well if that doesn’t give you a reason not to rein, I don’t know what will. Oh, and just to clarify: I’m a Western and English Pleasure person, not a reining person, so I had never practiced nor shown Bear in reining... although I heard she could spin on a dime and slide like a toboggan on ice. Of course, if I had reined her, no doubt she would have been in far worse shape than she is now and it would have showed up far earlier, like in her prime. But anyway...
So what has all of this got to do with a farrier?--you ask. Hang on, I’m getting to it.
We started Bear on intra-articular injections right then and there, and they worked like a charm. She’ll never be 100% of course (she’s still a little stiff and always will be), but the pain and lameness disappeared... until trouble started again, this time with her right front hoof. Out came the vet (again) with his x-ray machine (again), and this time the x-rays showed nothing—no rotation, no degrading, no anything. (Thank goodness.) The diagnosis: a high abscess. The cure: Epsom salts soakings, Epsom salts poultices, and shoes. Ah, but how do you nail shoes onto a stiff-kneed, sore-hoofed horse without causing even more pain?
You don’t. You use Old Mac’s Multi Purpose Horse Boots (Original) with Comfort Padding instead, along with some vet wrap around the pasterns to prevent rubbing. Bear takes a size 6. And yes, she wears them 24/7, save for taking them off every 24 hours to check the hoof as you normally would, the boot for debris that might have fallen inside, and to change the vet wrap. Easy as hell to size (place hoof on a sheet of paper, trace the outline, take the outline to a tack store and have a knowledgeable employee measure to fit), easy as hell to put on and take off (just don‘t forget to put your finger between the horse’s pastern and the internal velcro fastener when cinching it up in order to give a little breathing room), easy as hell for Bear to walk in, and she‘s never lost one yet. I seriously love these boots and highly recommend them. (By the by, I tried the Epsom salts poultice/gauze/diaper, vet wrap/duct tape boot thingy for about three weeks prior to the Old Mac‘s, but Bear was still pretty darn sore with it. Not to mention that the amount of time with her knee bent and the other leg holding her up sure didn’t help matters.)
Ah, but who gave me the heads-up on Old Mac’s?
Why, my farrier, Steve Harris, of course.
(See? I told you I was getting to him.)
Did I mention that previous to this whole ordeal, when she was just a little stiff in the knees, that Steve was trimming Bear’s hooves via sitting on the ground with her hoof in his lap so she wouldn’t have to bend her knees too much and he therefore wouldn’t cause her as much pain? Now that’s a farrier who goes above and beyond, let me tell you; a rare one who’s actually concerned about the welfare of the horse.
More, we found that Bear, in trying to take the weight off her abscessed front right (during the interm between the duct tape boot thingy and the Old Mac’s), had strained her opposite hind leg through overcompensating. That was when the real farrier fun started. Poor Steve. There he was (even with the Old Mac’s boots and pads by then, which made my mare’s fronts sound and comfortable), with Bear needing to practically sit on him to have her hind hooves trimmed. I mean, Steve is a pretty strong guy and all, but let’s not forget Bear weighs around eleven-hundred pounds! So what did Steve do? He staggered over to his truck and came back with something so simple and worked so well that it was forehead slapping—a wide roll of duct tape and a square sponge. Lay the duck tape on its side, place the sponge over it, place hoof on top, and trim while kneeling on the ground. Voila! Well, it’ll do at least until her hind leg strain heals. By the way, I told Steve that if he ever tried to move, I’d hunt him down and drag him back—he’s that good.
Currently, the abscess is ready to break, the boots are doing famously, and Steve is still worth his weight in gold. Good farriers like Steve Harris (who hails from Alberta, Canada)—you gotta love ‘em.