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Horse-owners trimming hooves

From: Mari Anna

Hi Jessica,

Thank you for your newsletter; it has taught me a lot about horse ownership. We have two horses, which we keep on our hobby farm. We live in a rural area which seems to be short on farriers. The one farrier we used some time ago quit coming out; he preferred to do large quantities of horses in a barn setting. We do not have a trailer to transport our horses.

My question is: is it possible for a beginner to learn how to trim horse feet themselves, and do an adequate job? I would never try to correct a serious problem myself, but would just do routine, once-a-month trimming/rasping.

Thank you.

Hi Mari Anna! A lot of horse-owners can relate to your problem - good farriers are always in such demand that it can be very difficult to keep one coming out to a small farm where there are just a few horses. The better the farrier, the greater the pressure on him to abandon all the small one- and two-horse farms in favour of the bigger, show establishments where each visit means at least half a day's work.

Yes, horse-owners CAN learn to do some basic hoof-trimming. Every horse-owner should know how to remove a loose shoe; every horse-owner should know how to rasp hooves. You'll need to get help from a farrier, obviously - this means getting a good one to come out and give you some lessons. Your soon-to-be-ex farrier might be willing to help you out in this way. Ideally, your farrier would come out, trim all of the horses, introduce you to the tools and how to use them, show you how to stand and take the weight on your thighs (not your back, please!) and help you learn how to use a rasp and possibly a hoof knife and nippers to MAINTAIN a good trim.

Note the capital letters above. That's MAINTAIN, not CREATE. Keeping up a good trim is just about do-able, with focus, effort, and regular advice and help from a good farrier, but be sure that you begin with all the horses' hooves properly trimmed. Talk to your farrier about how best to maintain the balance and length of the hooves - it's possible that a twice- or thrice-weekly light rasping would be a better, safer idea than a more extreme, monthly rasping and/or trim.

While you're waiting for your farrier to come and teach you the basics, you can begin collecting supplies. If you are certain that you have NO chance of scheduling farrier visits at six-week intervals, you'll probably want a good rasp and rasp handle, a good pair of nippers, a hoof knife, a hoof level, a farrier's apron, and a nice flat place to work. Once you're reasonably certain that your farrier will appear at regular intervals to check on (and correct) your work, you'll be able to have a discussion with him regarding how much equipment you'll actually need to purchase. Don't run out and buy one of each item in the farrier's section of the horse supplies catalogue, though - wait until you and your farrier have had a chance to talk about your needs and plans. If you have just a few, barefoot horses that keep their hooves reasonably well worn-down, and you plan to rasp their hooves a little every day or every other day, the rasp might be the only tool you'll need.

Once you've got your equipment and a place to work, you can begin to follow your farrier's advice and instructions to do some basic maintenance on your barefoot horses' trims. As long as you're careful not to take off much at any one time, you should be able to help your horses maintain their balance and angles between visits from the farrier.

Learning how to do basic hoof-trimming doesn't mean that you should give up trying to find another good farrier - you'll still need that professional help and advice, and it's likely that your horses may need some angle corrections or even some remedial trims at regular intervals. What it DOES mean is that you may no longer have to panic at the thought of your farrier missing an appointment or two. Ideally, your horses would receive a visit from a good farrier every six weeks or so, but all too often, the intervals stretch to ten or twelve weeks or longer. If you learn enough about rasping and trimming to keep your horses' hooves in order, you'll be able to survive those times when your barn goes twelve or fourteen weeks without a visit from the farrier. There's a learning curve involved, and a lot of work, and at the end of it, you won't be a farrier - but you also won't be a frantic, desperately frustrated horse-owner with a herd of animals that look as though they're all on stilts.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for a used horse trailer or horse-sized stock trailer in good condition. Sometimes, when it just isn't possible to get the farrier to come out to your farm, you can manage to take your horses to the farrier, either at home or at some other, larger barn (if you do this, be sure to get permission from the barn owner first). There are times when it's necessary to get a horse to a vet or a farrier, and even if you have such occasions only once every few years, it's good to have some form of emergency horse transportation.


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