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Is this abuse?

From: Carlos

Hello! I want to thank you for the immense amount of knowledge that you've given me through your mailings.

I need some advice. I am new at having a horse and I need some advice. I met a trainer who boards her horses a couple of houses away from mine, and her husband is a blacksmith. After having my horse shod, and taking a couple of lessons with the trainer, they came to me with a proposal: She would give me lessons and her husband would shoe my horse in exchange for my boarding a new horse for them in one of my empty stalls, I would also have to buy the feed, and clean the stall . I don't have time for lessons all that often, maybe once every other week (because of conflicts in our schedules), and I thought that the arrangement would not be advantageous to me. We worked out an agreement where they can keep their horse here in exchange for some occasional lessons and the shoeing of my horse every 7 to 8 weeks. I also give their horse his morning meal (they buy the feed).

Well, I hardly see the trainer anymore so I haven't had any lessons lately. (I don't want to think that she is avoiding me, but...) We had scheduled for my horse to be shod on Saturday by 3 in the afternoon. I had a wedding to go to and I had to leave when he hadn't showed up. I asked my 20 year old son to help with the handling of the horse if the blacksmith showed up, my son is not very adept at this either, but he is very perceptive and very much in control. The blacksmith showed up after 5 and proceeded to shoe the horse (it starts to get dark around here after 4:30). My son told me that the horse was nervous and was moving around, not kicking, when he was working on her rear left leg. My son then showed me with similar motions to those that this man was doing. (I think that he was using the rasp). He says that the blacksmith stopped, spun around on his heels quickly, put all of his weight behind his motion, and punched my horse in the rib cage area. He said something to the effect: "I've had enough of that". My son was very upset, but he did not know if what had happened was the appropriate thing to do in order to discipline the horse. He didn't tell him anything. He said that he had wondered to himself if this man would have done this if I had been around.

I had no knowledge of this when the next morning I noticed that my horse had a wet spot on her side. I looked at it closely and found a wound surrounded by a swollen area of about 5 inches. My son cannot say for certain if the blacksmith had anything in his hand when he punched my horse. I looked carefully for any objects that may the horse may have laid on and cut herself with, but found none.

I don't know these people very well besides knowing that they have horses, and that the neighbors where they stable their horses have had a long friendship with them, and speak highly of them. We only have a verbal agreement on our arrangement.

I don't want to act to harshly. These people have no place to take their horse and I don't want to put them in a bad spot, but I cannot be at ease not knowing for certain if this guy caused the injury to my horse. I am sure that I can find another blacksmith in my area and I read your advice to someone regarding ARICP-certified instructors (I found one nearby and I will contact her).

Can you, please, give me some suggestions? I love my horse. She has a very sweet temperament, she is obedient and willing to learn. She is not very brave, and being a thorougbred, is very nervous, and very stubborn sometimes.

I feel that she has laid all of her trust in me and that I have violated that trust by allowing this individual to act in this manner towards her.

Am I over-reacting, or was he justified in his actions? I eagerly await for your answer. Thank you.


Hi Carlos! No, you are not over-reacting; if anything, I would say that you are under-reacting. ;-)

Your instincts tell you that something is wrong with this arrangement, that you aren't getting YOUR side of the bargain (no instructor, and a reluctant farrier), that your horse has been abused. Your instincts are right. You are going to have to sit down with these people and have a talk -- at the least.

I'm going to suggest that you formalize the arrangment between you and this couple. If they are going to stay on -- which is something you will have to determine -- you should have a boarding contract, you should charge them board for their horse, and you should arrange to pay for your lessons and your horseshoeing.

The trouble with these "exchange" arrangements is that unless (and sometimes even when) all the parties know each other very well and trust one another, the usual result, after a few months, is that each side feels that it is being taken advantage of. The barn owner feels that she should have regular lessons and prompt, good-quality farrier care in exchange for boarding the horse; the boarders feel that they are just keeping their horse in a barn that's there anyway, their horse doesn't cost a lot to maintain, and the barn owner is making unfair demands on them -- and as a result, you get poor lessons or no lessons, and you get poor farrier work or none at all, or you get someone who attempts to do a slipshod job in the dark, and injures your horse and leaves without mentioning that tiny detail!

Even with honest people of good will, this sort of exchange can put a strain on a friendship, and when there is no honesty, good will, or friendship.... let's just say that the situation is designed to create stress all around.

If you charge for board, and they charge for their services, and you write them checks and they write you checks, everyone's life will improve, even if the amounts exchanged seem to be identical every month! If you pay for your lessons and your farrier work, you'll feel justified in scheduling those lessons and insisting that the farrier shoe your horse during the daytime and in a non-abusive way. If the couple pays for their horse's board, they will feel justified in asking you to feed it, or to feed it the supplements that they buy, or to turn it out on a regular schedule -- whatever your boarding contract specifies.

There are certain behaviours in horses that cannot be allowed -- rearing and biting, for instance. There are also certain behaviours in HUMANS that cannot be allowed -- injuring horses by hitting them with implements, for instance. It is sometimes appropriate to smack a horse, either with a crop or with the flat of one's hand; I wasn't there, so I can't tell you whether the horse was putting the farrier at risk. Farriers DO have a responsibility to protect themselves! But this situation sounds bad to me: it is NEVER appropriate to hit a horse with a knife, screwdriver, the end of a rasp, or anything else that will make a wound. A sharp, LOUD smack with a hand, accompanied by a loud "NO!" can be a useful method of discipline; poking holes in a horse is not discipline, it is abuse and cannot be countenanced.

It seems to me that this person went far beyond the limits of the task he was asked to perform, and, if it were my horse that had been injured, I would certainly not allow this person near any horse of mine again. If he felt that he was unable to deal with the horse, he should have said so, and refused to shoe it -- that is every farrier's right! If he hit the horse before he realized that he had something sharp in his hand (which couldn't have been an open hand anyway, obviously!), he should have told your son about the injury immediately, and told you about it as soon as possible, by leaving you a note or calling you if necessary.

You should also be sure that your insurance coverage is adequate! Farm and ranch owners' insurance does not cover boarded horses, whether the payment is cash, check, or an exchange of services. If you haven't already done so, talk with your insurance agent, tell him what you are doing, and ask about a "Care, Custody and Control" policy, which is what you need to have, in the USA, if you keep someone else's animal on your property.

Insurance, and the cost of insurance, can also give you a good "out" if you determine that you no longer want to have these people on your property. If the cost of the extra insurance that you will need is going to exceed the value of the services that you are (or, in your case, are NOT) getting, then it would make good sense to say "I can't have boarders, we just aren't legally set up for this, the insurance is too expensive." Blame your decision on the insurance company! Your agent won't mind. ;-)

It's a good idea to look for a competent, safety-oriented instructor; it's also a good idea to look for a competent and kind farrier. Try to be there when your mare meets the new farrier -- although her trust in YOU is probably unchanged, she may no longer be quite so trusting of men with leather aprons and rasps. Explain the situation to your new farrier, and ask if he will work with you and your mare to rebuild her confidence.

Good luck -- it's not an easy situation, I know, but I'm sure that your good sense will get you out of it without too much grief.


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