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Mare won't stand for farrier

From: Jan

Jessica,

I have been watching your list for sometime and am now in need of your thoughts. I have a TB mare (Alpha), who normally is very quiet and has wonderful ground manners. She is a chronic founder and is not sound but gets around very well.

Last week a new farrier came to trim her and she reared up on him when he tried to trim her back hoofs. She has never done this before and although I wasn't here, I was told she was kicking, rearing and out of control. This doesn't sound like her at all.

The farrier said he would not come back (I have a herd of 15) and said she was not being worked. It is very hard to work her because of her feet, so what can I do and what would have caused her to act this way?

Thank you in advance for the help.

Jan


Hi Jan! Whenever a horse's bevhaviour changes dramatically, I look for some corresponding change in the horse's situation or environment. Horses are reactive animals, and a horse that has always stood quietly for the farrier isn't going to become violent and out of control for no reason.

In this case, you had one very significant and obvious change: a different farrier. It's always a good idea to be present when your horse is being handled by a new person, whether that person is a farrier or a vet or the person who leads the horses from stall to pasture in the morning and back again in the evening. Horses often get blamed for "bad behaviour" when they are actually being asked to do things that they can't do or don't know how to do, or that are physically painful for them.

Not all farriers are equally gentle and tactful with horses. The good ones are, of course. Bad farriers can be abusive and violent, and even the quietest horse will probably react badly to a chain over the nose and a rasp or a boot in the ribs, especially if that horse is used to quiet handling by another person. Sudden, abrupt, jerky movements will always cause problems.

A farrier who yanks a horse's leg out away from its body is going to provoke a strong reaction even in a young, sound, fit, flexible horse. In an older or sore horse, it may cause great pain as well as surprise and fear (more about this later).

I've been lucky enough to have a lot of very good farriers in my life. I've also had a bad one, albeit very briefly. And I've seen a few bad ones, but usually those disappear over time, as they tend to lose customers quickly.

But I STRONGLY advise that you be at the barn with your horses for at least the first few visits by any new farrier. For one thing, you'll want to observe the farrier to see how well he handles horses AND how well he deals with their feet.

You're the one who knows the horses and has to explain how they have been moving, how comfortable they have been, and what their previous trimming/shoeing has been like, what (if any) special trims or shoes are being used, and why. You're also the one who has to prepare the horses -- reasonably clean, dry feet and legs are much easier to handle than soaking-wet or mud- or manure-caked ones. You're also the one who needs to tell the farrier about any particular problems a horse may have.

Older horses, lame horses, and horses with chronic conditions such as arthritis or recurring abscesses require special handling during trimming and shoeing. Such horses may need to have their feet held much nearer the ground, or their legs held nearer to their bodies. They may need to have the farrier work on one foot for a few minutes, then put the leg down and wait a moment or two before picking it up again. To work on such horses, a farrier must know horses well enough to "read" their body language, and a farrier must be sympathetic enough to realize that horses CAN be stiff, sore, frightened, and confused.

In your particular case, I can't speak to what the farrier did or didn't do, because you weren't there to see and describe his actions. But I can tell you that I would want to think about these things:

1) The farrier's horse-handling skills. It's very, very important to know what these are. It's not enough to know how to balance a hoof well -- there's a lot of animal attached to those hooves, and the farrier, like the vet, has to deal with the whole horse. An aggressive, violent, frightened human can provoke "bad behaviour" in even the sweetest, quietest horse.

2) The ground manners of the horses at the barn. Was the farrier happy with the behavior of the other fourteen horses? Did they stand quietly? And if they did NOT, was it because they always bounce around? If they're all usually quiet and cooperative for farriers, but weren't quiet or cooperative for this farrier, then the common denominator brings you back to 1). ;-)

3) The soundness and physical condition of your mare

I realize that a chronic founder case isn't going to be worked. But are you quite, quite sure that your mare isn't in constant pain? The behaviour you've described sounds like that of a horse that can't bear to put extra pressure on its front feet by lifting its back feet into the air. If a horse is cooperative about having its front feet trimmed, but goes into fits when a hind foot is lifted, I would consider the possibility that the front feet might be too painful to take the additional weight and pressure. Horses with abscessed front feet will often behave like this; so will horses with laminitis. If your mare is having a flare-up in her front feet, that could explain her unwillingness to put even more weight on them, and her rearing in reaction.

There are ways of making the process less painful for a horse like this. You can use thick mats in the aisleway or wherever the horses stand for the farrier, instead of asking the horses to stand on an unforgiving concrete surface. If the horse is trimmed, not shod, you can even have it trimmed in its stall or on some other soft surface, perhaps in an arena. (Obviously, this is NOT something you would do if the horse were being shod, because of the nails!) The trim will probably not be as precise and accurate as it would be if a hard surface were involved, but that won't matter as much, as you're not riding this horse anyway.

You can explain to the farrier exactly what is wrong with the horse, and why it must be handled in a particular way, and then you can supervise and help, to ensure that the horse IS handled in that way.

If you aren't able to be there yourself, be sure that someone is there to fill in for you -- someone who knows the horses and handles them well.

As for what you can do right now, here's what I suggest:

First, have the vet come out to look at this mare. There is a possibility that her condition may have become worse, and that her pain has increased to the point where she cannot tolerate having her hind feet lifted. If this is the case, you and the vet will need to talk about your options. There's nothing wrong with keeping a much-loved but unsound horse as a pasture ornament, PROVIDED that the horse can be kept comfortable and happy. There IS something wrong with keeping a much-loved horse alive if it CANNOT be kept comfortable and happy.

Second, talk to the farrier yourself. Get his report on the situation. If he said that he won't come back, find out WHY. Was he unhappy with all the horses, just this one mare, or...?

Third, ask your vet and your previous farrier about this farrier. You didn't mention why your previous farrier wasn't available, but there can be a number of reasons for losing a farrier. Retirement, too much business in other counties or states, a change of specialty.... I've lost good farriers for all of those reasons, but in every case, I was able to get recommendations and suggestions, so that I didn't accidentally hire the wrong farrier as a replacement. ;-)

Good luck, and please let me know what happens.

Jessica

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