One of the most important people in your horse's life is his farrier, a professional who trims and shoes your horse's hooves. Just as your feet may ache when you wear ill-fitting shoes, your horse's legs and feet may hurt if his shoes are in poor condition or improperly sized.
"Your choice of a farrier may in fact be the most important decision you make in your horse's overall health," says Emil Carre, a certified journeyman farrier and president of the American Farriers Association. "Your horse's feet will need to be attended to every 6 to 8 weeks and can be a major source of concern if the wrong choice is made."
According to Carre, incorrect or infrequent shoeing can amplify bad behavioral traits in your horse and could contribute to an injury. If your horse's hooves are off-balance, it will often lead to serious lameness and performance problems. On the other hand, a good farrier actually can improve a horse's "ease of movement" and soundness.
If you're a long-time horse owner and have lived in your community for several years, you already may have a farrier. But if you're a new horse owner, or if you've relocated to a different area, you may be just starting your search.
Where to Get Referrals
Ask your veterinarian to recommend someone. Most equine vets are well acquainted with the farriers in their area and know who is good and who tends to make messes that vets have to clean up.
Ask other horse owners and horse trainers whom they use. Find out what they like and do not like about their farriers. Ask them if their farrier is reliable and patient. Get referrals from different people and see if certain names repeatedly come up.
You also can get referrals by contacting the American Farriers Association (AFA) or the Brotherhood of Working Farriers Association (BWFA). These organizations maintain farrier-certification programs in the United States and provide information about local farriers in your area. You can call the AFA at 1-606-233-7411 or visit their Web site at www.amfarriers.com and click on "directory" or contact the BWFA at http://www.bwfa.net and click on "referral". You will be asked some basic and these organizations will provide you with a list of certified farriers in your area.
Talk At Length to Farriers
After you have several referrals, contact each farrier and talk with them about their background and how they do their job. Find out where they were educated and how long they have been in business. Ask if they specialize in certain breeds or types of horses. Find out how much they charge and what methods of payment are accepted.
Choose a farrier who has a strong background in the trade, either through education or hands-on experience. He should meet any special needs your horse may have, such as necessary corrective work on your horse's feet. Pick someone you feel comfortable talking with, who is willing to discuss your horse's needs in a friendly and articulate manner.
Once you've selected a farrier, it's important to do whatever you can to maintain a good working relationship with him. "Don't take this relationship lightly," Carre says. "This is an individual you will see regularly and who will, if all goes well, become an important factor in your horse's long-term health."
Tips for Keeping Your Farrier Happy
Put your horse on a regular 6- to 8-week shoeing schedule and keep your appointments. Any longer than 2 months between visits makes the farrier's job tougher.
Get your horse comfortable with being handled. "Farriers should not be asked to train your horse, or risk the horse's or their own health," Carre says. Have some practice sessions with your horse during which you make him stand still while you pick up his feet or hold his legs, so when the farrier does the same thing, your horse will be accustomed to it.
Prepare the work area before your farrier arrives. Clear a flat work surface – preferably inside the barn – and be sure that the lights are working. Have restraining devices (twitch, ropes and so on) nearby in case your farrier needs them.
Make sure your horse is ready to be worked on. If your horse has just been out in a muddy pasture and his feet are dirty, scrape off large chunks of mud. If your horse has spent all day in his stall and is full of energy, turn him out for a few minutes before the farrier arrives so he is less likely to put up a fight.
Keep your farrier informed. Tell him what you've been doing to train and condition your horse. If you've noticed any problems with lameness, let your farrier know.
Follow your farrier's advice. "If he makes a suggestion that he thinks will allow your horse to move better, heed the advice," says Sandy Arledge, a horse trainer in San Diego, Calif. "They see lots of feet and know what they are talking about."
Promptly pay your bills. Your farrier probably is a small-business owner and no matter how much he loves horses, he needs to make a living.
Your horse may not like having the farrier work on his hooves, but by taking steps to select the right farrier and establish a good working relationship, shoeing is bound to be a better experience for you, your horse and your farrier.