Saturday, July 8, 2017

Firing Our Hoof Trimmer

All my horses are barefoot, and have been so for years.  Pie's likely been barefoot his entire life, but Missy came to me in shoes and I expect Red has also been shod in his past - more below on that . . .  A note on barefoot vs. shod - if you feel you need your horse in shoes, that's your call, and it doesn't mean you're wrong to do what your farrier/trainer/vet tells you to do - but don't be dumb about it either - it's your responsibility to learn and develop your own thoughts and blindly trusting authority figures doesn't always lead to the best results . . . if you put your horse's interests first, listen to your horse and question anything that troubles you (doesn't just apply to hoof trimming), you won't go far wrong  ("we've always done it that way," "everyone does it this way", or "because I said so" aren't acceptable answers).

I have a number of requirements for my hoof trimmer. The welfare of my horses comes first, and my convenience a far distant second.

My trimmer must:

1.  Never, ever make my horses sore - they should walk off sound on concrete after their trims.  My next to last trimmer got fired over this - he always tried to make the hooves "pretty" and as a result took off too much sole and frog, and often too much foot in general.  He also was a pretty mediocre trimmer, to be frank, but I've learned a lot since then.  This also disqualifies some of the aggressive schools of barefoot trimming - slow and gradual is a lot better for the horse.

2.  Be knowledgeable about hoof anatomy and observant about a particular horse's anatomy, way of going and any soundness issues - and how those relate to the hoof trim.  E.g., does not treat a hoof as a block of wood, but a functional part of the whole horse.  Wants to see the horse move. Is always learning and improving (applies to more than farriers/trimmers . . .).  Understands the nutritional and metabolic basis of hoof health - again whole horse.

3.  Doesn't think that slapping (usually "special") shoes (and pads) on a horse with soundness issues related to its feet is the way to go - ta, dah!  problem solved!  That actually just conceals the symptoms but doesn't resolve anything and often makes the underlying problem worse (more below on wedge pads, navicular, etc. . . .)  That doesn't mean that it's OK to leave a horse in pain and barefoot, particularly in a transition out of shoes - that's what boots, casts, etc. are for - see point 1.

4.  Treats my horses like the persons they are, and listens to them when they are uncomfortable.  Even horses that have a history of acting up for the trimmer/farrier usually have their reasons - discomfort, fear, learned behavior patterns, etc.  A trimmer who habitually shoves, yells or hits the horse is treating the horse as an adversary, will usually make things worse, and why should I or my horse put up with this (applies to more than farriers/trimmers . . .)? More below on this . . .

My most recent (just fired) trimmer rated as follows:

1.  Very good on this one - he did a minimal trim and almost never took anything off the frog or sole and my horses were always comfortable.

2.  Not as good as he thought he was on this one.  He never asked to see my horses move or asked about their soundness or any issues they were having.  Was pretty dogmatic about how he handled the horses and did their trims.  Doubt he was well-educated in the anatomic, dietary or metabolic issues, although acted like a bit of a know-it-all.

3.  Good on this one, although he was really more of a farrier than a trimmer (partly why he wasn't so great on point 2, I think).  The result was that he was doing more of a farrier's pasture trim than a knowledgeable barefoot trim.

4.  Started out pretty good on this, and he was patient and calm for the first several years, although his interactions with the horses were always a bit mechanical and indifferent - I got the feeling he really doesn't like horses that much except as sports equipment.  Recently he got very bad on this point - he started slapping and hitting Red several times every time he trimmed, sometimes with a closed fist, and even jerked on, slapped and yelled at Pie when he fidgeted due to flies.  I gave him a couple of times, thinking he might be having something going on in his personal life, but his behavior persisted and was getting worse (partly because of how Red reacts to this kind of treatment, more below . . .)  It's my job to stand up for my horses - they can't do it for themselves (once again, applies to more than farriers/trimmers . . .), although Red was making a good effort to speak up; poor Pie just got scared and wary.  I didn't say anything to my trimmer - people who behave like this usually aren't much interested in listening to reasons why they shouldn't.

I also had another option for a trimmer that looked pretty attractive . . .

We tried out the new trimmer last Thursday, and he's now our trimmer and the other one has been fired (in a polite email with no reasons and wishing him well).  I knew this trimmer from seeing him at the barn and I'm friends with the two other people who have been using him.  He also trims the horses of my long-term equine chiropractor.  So I had very good references on him.  One of the people at my barn has an older gelding who had had a long history of very bad farrier/trimmer interactions - he'd kicked three prior farriers and was generally very fractious when being trimmed (although he's otherwise a very sweet horse) - until he met our new trimmer.  This horse positively adores our new trimmer, stands very quietly and often falls asleep while being trimmed.  His owner says it was like a miracle.

Before the new trimmer came to do my horses, we had a long phone conversation, where he wanted to know all about them, any issues they had now or historically, and what their personalities were like.  We spent a good bit of time talking about Red, his personality and his interactions with trimmers.

Red is a horse who is very friendly and interactive and will always tell you his opinion.  He's also a horse that tends to react very badly to attempts to intimidate him - like my old trimmer hitting and slapping him - Red tends to escalate things.  He'll do anything for you if you're quiet, persistent and fair, and if you allow him to tell you when things aren't right, but if you refuse to listen to him or try to bully him he gets pretty angry and things go from bad to worse.  He's also a horse that will try very hard, even if something is difficult or painful (like a vet procedure), if you communicate that it's important and praise him for cooperating.  If he's worried or upset, he can act out, and the thing that worries him the most is a person being physically punitive with him.  He's always the leader in any herd he's ever been in, and has a big sense of responsibility - he has to be sure everything is all right.  If something's wrong with Pie - like when Pie had his recent fever - or someone is mistreating Pie, Red gets very agitated.

When I first got Red over 6 years ago, it was not even possible to pick his feet.  I spent the first several months making sure he understood that I had personal boundaries - both in terms of my space and in terms of behaviors (such as biting, striking or kicking) that were not OK with me, and also working on his hoof handling using lots of praise and clicker training.  He's extremely smart and a fast learner and things came right pretty quickly.  He wasn't perfect for the trimmers I used at first, but rapidly got better - until the recent negative interactions with my ex-trimmer.  I suspect the trimmer yelling at and jerking on Pie was the last straw for Red, even more than how the trimmer was treating him.

When the trimmer got there, he asked to see each of my horses move - more about what he said below . . .

He treated my horses like persons, talking to them and including them in our conversation . . . what a delight!  Pie and Missy were relaxed, but Red . . .

You would think that the new trimmer and Red had been best friends for ever - the trimmer said (not entirely jokingly, I think) that he and Red knew each other from past lives.  The trimmer said that Red was extremely intelligent, was an old soul and had many stories to tell.  Red had to wait on cross ties for a half hour while Pie got his trim, which would normally drive Red crazy.  Amazingly enough, the trimmer would once in a while interrupt what he was doing with Pie, and walk back to Red and talk to him and stroke him.

Red's trim was a piece of cake - he stood quietly, with soft eyes, and was very cooperative.  The trimmer said that most of his issues with needing to have his legs put down from time to time (where the other trimmer would fight him) were pain-related.  Throughout the trim, Red licked and chewed, and I don't ever think I've seen a horse look happier.

Throughout the trims, the trimmer told me exactly what he was seeing and why he was doing what he did . . . more on the specifics of the trims and what I learned in the next post . . .


  1. In the last 6 months since I pulled my new horse's shoes, I have learned a lifetime of information! And boy howdy, finding a good trimmer is a process. I had to rule out the people who let their dogma dictate more than the horse itself, the people who believed that being sore was part of the process and the people who thought all horses need shoes. I finally have found a trimmer willing to discuss nutrition, turnout and the process with me. So many barefoot folks are idealists and sadly, where I live, I cannot provide my horse with 24/7 turnout. My new trimmer works with the reality of what my horse and I have to compromise on. He's been unsound since I pulled his shoes, but I finally have hope. It's also really helpful when you have a trimmer who actually likes horses. One of my farriers sounded similar to your last guy, where I'm not sure he actually liked horses except as a sport. So happy that Red was such a good boy!! Oh - and thank you for blogging again. I LOVE reading your blog.

  2. A good farrier/trimmer is worth their weight in gold. I fall into the camp that a lot more horses can be barefoot than people (especially farriers and vets) think, but also don't believe in keeping a horse uncomfortable for the sake of barefoot or nothing. In general I find a lot of farriers too fast to go to shoes, and too many barefoot trimmers that insist shoes are never needed. Over the last few years attitudes seem to be shifting a little in both camps, at least in our area, and I think this is a really good thing.

  3. We recently fired and hired a new farrier as well. The previous guy wasn't horrible, but I wasn't pleased with the lack of focus on Jackson, in particular. I prefer our horses to be barefoot, if they can tolerate it. All our horses are barefoot in the back, at a minimum. The new farrier lives close by and comes out every three weeks to work on Jackson -- nothing drastic; just gradually getting his feet back to where they should be. He wanted to see xrays, studied them, and looks at each horse as an individual.


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