Here are some ideas that will help build a better relationship between you and your horseshoer and result in better care for your horse.

If you are an average horse owner, you depend on the services of a professional farrier rather than attempt your own shoeing. And, as such, you should be interested in how to secure the best possible service from the man you employ, just as he should be interested in giving you the best service of which he is capable.

Gone are the days of the village smithy to which you brought your horse; the modern blacksmith comes to you with his portable forge. This is convenient for you, but it does require your cooperation. Many shoers maintain a regular service for customers who keep horses shod the year round. If your horse is in use most of the time, it is a good idea to arrange for such service. The shoer will then schedule your work at intervals to suit you and you will thus be spared the trouble of calling him each time, and you will also be assured of having a shod horse when you need one.

Horsemen vary in opinions of how often a horse should be re-shod. Generally speaking, the average horse under normal usage will do nicely on an eight-week period, while horses with poor feet may require attention more often. On the other hand, some horses are easy on shoes, and if the hoof growth tends to be slow, a 10-week or longer period may be satisfactory. And in winter months if the horse is not in use, many owners will have the shoes removed and arrange for hoof trimming at intervals.

Here are some ideas that will help build a better relationship between you and your horseshoer and result in better care for your horse.
George Moreland is a familiar sight around the Colorado Springs area with his portable forge, anvil and horseshoeing outfit. His shop is a surplus Army ambulance, which he purchased after his retirement from the service. George spent 22 years in the cavalry, 19 of them shoeing horses and mules. He put in eight years as an instructor in horseshoeing at the Ft. Riley Cavalry School. Photo by Western Horseman.

A reliable man will keep a record of your shoeing, when it is due again, and will then notify you in advance when to expect him. This enables you to have the horse available, and if for any reason it will not be, you should notify the shoer to save him a futile trip. Nothing exasperates him more than to drive miles to shoe a horse only to be greeted by the words, “Oh, I changed my mind…”

Unless the horse is familiar to the shoer, by all means have it in captivity on the day he is to call. Too many people are prone to go off on business of their own, leaving the horse in a 10-acre field, assuming that because they themselves have no difficulty catching the animal it will be a simple matter for a stranger to do likewise. Sometimes it is, but often the horse decides he has more interesting things to do than stand on three legs for an hour or so, so away he goes, and the shoer spends valuable time staging a one-man roundup. One or two repetitions of this and he is not to be blamed if the next time you call you find him “booked full.”

Having a proper place to work is a great help, too; some owners will leave horses tied to shaky fences or buildings. At the first pull, these structures may topple down, endangering both horse and shoer. A strong post or tree is preferable; and also, make sure the animal is secured by a stout halter and rope. It goes without saying that a horse standing on level ground is easier to work on than one on uneven terrain. And on hot days your man will appreciate it if your tie-spot is shaded. He will come when it’s raining, too, provided there is shelter in which to work.

It should be part of the owner’s duty to see that a minimum of disturbance is created in the working area. This applies particularly to keeping small children away, and to refrain from driving farm machinery around the horse, etc. Other distractions to be avoided are permitting other horses (especially stallions) in too close proximity to the one being shod.

If you are not going to be present, it is well to leave instructions regarding any changes from your usual shoeing. If you are planning a trip to the mountains, you may want your horse shod with toe calks and heels. And for pavement riding, a modern development in the form of borium may be had. This is a substance containing stellite-hard particles which is welded to the ground surface of the shoe. The soft parts of the substance wear off immediately, leaving tiny hard points which are reputed to make the shoe 90 per cent slip-proof. As a safety measure, borium is especially to be recommended for children’s mounts. Most modern shoers are equipped for this type of shoeing, but since the material used is expensive and takes extra time to apply, you must expect to pay more for such work (about one dollar per shoe extra). However, it has the added advantage of making the shoes wear longer, thus assuring more re-sets, so it saves you money in this respect.

If your horse has faulty gaits (interferes, etc.), tell your horseshoer about it; he may be able to remedy it by corrective shoeing. Likewise, if your horse has an injured hoof, the shoer will appreciate instructions from your veterinarian.

In the case of specialized shoeing (such as race horses and gaited show horses), the average shoer is often neither equipped nor capable of doing this type of work and will, if he be an honest worker, recommend that you have the horse shod by an expert in this line. Your man may be very good at his trade of shoeing ordinary ranch or pleasure horses, but it is poor economy to urge him to tackle a job for which he is not fitted just because you find it cheaper or more convenient than hiring a specialist. Your man would rather keep your good will and let the track plater do your race horse.

Lameness can develop from a variety of causes, and rarely is it the fault of the shoer, when the work is done by qualified men. It is well to remember that a horse with long feet, shod after months of neglect, will sometimes be “gimpy” the following day. This is due to the strain put upon muscles and ligaments forced into longer stretch by paring the hoof down to normal. Such lameness usually disappears in a day or so.

Occasionally, a horse may lose a shoe soon after being shod, usually in winter months when the hoofs are soft. Front shoes are sometimes lost off a long-striding, over-reaching horse, which the shoer can correct by shortening the shoe a bit. Pawing at wire fences, and getting shoes caught in stake chains also account for losses. If a shoe is lost in less than eight weeks off a normal-footed horse, most farriers feel it their responsibility to replace it free of charge; but if it happens repeatedly, an investigation should be made of the enclosure and possible pawing habits of the horse.

Contrary to what some folks believe, the good shoer does not dread doing your colt for the first time, provided you give your cooperation. Here, again, far too many trainers school the animal in all respects but his feet. He may be completely gentle to ride, but reach for a foot and he hits the sky… especially when it’s done by a strange man in a smelly leather apron. It is well to have the colt trained to give his foot into your hand before the first shoeing, but if this isn’t possible then do the next best thing; tell the shoer about it and he will know how to proceed. The good man likes to take his time with a youngster, and in most cases will make a good-to-shoe horse out of him, with your help. It is well for the owner to be present. His assistance may not be required; in fact, it may be found that the colt actually behaves better without the moral support of his owner; but again, many colts will stand quieter with a familiar hand at the halter.

As most shoers know, it isn’t the youngster who usually gives the most trouble, it’s the wise old campaigner who has learned ways to foil being manicured. He kicks, jerks, pulls back, jumps around on three legs and lays down on the worker. Some are chronic in these habits, and stern measures may have to be employed. Your farrier will appreciate it if you tell him in advance about such traits, and he may wish to know what methods have been successful in the past… such as the use of a twitch, etc. On bad kickers it is sometimes necessary to “jack up” a hind leg (which means to tie the hind foot a few inches off the ground by means of a rope hitch placed around the horse’s neck, in order to work on the foot). But make no mistake, your shoer is not purposely trying to abuse your horse, nor is he panting with eagerness to throw him down and shoe him on the ground, as was often done in days of yore. Most modern shoers refuse to work on a horse that requires such drastic measures for two reasons: it’s harder work, and there’s the factor of danger to the horse. However, in the case of milder misbehavior, the horse will often straighten up remarkably after a hearty whack on the belly by a rasp. And, it is a misguided owner who protests such chastisement; he is only building up future trouble for himself, just as he would by allowing a spoiled child to “get away with things.

Here are some ideas that will help build a better relationship between you and your horseshoer and result in better care for your horse.
Illustration by Dale Kaiser

The average man takes care of his regular customers first and then works in extras as he is able. Peak seasons are springtime, the period preceding any horse show, parade, or rodeo and the start of deer-hunting season. Owners should take this into consideration and make appointments in advance of such periods. The shoer will be happy to take your order a month ahead, but he won’t be so happy if you call him the day before the fair with your anguished cry that you simply must have Twinkletoes shod that very day. Forget not: he can only do so many in a day (five to seven head), and much as he might like to get rich in one season, there are still limits to his time. Good shoers are scarce, and as it is, many work seven days a week in the busy seasons.

Aside from actual shoeing, many blacksmiths are called on for odd horse jobs. If you are a good customer, your man may cheerfully perform services like thinning manes and tails, and leg-clipping. One man earned the gratitude of his customer by showing him a trick to cure a halter-pulling horse. And it has even happened that the shoer was called on to ride the “spook” out of a snorty one!

Shoeing horses is far from being the easiest work in the world, nor is it the safest. The sweat of his brow and the risks do not bother the shoer, but what riles him is abuses of animals… such as the farmer who insisted on having only the front feet of his work-horse shod, even though the hind feet were worn down to the fetlocks. “No,” quoth he, “I don’t waste money shoeing him behind. If the front feet go, the hind ones have to follow…”

In the same category is the incompetent amateur who invests in a hammer and a rasp and sets himself up in business. Such competition is usually short-lived, and no wonder; it actually happened once that a farrier was called in to replace all four shoes on a horse shod by one of these fly-by-nighters who had driven all nails straight up, with never a nail showing, or clinched! Further, the hero had bragged about how much “neater” his job was than that of “professionals!”

As a finale, though, there’s always the bright side… such as the fond owner who, after watching his horse kick the shoer all over the place for an hour, remarked cheerfully, “Well, one good thing about Smoky… he doesn’t kick for meanness, he just does it in fun…”

This article was originally published in the August 1955 issue of Western Horseman.

1 Comment

  1. Considering the article was written in 1955, it shows that horseshoeing hasn’t changed much.

    The hard part is finding a good farrier like mine. He can eyeball a hoof angle to two degrees (I know…I’ve checked). He is knowledgeable of horses and RARELY has to drug one. I want them to be safe but knowledgeable. The experts really shine while those who cause problems with horse welfare by applying “fad” techniques (usually at the request of the client) are probably much more common. The investment that a good farrier puts into his trade has also changed. Farrier schools used to be two weeks long. Now the very good ones (like the Idaho school of horseshoeing) are 16-20 weeks long. And a good farrier needs to spend time studying, talking to vets, and refreshing themselves on what they have learned.

    Speaking of investments, my farrier’s truck has hundreds of horse shoes, anvils, grinders, power supplies, ropes, his tools, stands, a propane forge and even drugs for the horses. There is a lot of overhead in his truck. And he can’t use the truck for anything else. I think the days of Grandpa teaching the son the trade are about over. Of course farriers that do hot shoe work and forge from stock are a separate class.

    This does not mean that horse farriers have the right to charge anything they want (market and welfare rules). It does mean that they also have to be businessmen and manage their money well.

    So yes, they deserve our respect. It is a job that I don’t have time or ability to do. Good farriers (like large animal vets) are getting harder to find. Do what you can to keep them interested in their jobs and hard work.

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