In many cases, the farrier sees the horse more frequently than the veterinarian. Because of this, the farrier often can serve as an advocate for the horse and alert the owner when the horse exhibits signs that indicate a need for veterinary intervention. This collaboration for intervention has become more necessary as more novice owners have entered the industry, and lacking the horsemanship to recognize these cues.
“The novice owners might feel more comfortable in some circumstances talking with their farriers about what is going on with the horse,” says Sarah Reuss, who is a veterinarian and Equine Technical Manager for Boehringer Ingelheim. “Perhaps they are intimidated by veterinarians or maybe it is because they don’t see the vet more than twice a year, but they might have a closer relationship with the farrier they see more regularly.”
Among many areas, Reuss believes farriers could be helpful in alerting the client to signs of gastric ulcers and when it would be best to call their veterinarian. The farrier might see changes in behavior issues while working under the horse. Physical signs of advanced ulcers that you may notice include weight loss or diminished musculature. Or the client may note that the horse has exhibited behavioral changes during care or riding.
“Commonly, they may notice a difference when cinching or grooming,” she notes. “For the farrier, it might be a horse that has stood well for previous visits, but now is agitated or pins its ears when asked to move to the side.”
Reuss says farriers need to avoid making a diagnosis as this could lead to owner panic and purchasing over the counter products or supplements without a confirmed diagnosis. She advises using careful language and raising questions in conversation with the client. For example, ask if the client has noticed the behavioral changes you see. Investigate other issues, like how long the horse has been at the facility or if it has any significant changes in its management. By having the client identify these risk factors, you can then advise it would be prudent to call the veterinarian regarding these signs. She advises avoiding using the word ulcers in conversation as owners can become too locked in on this as a diagnosis even before the veterinarian has had a chance to evaluate the horse.
“Say this could be a sign of an underlying health issue,” she says. “You can advise them to talk it over with the veterinarian as it could be one of several diagnoses.”
If the client leads with a concern regarding ulcers, it is best to directly advise them to call the vet. The client may subtly bring up the subject, like what supplements are beneficial for a horse with gastric ulcers. It is easy to defer to the veterinarian, who can advise on the horse’s needs and which solutions best fit the animal.
Overall, Reuss sees this as an example of the two-way street of a healthy veterinarian-farrier relationship.
“For farriers, it is advising that the client follow up with the vet with these cases of underlying issues,” she says. “And for us as veterinarians, if the client asks about hoof-care matters like which shoe type is best for their horse, we need to defer to the farrier as the expert. Both sides should approach the team dynamic by focusing on the horse’s welfare.”