A medical viewpoint is critical in evaluating and treating the physiological issues farriers face as a group. These Hall Of Fame farriers share what they and fellow farriers have experienced during their careers:

Jim Keith, founder of Jim Keith Tools and retired educator, says that while many people would point to the back as the most common problem area, it’s never been a issue for him.

“I would say it’s the hands, arms and especially the elbows; that’s the part I’ve had the most problem with,” says Keith. “Here in the Southwest (Tucumcari, N.M.), we have such hard feet, and a knife can really do a job on your wrist. As for the rest of your arms, such as my elbows, I blame that on holding onto horses I probably should have turned loose!”

Tom Wolfe feels the repetitive, routine actions over the course of a career cause the most problems.

“I think it’s mainly hands, elbows, shoulders and hips. I do know some shoers that have had back problems, but mainly in the hips; that’s why fitness and especially core exercises and stretching are important on a daily basis, not just when you feel a pain,” says Wolfe, who is the director at Montana State University’s Horseshoeing School in Bozeman.

Lee Green, owner of The Shoein’ Shop in Yucaipa, Calif., reports the lower back can be a weak link because of all the bending. However, it might not be any more than in other professions.

“A lot of people that sit at a desk have back problems,” he says. 

Green adds that arms and elbows can also be susceptible, depending on your work habits and equipment. 

“If you spend a lot of time working over the anvil and hammering, your elbow can be affected,” he says. And, carpal tunnel is a problem, especially in your main arm, because of all the knife work — it’s all wrist action and continuous torque.”

It pays to listen to your body and address any persistent twinges before they result in permanent damage. Green adds that to avoid harmful situations you should quit for the day if your body’s hurting.

“If you’re tired, you might make mistakes or get injured,” he says. “One guy came in here, his thumb was split down to the nail bed and it took about eight stitches to close. I asked him if it was from a knife? He said, ‘No, I wasn’t paying attention when I was hooking up my trailer.’”

When it comes to summarizing safety and well-being on the job, Green offers some words of wisdom from his son.

“My son, Portor, is 43 now, he’s been shoeing horses all the way around since he was age 13. He says ‘always be aware of what can happen.’ That goes for anything, whether you’re setting down your toolbox near a horse, adjusting your posture to accommodate a horse that’s leaning or even changing the tire on your rig out on the highway. If you’re always thinking in that direction, you’ll be less likely to have problems.”

Read more about farrier health in the December 2012 and January/February 2013 issues of American Farriers Journal.

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