We must accept the fact when we trim and shoe that working with horses is dangerous. A 300-pound pony can cripple someone. A 1,000-pound horse can kill.
Horses typically are not inherently vicious, but they are imbued with instincts in which they can and do react to their environment, conditioning and stimuli.
Being a good horseman, first and foremost, is a necessity of being both a skillful and successful farrier. While many shoeing schools and mentors offer some safe horse handling and horse behavior training to students, it’s ultimately the student’s responsibility to further their education until they feel they can competently get around horses.
We farriers must also learn to say when enough is enough. It is OK to say no. Saying no can be the safest answer for everyone involved at times. When I was younger, I prided myself on the fact that I could get around any horse. There was no horse I couldn’t trim or shoe, even if it required the owner hiring me as a temporary trainer to subdue the wild beast.
I paid for it. I feel more foolish than prideful after suffering a bad ankle and Achilles tendon, several broken bones, a fractured pelvis and countless bruises, burns and scrapes.
I was young and cutting my teeth in the industry and I felt I had something to prove. I also felt I had this really valuable service — that I wouldn’t turn away a horse or owner. While I’m lucky enough that I didn’t end up hospitalized, I don’t recommend this path for new farriers. When you put yourself at tremendous risk, you will get hurt and the injuries will affect your business and your personal life.
Being tough for the sake of being tough only feeds the ego and little else. You’ll develop the reputation of being one of the only guys or gals who can get around that crazy hoss, thereby attracting customers of the same ilk.
I no longer will take on the really tough cases. There are options for these horses. I patiently explain to clients about the danger the horse poses to me, themselves and the horse, and then provide a list of solutions. I recommend that recalcitrant horses go to a trainer — a good, knowledgeable, competent trainer who has experience training horses to be good citizens during hoof care. If there is a medical need for the horse to be done before they can be trained, I recommend that a veterinarian be there to sedate the horse to the degree the veterinarian deems the horse is safe to work on.
If the owner dislikes either option, the owner either cannot afford the options or doesn’t care enough about the farrier’s safety or the horse’s future. If the horse really is dangerous, I will not refer the owner to another farrier. That’s not fair to the recommended farrier and only puts him or her at risk, too.
I find that open, frank, but caring conversations go a long way with even the most stubborn clients. Sometimes a horse is only marginally bad or the environment poses risks. Again, I start with client education. I point out specific behaviors the horse does that make my job dangerous. I explain how the horse can injure itself and how it can injure the owner or holder. I teach my clients how to improve their horse’s behavior. I also educate them as to what constitutes a safe working environment. At the end of the day, if the client will not listen, will not comply and interferes with my ability to be safe, I fire the client or decline to take them on. If I end up dead or in a hospital, I cannot do my job.
It’s not worth it.