Pictured Above: Communicating with clients is a critical part of your hoof-care practice, says Plymouth, Calif., farrier Carlina Grey (left). Placerville, Calif., farrier Marijke Ellert holds the mini during a trim.
We’ve all been there. That moment a client asks you a question, your heart sinks, your pulse quickens and your mind seems to go blank. You’re stunned, stuttering and scrambling for an answer. You have no idea what to say or how to say it.
There are common situations that can get a farrier in personal interaction turbulence. Being aware of and prepared for these situations can make the difference between being a professional or looking like a novice.
The following subjects will find their way into your practice. How you handle them will be the foundation of your reputation.
Personal Opinion Of Other Farriers Work
The farrier industry is a small circle of professionals and you will need help from your peers, especially at the beginning of your practice. You will bump into your peers at clinics, supply stores and at barns in your area. You don’t want a competitive relationship with fellow farriers, you want a camaraderie with support and insight. The best way to gain the respect of your peers is to avoid saying anything negative about their work or professionalism.
Unfortunately, farriers are stereotyped as unreliable an unreachable. Allow your actions to be the proof that you are not a part of that stereotype.
There will be times clients will ask your opinion on another farrier’s work. First, don’t judge a job till you have tried to shoe the horse yourself. Any amount of experience can be diminished by the fact the horse is extremely difficult to shoe. If the issue is just quality of workmanship, focus on any positive aspect you can find.
When confronted with the question, “What do you think of the last farrier’s job?” here are some ideas on how to guide the conversation into moving in a positive direction:
• “Interesting approach... I would like to know the reasoning behind it.”
• “Well, what I might have done differently is... and the reason is...”
• “I’m not sure of the reason behind their approach, but I would love to know.”
• “What I was taught to do is... And the reason is...”
Routine Care Investment
There are a surprisingly large number of owners who do not keep their horses on a regular schedule for financial reasons. There are some horse owners who are just naïve and have yet to experience the repercussion of irregular appointments.
If you feel your clients have enough financial support to care for the horses’ hooves in a timely manner you might want to initiate a conversation to make them aware of the importance of regular hoof care.
How you approach this conversation can be a delicate situation. Make sure you don’t have an accusing or reprimanding tone of voice; don’t blame them for their ignorance. Start the conversation off with information on the amazing amount of weight this small structure has and how it can become distorted under the stress and weight, leading to injuries to the horse farther up the leg, which can be the source of costly vet visits and extensive recovery time.
Try to be very matter of fact and not use scare tactics. Be excited to share this knowledge and insight on how to save money and time with these preventative measures:
• “Has anyone shared with you how much money and grief you can save by having a farrier out on a regular schedule?”
• “This is very much like maintaining your car, if you do it often you will prevent many costly problems and prolong the use of the vehicle.”
All farriers inevitably will have horses that are dangerous. No matter how tolerant or patient you are, you will feel the urge to “train” the horse. As a farrier, you are not a trainer and crossing that line can be tricky. Most owners are not hiring you to train their horse. Clients can become insulted if you implement disciplinary tactics with their horse, which can result in a reputation of being abusive with horses. Once you have that reputation it will take years to reverse it.
How to prevent that reputation is not to put yourself in a bad situation. Keep in mind, it will be less detrimental to refuse service than to risk your well-being or gain the reputation for being abusive.
A hidden disadvantage to trying to shoe a difficult horse is that you might succeed. This accomplishment will make you feel victorious for a short period until you realize you have become the “go-to” farrier for dangerous horses. News will travel fast and you will be the farrier other more experienced farriers will refer to clients they themselves are too smart to take on.
Soon you will realize you are not getting clients because of your skills, but because you do not take your own well-being and safety seriously. Always put your safety first. Refuse to let clients or other farriers pressure you into taking on a horse that dangerous. Be smart, don’t put yourself into a situation that could cost you your career.
It is difficult to refuse clients, especially in the beginning. Having the ability to do so could save your career. Here are some ideas on what to say if ever put in this situation:
• “I would love to shoe for you but have many other clients that I have an obligation to them to stay safe.”
• “I would love to be your farrier. As soon as your horse can safely allow me to handle its hooves, I will shoe them for you.”
• “Have you ever heard of better shoeing through chemistry? Oh you haven’t? You should talk to your vet. It might be what we have to do just to get your horses feet trimmed until you can train it to stand properly for the farrier.”
Laminitis and Founder
Most horse owners have heard of founder and laminitis, yet most do not understand what they are.
You will come across acute and chronic metabolic founder many times during your practice. When faced with this situation treat it like it is laminitis but do not declare that it is laminitis or founder. It is against the law for farriers to diagnose anything. Just tell the client this horse is displaying symptoms that could suggest laminitis or founder. Suggest they call their vet immediately.
There’s a rudimentary way — that I know of — to explain what metabolic laminitis and founder is to your client. A horse has a very small stomach in comparison to its body. When a horse eats too much grain, fresh grass or hay with a high sugar content it will spill into the hindgut. In the hindgut, a horse has organisms that help the horse digest its food, and they love sugar. When there is a surplus of sugar, the population explodes then starts to die. The bodies of this microflora then pollute the blood system with toxins that affect the blood supply. When the blood supply is affected the hoof’s bone slowly tears away from the hoof wall. This allows the very pointy bone inside to cut down through the hoof with every step a horse takes.
Some other ways of trying to simply explain a very complex pathology like laminitis and founder are as follows:
• “You have to be cruel to be kind — tough love. Sugar equals founder. Founder equals permanent hoof damage.”
• “I can recognize the symptoms that go with laminitis, but only a vet can confirm that is actually what this lameness is. Hopefully, I am wrong.”
• “The hoof has a suspension bridge and founder slowly severs cables in that bridge, which cannot be reconnected. The reason it is so important for a horse not to move is every step is like a semi-truck on that weakened suspension bridge. It will cause more cables to break permanently.”
Every farrier will have to explain what club foot is to clients. It is crucial that you are able to explain in simplistic terms what club foot is and how it can evolve into a huge disability if not managed correctly.
Club foot can be hereditary conformation passed down from sire or dame, develop from an injury or even the lack of correct nutrition as a foal. The majority of cases cannot be prevented but with correct hoof care, it can be managed.
The most simplistic way to explain club foot to clients is to have them imagine a horse walking on their tip-toes so long that the hoof grows long heels to support that conformation defect. If this tip-toe stance is not managed the bone cuts off its own blood supply. This lack of circulation can cause the bone to virtually fall apart in the hoof.
If your client has a foal they are about to wean you might want to inform them that a lot of sugar in a foal’s diet (grain, sweet feed and alfalfa) can cause the foal to have a calcium deficiency that can lead to uneven bone growth causing the foal to develop a club foot.
If the client has a mare that has a club foot and is in foal, you could advise the client that it’s very important to be aware of the foals’ conformation. If a foal has a club foot it can be corrected by surgery at a young age.
Clients with club-footed horses should be made aware of the grading system designed to describe the different severities of the club foot. When the horse has a grade 1 or 2 club foot it is manageable. If it has progressed to the point it is a grade 3 or 4 club foot it is now a disability that can cause serious discomfort and pain.
- “A lightly club footed horse might find it hard to be an athletic performer, but if managed by a knowledgeable farrier they can have an active life.”
- “A horse with club foot is virtually set walking on tiptoe all the time. To compensate the hoof grows to help support this conformation, which only aggravates the problem.”
- We have to help counteract the tiptoe conformation by slowly bring down the heels a little at a time to prevent tears in the tight tendons and promote the lengthening of the flexor unit.
As a farrier, you will at some time have a client who will have a horse that is becoming progressively more difficult to keep comfortable — may it be age, physical impairment or pathology. This can be a difficult and uncomfortable situation for you and your client to talk about. I would avoid giving your opinion on what should be done.
Try summarizing the challenges their horses have had, what’s been done so far and suggest they consider involving their vet with making a decision on the next step.
You as a farrier do not want to be the one to suggest euthanasia. If the client approaches you with the question of when a person should euthanize their horse, stress that their vet will have the best insight.
You can sympathetically make the observation that the horse is in severe pain and you have tried everything within your ability to make them comfortable. If the client decides to go with another farrier so be it, wish them well and express your gratitude.
The next few statements will allow you to suggest or reaffirm the idea of euthanasia without actually saying it:
• “This horse is living in severe pain at all times. I have tried everything I can to help it feel more comfortable. It is now above me.”
• “So many horses out there have such horrible lives. I’m sure if this horse could talk he would thank you for such an amazing life you gave and would hope you would make that opportunity available for other horses after it’s gone.”
• “It’s a pity horses have such short lifespans in comparison to humans. Yet at the same time what a blessing we have to be able to know and love so many of them.”
Every farrier will at some time in their career come across these difficult situations. To prevent having negative repercussions or looking incompetent you will need to have premeditatedly thought about how you will react and respond.
To grow a client list, you must be able to professionally handle clients first. It’s the clients who allow you to work on their horses.
With more horses comes more experience, but first you must win over the clients. Practice your “people skills” and make sure you have a few answers to each of the above scenarios. I guarantee you they will come up. How you handle them will begin to define who you are as a farrier and a professional.