I enjoy discussing veterinarian-farrier relationships. This subject reminds me of a quote from the legendary Baltimore Sun writer H.L. Mencken: “For every complex problem there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong.” There’s not an easy answer to the question on improving veterinarian-farrier relationships because we are complex individuals.
In a general sense, one thing to consider for improving teamwork between veterinarians and farriers is to realize that the relationship requires two individuals who are willing to work together and are not as concerned with who is running the show. This dynamic can be influenced by the economics of the horse industry. Whether it occurs with veterinarians, farriers or horse trainers, there can be a desire to maintain hegemony over your client base. If you are perceived as being in charge, the expert or decisive, that’s a good place to be in the relationship — because then your clients rely on you, and when they rely on you, they’re more likely to do what you want.
When veterinarians get together with farriers, the approach should be, “We both can bring something to the table. Let’s work together and see what we can do to help the horse.” On the other hand, if the case has two people that are bound and determined to either run the show or do things their way because they “know what’s best” because they’ve been shoeing horses for 30 years or they’ve been out of veterinary school for 30 years, the relationship can fall apart. It’s not so much what’s good for the horse, although both people feel that they know what’s good for the horse.
The person with the controlling attitude is only interested in doing things their way and maintaining authority over their clients. So the communication is the key to forge a willingness of both parties to work together. To have a good relationship, both parties must want to work together and acknowledge they are on the same team.
What often results from the controlling dynamic is the owner getting caught in the middle and inevitably having to choose between the veterinarian and farrier. That is an unprofessional result. Whether you are veterinarian or farrier, it may not work out for you as the one the client sides with.
When a first-time case requires a farrier, I try to make sure the farrier can be there. I will say to the client, “We need to work with your farrier. I’d like to meet with him/her. When is the earliest we can have an appointment?” I also will talk to the farrier regarding the case by phone before we meet at the horse. I warn veterinarians against communicating through the client. You can say one thing to the client, who then says something completely different to the farrier.
Clients appreciate that we are working together on the horse. And the work becomes more collaborative. Through this, the veterinarian and farrier can start a great relationship, do well by the horse and make money.
However, we also need to acknowledge that there is a difference in the education process required for a veterinary license and the pathway to becoming a farrier. It’s helpful in communication when people acknowledge that. That doesn’t mean that one person is better than another, but it is a factual difference. There is a difference in education and because of this, there are things veterinarians bring to the table that farriers just don’t know or haven’t been exposed to. Of course, the same is true with farriers — they bring a lot of traits to the table that many veterinarians don’t possess.
I find most people don’t like the nuances of discussion. But improving this relationship is not just a matter of, “Hey, let’s get along.” Instead, it’s “Let’s understand who we are. Let’s acknowledge what both of us bring to the table. Let’s work together, and when we do, we’re both going to do well for the horse and we’re both going to have a job.”