The current impact of the COVID-19 virus on your farrier practice should have you asking whether you are prepared for this pandemic and how you are going to prepare yourself going forward with the ever-increasing measures being taken to curb the spread of the virus. What countermeasures, if any, should we take as farriers? How will this pandemic affect our daily business?
There is a high likelihood that the COVID-19 virus will impact us as farriers for many months to come. It is vital for farriers to seek all measurable alternatives to curb the spread of the virus. Our world and our workplaces are more connected than we think. Here in America, with many states, counties and even towns enacting shelter-in-place rules, farriers are responding to these measures in different ways.
What is “Essential”
Whatever restrictions we encounter, the U.S. government currently recognizes farriery as an essential occupation. As reported by Ag Pro, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued guidance in late March 2020 on the essential industry workforce that should continue while the nation addresses and responds to the outbreak. “U.S. food and agriculture” was included among 16 industries. How does that include farriers? The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is used by U.S. federal statistical agencies in “classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy.” “Farriers,” “hoof trimming” and “horseshoeing” are entries under NAICS code 115210 (support activities for animal production).
But states may differ on that definition. Currently, some states have asked all nonessential workers to stay home, while social distancing is recommended and people across the country are encouraged to maintain 6 feet of space from one another and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. America’s system of responding to public health emergencies is fragmented.
Decisions on shelter-in-place mandates are spread between federal, state and almost 2,800 local public health departments. Mandatory social distancing measures are constitutional, according to multiple constitutional scholars. As a farrier, it now becomes your responsibility to ensure that you adhere to these social distancing measures. Contact your barns ahead of time to ensure that you are not putting them over the recommended numbered of persons gathering at a time.
Wellington, Fla., farrier Régis Ganée feels this matter should not be taken lightly.
“I have a lot of uncertainty as to the impact this virus will have on the industry, but we have a role to play, and as much as I want to shoe horses, this is a matter of public safety. This pandemic is going to discipline people,” he says.
Ganée has canceled all travel to other states and should Florida enact a shelter-in-place law, he intends to adhere to his state’s measures. Until that time, Ganée is carrying on with his scheduled appointments in Florida while staying cautious with social distancing measures.
Shelter and Stay-Home Mandates
California enacted one of the first shelter-in-place measures in the country, mandating the response to curb the spread of COVID-19. Residents have been urged to stay home and go outside only for food, medicine and absolute necessities. Essential businesses are allowed to continue operating. California’s shelter-in-place order specifically exempts all healthcare operations, including veterinary care and all healthcare services provided to animals.1
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Based in greater Los Angeles, Calif., farrier Meredith Clarke shared her concerns and how she is handling her scheduling during her state’s shutdown.
“Currently, I am still working. I go directly to one barn only. I practice aggressive social distancing,” she says.
With the fluctuating status of the shelters in place happening in California, Clarke has taken it upon herself to research whether her occupation is deemed “essential” under her current government’s laws.
“Farriers in my state have been deemed essential, even for barns that have closed for lessons,” she says. “All of my client’s horses are still being ridden, so with that in mind, I’d like to keep them on their regular schedule to assist in avoiding injury.”
Clarke is very aware of her state’s and region’s ordinances and keeps up with them for changes on a daily basis.
What does this mean for farriers nationwide whose state and local government could potentially restrict business on a daily basis? Are farriers considered essential healthcare providers? Ocala, Fla., farrier Nate Black feels that we are essential.
“As a farrier that does a lot of therapeutic work, I remind ‘no hoof, no horse,’” he says. “I’ve seen cases that if the horses aren’t seen by a vet-farrier team soon, the likelihood of that horse making it decreases rapidly, especially, and mostly, in founder cases. Even an abscess left unattended can create havoc on a horse such as coffin bone infection to contra-limb laminitis.
“If the farrier cannot see these horses in a timely manner, they suffer.”
Black went on to say that if he is required to get a letter from his local vets to attend to horses during a shelter-in-place mandate, he will do so.
“Most horses you can get away with a longer cycle, if necessary,” he adds. “However, it becomes our responsibility as a farrier to determine which horses should be prioritized to be shod based on the effect that a longer or skipped shoeing cycle can have on their growth, angles and leverage, all of which have the potential to result in soft tissue strain and even injury. Triage of each horse will be necessary and those most affected by a potential delay should be given priority in the schedule. We should heed the warnings and take precautions, but as a farrier, our role is essential to a large number of horses.”
Taking a Proactive Approach
The role of a farrier and whether we are essential will depend on the orders as they come down from regional, state and federal governments. The exact definition of “essential” varies by locale as each governmental measure is issued. While “essential” is going to be broad-based to encompass many healthcare services, “non-essential” typically only applies to recreational businesses.2
Some farriers have enacted their own measures outside of the implemented regulations. Ballston Spa, N.Y., farrier Ashley Gasky isn’t taking any chances with traveling to barns.
“I’m staying home, barring an emergency that will be addressed with a veterinarian, I don’t believe my services are worth risking lives for,” she says.
Gasky’s financial status is currently stable and she is prepared to continue on a limited income. “While I’m hesitant to devalue my services, my base clientele of regularly serviced horses can skip a cycle without causing long-term damage to their comfort.”
Gasky echoed sentiment that any hoof-related emergency can be attended to concurrently with veterinary guidance.
Overall, most farriers feel that our services are essential to the well-being of the horses. Realistically, most are carrying on with their schedule, along with adding disinfectant measures, until a shelter-in-place order restricts them from doing so. Be transparent with your clients about how you are handling the pandemic at barns. Review and disinfect your physical workspace for potential points of transmission of infection and ensure good personal hygiene.
Many farriers are well-attuned to the risks of infectious diseases and how disruptive they can be. COVID-19 is a pandemic and may not be our last. Until there is uniformity with the restrictions being put in place, it is very much up to the farrier to determine their best practices based on their locale’s measures to curb the spread of the virus.
San Mateo County Health; Public Health, Policy & Planning
“Here’s the Difference Between an Essential Business and a Nonessential Business as States and Cities Announce Coronavirus-Related Closures” Irene Jiang. Business Insider. March 17, 2020