Often, we get so wrapped up in the rigors of removing hoof and nailing shoes to a horse that we lose track of our place in the existence of this animal’s life.
Our day can begin with praying for just another millimeter of hoof wall, so we don’t hot nail the poor brute, whose burden is far more than we can understand. It’s more than 100 degrees; the trainer is complaining about everyone; the vet has written a letter to the owner of the horse complaining about everyone, and now the owner of the horse is upset with everyone. Where does that leave the farrier? Very much feeling the same about everyone — annoyed. Usually the one who weathers the storm the worst is the poor horse. Fortunately and unfortunately, I’ve been an owner, trainer and farrier.
I started my professional career in this industry (after riding as a junior for several years) as a hunter/jumper trainer. For 17 years I rode, broke horses, gave lessons, showed, managed a small training facility, hauled horses, doctored wounds, talked to vets, talked to owners and talked to that nuisance of a person — the farrier. This is the person who told me it couldn’t be done the way I wanted. Although, not being one who likes change, I stayed with the farrier through thick and thin. After all, he was the only one who would stand up to me and then educate me. I found that he actually knew something and cared about the horse more than any of us did. I really had no idea that taking instruction on how to nail on my first shoe would lead me a to a very happy life. Then after years of plowing through day after day as a horse trainer, I had a bad riding accident. Wanting to keep on the ground, I found myself a year later in horseshoeing school. I haven’t looked back.
Yet, I learned some things as a trainer that benefited me in my current business. I had to be right. If a client thought I didn’t know what I was talking about for one second, I was dead in the water. After all, if I lost one horse out of 20, that was a 5% hit. And there was always another one or two to join the exodus. All the while I didn’t want to end up like others who had to reinvent themselves every 5 years or so, dying of a stroke, heart attack or liver disease. Staying ahead in the training world is very stressful. Since then I have found that trainers don’t really give a damn about what I’m dealing with on their horses unless they value what I have to offer. So staying knowledgeable and continuing my education is important. As the late Jimmy Williams, a very famous trainer in the hunter-jumper world once said, “It’s what you learn after you think you know it all that matters!”
The shallow end of our responsibilities is the act of shoeing the horse. In attending clinics, I have found (in some cases) that I have learned more from other farriers than I did from the clinician. Watching a horseshoe being made is great; however, our industry is so much deeper. If I put my mind to it, I can make just about any shoe out there. Where else can you meet and talk to a manufacturer, a distributor, a vet, a chiropractor, an owner, a trainer and colleagues who deal with the same type of people I deal with every day — in some cases, the very same people I deal with every day.
My idea of what a farrier was when I first remember watching a man nail shoes to hooves as a small child has changed drastically. Sometimes it’s being the therapist. Sometimes it’s helping your elderly client nail the boards back to the fence post. Or helping the father who hates his daughter’s horses chase pigs out of the street and back into their pen, then welding the fence for him. Sometimes our job is to give a quick call to the owner and express our condolences when they have lost a loved one. A little compassion goes as long way.
The horse owner is usually the least knowledgeable of the group who tends to the horse. Some play a large role in the horse’s welfare and some play the role of “bill payer.” The problem most of them have when a problem arises is, they know very little about horses. What they do know is a problem equals money. In all reality, they want to keep as much as possible. After all, they did work hard for it.
In their mind “problems” are something they don’t want, and someone must have caused this. The best way I have found to avoid these types of issues is talk to my client. Ask how their horse is doing. Many times I have avoided issues by being the first professional on the scene or the first one to care about their horse. We can be a huge asset to horse owners. After all, we see more horses than they will ever know. Noticing things like a small fungal crack and telling them about it can avoid a lame horse and vet bill in the future. I’ve seen farriers cover seedy toe with a shoe and say nothing to the client, then wonder why they get fired later.
Veterinarians usually come on the scene with no knowledge of the horse’s history. They, too, have a business to run and is usually given a run-down of the horse from the one with the least knowledge of the group and must get to the bottom of the problem ASAP, because he or she is always running late and also has a tremendous amount of stress on his plate.
Time is money. The vet then rambles a few things to the owner who then relays this information to the farrier. It’s usually presented with, “the vet said.” In dealing with vets as a farrier, I have noticed that telling the client to have the vet call me anytime, has put their mind at ease. Telling the owner, “I’ll call your vet” can make things so much easier. The vet has the horse’s best interest at heart. I’m not saying they know everything. I have found myself arguing with a vet I truly respect and whose opinion I value. But, when the vet was without a doubt “wrong,” I fought for the horse very calmly. Luckily, I was able to walk away for 10 seconds to gather my thoughts and approach it from my place in the team as the “farrier.” I may have won the battle, but together as a team, we won the war against white line disease and the horse lasted another 4 years as a top dressage horse. From that day on, the vet and I have had an open line of communication and together we have had many successes.
Each and every day I get up and go to work I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn how much I don’t know. Not one day goes by that I don’t smile. Not one day goes by that I’m not concerned about a horse. Not one day goes by that I don’t make important decisions about someone’s horse. With that being said, I could get quite full of myself. When that happens I remind myself of something a good friend’s ex-wife said to him, “you’re only a horseshoer.”
Gabriel Griffin was among three recipients of the 2017 American Association of Professional Farriers’ Roy Bloom Scholarship. The deadline to qualify for the 2018 Roy Bloom Scholarship is Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Submit your application by visiting http://professionalfarriers.com/2018_roy_bloom_scholarship_fa.php.