Friday, August 1, 2008

Pandora's Box

Over the past few days the topic of farrier care has arisen on a local board I frequent. I haven't been posting much there due to a falling out with the board moderator (another convoluted, stupid story typical of the horse community up here) but I do check it a few times a week.

Much to my surprise, an old member posted asking for suggestions in dealing with a laminitis/founder horse. A number of things were brought up, but the most amazing thing was the member actually naming names! Yehaw, someone with guts! I like to think I have guts, but honestly when it comes to the horse community it's much easier to keep your mouth shut, than to be vilified for having an opinion. (Thus, readers, the impetus for the blog here in the first place ;))

When the member posted that a local farrier refused to treat her horse due to "taking too much time".....well, let's just say that I might have been surprised if I hadn't experienced the results of that farriers' care for myself.

Over the past couple of decades, I have used just about every certified farrier that works here in the Valley. Several of them, within the first couple of weeks after they arrived here as a matter of fact. Some have since retired or moved away, but it's been a long road of no shows, canceled appointments, shoddy care, rough handling, gossip mongering, unreturned calls, and whatnot. As a general rule, I'd say most of them are very poor business people, have no clue how to maintain client relations, and give little thought to the responsible owner. My horses have always been decent to work on, I am always on time, and I have bent over backwards to accomodate their own schedules-many times taking off from work early to be there ahead of schedule.

My own road with that farrier went fairly well for a number of years, actually. Cordial and polite, we knew we had contracted heels to deal with. However, standing with the lead rope in hand, you generally cannot see what is done, and how. A few years back my horse injured his shoulder from a bad dismount. Shortly afterward he was trimmed when I was unable to be there, a first, although someone else held him. Imagine my astonishment to see a pretty badly botched four point trim! Every foot was a different angle too, no balance anywhere. I could not imagine why that was done, but was unable to speak to the farrier directly. I learned the next day that the farrier had a whole bunch of personal stuff going on, and she left the state for a short while directly afterwards. Since my horse was lame due his shoulder anyhow, I let it go. I regret that decision to this day. I just didn't call for an appointment, and tried a few other farriers over the next year. None did a very good job, and some were pretty prickly to deal with and it was obvious that personality clashes would get in the way of farrier care.

So, with no options left, I called the woman back, and so went forward for several years. Over this period, the farrier became increasingly popular, began doing therapeutic shoeing at vet clinics, and started an organization for Christian families. Appointments began to get further and further apart, and my horse suffered because of it. At the end, we had one final appointment I was unable to make due to work-and she went ahead and trimmed him without my being there. (Hey this can be a good thing, or a bad thing, but in this case it was a BAD thing)

The following weekend when I had light to see what had been done, I was appalled. Another, absolutely rotten four point trim. My horse was swollen on all four cannons and he was LAME. I knew other things were wrong, but wasn't sure just what-just that everything was not right. Angles looked funky, heels were wrong, he was still contracted, etc. The photo above shows only the was only when you picked up the foot and saw what was underneath that a person could see the whole story of shoddy care:

Is there anything that isn't WRONG with that foot?

Ayep, professional, certified farrier care indeed. Honestly, I did not know what to do. For weeks, I was paralyzed, knowing that if I did the wrong thing, my horse would probably get worse-he was already lame, could barely move around. He would need specialty shoes, he would need a vet, he would need LOTS of care, if he could be saved. I couldn't understand how my horse got to be in such a condition, when I had "the best" farrier we had! I scoured the local magazine, asked other people who they used, spoke to a couple who were very new at the craft...and there I was, stuck.

Rescue came out of the blue via an email from a friend I had not spoken to in a while. I discovered that this friend had begun to trim horses barefoot, and she sent me a ton of links to read, so I could learn what a good foot, and a good trim should look like. I mean, I could tell some obvious things (big flares that chip, a very underrun heel, etc) but honestly I knew nothing of a good foot. In desperation I asked her to come see my horse.

That Sunday was a turning point in my horsekeeping and knowledge. When I brought him out, she was very quiet, just looked at him. Asked how long it had been since last trim (7 weeks to the day), and then picked up his left front. After a thorough cleaning, she set it down carefully, stood up, and looked at me with tears in her eyes. Nearly bawling myself, we worked out a plan to save my horse.

Its been a long road, but I never had any doubts as to her competence and commitment to help my horse. I emailed her every day with every observation of his condition, every small was an amazing thing to watch the improvements come, a little at a time as the two week trim schedule progressed, and eventually moved to the four week schedule we have today. During this period, I set out to educate myself about the hoof, how it functions and what its health means to the horse. I attended the Pete Ramey clinic and learned a lot more, and read his book. I read articles and case histories about other recovery projects fairly regularly and now, finally, after all these years, I feel I am a somewhat educated horse owner. I have a horse who lands properly....heel first, who has a great toe callous, excellent depth and a working frog. He is sound, playful and athletic, and by paying attention to the stabling and diet too, I intend to keep him this way for many years to come. I don't hear anyone saying "He's just a halter horse and you won't be riding him, right?" (Quote direct from previous certified farrier)

There are few certified farriers here (or vets for that matter) that won't think outside the box of their symposiums, clinics, and certification processes. Not every horse can be turned around like mine can, but its possible for many who are suffering through extensive hoof modeling with shoes, pads, fillers and wedges today. It just takes a true commitment on the part of the owner, your hoof care professional, and sometimes your vet. You must have courage to see it through, and the wisdom to know when you need to do something else. For myself, if I had not seen the amazing improvement I did, I would have spent umpteen thousands on clinical care immediately.

So, you have read all this, and noticed I left out names. SO here you go: The certified farrier I had been using whose results can be seen here was Deb Avritt. The trimmer who has corrected this is Gisela Swift. I would be more than happy to share photos of the recovery process with anyone, just email to

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