Horses feet are vital. To their overall health, to their comfort and happiness. They’re a piece of anatomy you will need to get your head around pretty quickly if you’re going to own or care for a horse, just so you know what’s normal and what’s not, and so you know when to call in the experts. If you’re not familiar, or still learning, here’s a quick diagram:
Hooves grow a lot quicker than you might think, and cracks and splits can be sneaky openings for pathogens to get in and wreak havoc, especially in the frog. There are definitely things you can take care of yourself, but there’s a lot to hoof health, so you are going to be in need of a great farrier!
A good farrier is worth their weight in gold. Many people think of them as “The horseshoe guys”, but that’s a very limited view. In fact, these days the paradigm is shifting away from constant shoeing. Horse shoes were originally designed to protect horses delicate feet when they were purely a working animal. Transport and farm labour took a big toll on horse feet once upon a time, and taking care of them extended the lives of valuable assets. This birthed the farrier as a profession. Debate is strong these days, with many believing shoes are no longer necessary. Since the industrial revolution horses have tended towards being sport and leisure animals. From this has emerged the trend of “Barefooting” which people consider a more natural approach that saves the possibility of problems that can arise from poor shoeing. Obviously, every horse is different and plenty of them still need shoes to help stay healthy and safe.
Even if you’re eschewing shoes, the farrier provides vital services. They have studied all aspects of horse foot biology and anatomy and are prepared for everything from regular trimmings to raging infections. Whether your horse has strong feet genetically, or congenital issues, there are things a farrier knows that will help make them happier and healthier. There are more modern options, such as gluing on horseshoes, which is seen as more humane than nails. There are also special booties available. Whatever you choose to do, they will need hoof trimming every 6-8 weeks on average. How well you and your farrier work together to care for your horse will have a massive impact on their longevity. Poor shoeing has impacted some horses so negatively over time they have eventually needed euthanasia.
When looking for a farrier, start with recommendations from people you trust. Make sure they have relevant qualifications and education. Ask questions. Make sure they are familiar with your breeds and disciplines. Ask them for their suggestions on your particular needs, and when they suggest contacting them. Just like any professional service, it’s perfectly ok to shop around. See who you click with and feel comfortable with. The relationship you’re able to build will mean you’re more likely to work in sync, resulting in better outcome for your beloved animals.