6 tips to help you choose your hoof care professional
As a horse owner, you regularly hear numerous recommendations regarding what to do for your horse. The overload of information can be overwhelming, especially when many of these opinions contradict one another.
You probably heard it all, and are confused on what decision to make regarding your horse's hoof care. Here are a few guidelines to help you make a decision:
1 - Each horse is unique
What works with a given horse, in a given situation, might not work for your horse. I.e. if your friend owns an endurance horse that lives outside 24/7 and train every day on flat and hard terrain, their hoof care solution would probably not suit your pleasure horse ridden in soft footing twice a week and living indoors. You need to find the solution that works for your horse.
2 - Assessing to trim better
Try to be around when your farrier trims/shoes your horse. A good professional will assess your horse while standing and in motion before doing anything. They will also ask if there has been any soundness issues in order to address them. A horse cannot be correctly assessed if it's just standing on the cross ties. You are not riding your horse at a halt; you need it to be sound when in motion.
3 - Hygiene and biosecurity
Quick reminder: horse professionals's shoes, tools and hands can carry contagious pathogens from one barn to another if they are not washed properly. In other words, if they just went to a barn where a dangerous virus is present and don't take any precautions, said virus might very well be transmitted to your horse - whether they know about the virus or not. If there is manure on your farrier's/trimmer's shoes when they arrive, and/or their tools and/or their hands are soiled, they represent a health risk for your horse. Sometimes having a conversation with them or the barn owner will resolve the issue.
4 - After the work is done
The golden rule is: your horse should be at least as sound after being trimmed/shod as he was before. Now there are some exceptions (for example, you just took shoes off), and we all make mistakes. But if after every trim/shoeing, your horse is tender footed or sore, there is a problem. Pain is NOT a normal result of hoof care. Besides pain in the feet leads to incorrect movement, which will lead to greater issues in the future.
5 - Listen to your horse
Try to monitor your horse's gaits and muscular condition. Excessive muscular tension can come from unbalanced hooves. Short, stiff strides are often a sign of discomfort in the feet. When I massage a horse and the foreleg flexors are extremely tight, I suspect pain in the heel/frog area (the horse keeps it leg very slightly bent to relieve the sore area, creating excessive tension in the flexor muscles). Symmetry is also primordial: just like humans, every horse will be right or left forelimb dominant. But you should be able to ride them equally in both directions and you should not notice great discrepancies between left and right muscles.
6 - The right attitude
Finally, a good professional will be able to answer your questions. They will have the ability to explain what they are doing and why. FYI, ''I've been doing this for 20 years, I know what I'm doing'' is a trivial argument without scientific justification. Good farriers keep their skills up to date; they go to clinics and conferences to ensure that their knowledge and methods are based on the most recent scientific information. They are also able to admit the limit of their knowledge and refer you to another professional when they are at a loss.
I hope you will find these tips useful. Remember, communicating with your hoof care professional is key and likely to solve most issues you or your horse may have. Thank you for your visit!