Regular shoeing, if done to a high standard, plays an important role in a horse’s wellbeing because stronger hooves mean healthier, happier horses. That’s not to say unshod horses are unhealthy – not if the horse has good feet and the ground conditions are right – however, even sand surfaces can be abrasive, so if you’re planning to work your horse more than you think the hoof capsule can cope with … call a farrier!
In order to get where I am today I spent four-and-a-half years training in the UK; studying the lower limb of the equine in extensive detail that covered everything from scientific function to biology. By 2008 I was a qualified farrier and, I have to say, I’ve loved every day of my job so far, but as any professional knows the learning doesn’t stop until retirement, and this is both the beauty and the challenge of the profession. It’s also a profession that has allowed me to work in such idyllic locations as Cyprus.
I have lived and worked in Cyprus for three years now and the most common hoof problems I see are dry, cracked hooves caused by the hard and hot ground conditions. It is a problem exacerbated by flies that result in the irritated stamping of feet and the eventual shearing of shoes from hooves. In the UK, it was the opposite problem with the wet environment causing hooves to expand and contract, resulting in cracks. Still, a cracked hoof is a cracked hoof and regular shoeing is necessary to deal with the problem.
Because every horse is an individual and each of its hooves can be slightly different, the average shoeing schedule can vary between six and eight weeks. The environment in which a horse is kept is also a key factor along with temperature, ground conditions and work load. The difference in horses and environments also plays a role in whether I want to cold shoe or hot shoe a horse.
To shoe hot or cold has been the topic of lively debate among horse owners for years, but in my opinion one method is as good as the other when practised by a skilled farrier – and I happen to do both methods. The great advantage of hot shoeing is that it allows me to shape the shoes and manipulate the steel should it be needed for remedial shoeing. When you burn the shoe on, you get 100% contact easily with the shoe and the hoof. In contrast, cold shoeing if done correctly requires a lot of skill and strength to move the cold steel to the correct shape and to level the hoof and shoe equally without the help of the hot setting. I switch between the two methods to suit the horse, the environment and any other factors that come into play on the day.
To enable me to offer both shoeing methods to clients I have equipped my vehicle with everything I might need. A travel gas fire allows me to heat shoes quickly and efficiently on site and I also have the rest of my equipment at hand, such as drills and grinders etc. This allows me to offer a high standard of work in any situation, however challenging it may be. And believe me, there are a lot of challenges in this job.
Over the years, I have dealt with many difficult-to-shoe horses, including cases of chronic laminitis where the horse physically cannot stand. Young or inexperienced horses being shod for the first time can also be a handful, but they can usually be worked with simply by keeping calm and giving them time to adjust to the situation. As anyone with a horse here will know though, the most constant problems I have are usually fly related. Imagine how you would feel if a fly landed on you but you weren’t able to use your hands to knock it off. This happens every couple of seconds when shoeing in summer and as most horses weigh nearly half a tonne or more, when they want to put their hoof down, they do! Needless to say, this makes my job pretty difficult. And on hot summer days, it can really take it out of you – especially when the Ranch comes calling!
This week, I shod seven horses in one day at George’s Ranch, starting from 9am and finishing at 5:30pm. On average it takes about an hour to shoe a horse, depending on the fly/irritability ratio. It’s not quite a record, but it certainly felt like it at times.
Of course, the health of your horse’s hooves is not solely down to the farrier you use and there is much that owners can do to keep hooves in optimum condition, with the basic rule being to try and balance the moisture in hooves, using hoof ointments, in relation to the environment a horse lives in. A good diet is also essential.
And the secret to keeping your farrier happy? Plenty of water and a good fly spray!
Martin Haigh Dip WCF. (Diploma of the Worshipful Company of Farriers)
Many thanks to Martin for his qualified and informative thoughts on such a necessary aspect of horse ownership, and also for being our very first guest blogger. (I’ll make sure we have plenty of fly spray on the yard for the next time you visit, Martin!)
And talking of visitors, don’t forget it’s our mega-fun three-day End of Summer Pony Camp next week. From Monday 29th August to Wednesday 31st, younger Ranchers will get the chance to hone their equestrian skills, further their learning and spend a day among some of the best companions anyone could wish for – our superstar ponies and horses.
For more details, contact me on 99647790.