After a morning of reviewing articles and speaking with colleagues, I’ve been thinking that it is no wonder most owners have such a hard time choosing the correct path for their horses. Whether we are farriers/barefoot trimmers, equine dentists, equine sports therapists, acupuncturists, nutritionalists, trainers, or even veterinarians…the majority of our clients are just casual horse enthusiasts. It isn’t their career, it is only their hobby. With the amount of information being shared, both correct and incorrect, it is no surprise to see how difficult it can be to make sense of it all.
I wish it meant more when you advise: keep it simple. There are a lot of ways to the same result in considering the health and soundness of your horses, but when you are trained to see it, they are really all similar means to an end. There are some supplements that some of us recommend quite a bit more highly than others, there are some trimming styles that some of us recommend quite a bit more highly than others, there are some conditioning routines and deworming routines and feeding requirements that some of us recommend quite a bit more highly than others…
But the advice is all very similar and the basic guideline is the same: stay committed, stay consistent, be responsible.
I recently took on a new client that hired me to remove the shoes of four horses and start hoof rehabilitation through barefoot trimming. These horses each have several concerns that all complicate each other such as misalignment, muscle soreness, thrush, teeth, mineral deficiencies, etc. None of them had ideal hooves, not even remotely. It’s all common enough to witness, when dealing with new horse owners. Far too common, unfortunately. It is still possible to solve everything easily, with patience and education, but it is going to take a lot of both. Initially, in this case, I did not want to get involved at all at this barn because I know trouble when I see it and you simply have to recognize that you cannot help every horse if the owner is that unaware from the start about their healthcare requirements. For example, if the owner doesn’t even recognize that their horse is not sound before your arrival…you are starting an uphill battle. But my internal hope got the better of me and I was convinced that my knowledge and experience would be followed and trusted.
Instead, it took two weeks after the first trim, for me to be fired and another farrier hired. Two weeks! None of my other health recommendations were started or followed with diligence and my knowledge was constantly questioned and challenged. Covertly, several people were brought in to critique my trimming. Because I was not there, I cannot know what was said and because I do not know the reputation or credentials of the consults, it basically doesn’t matter. The thing is: I had barely done any work on these hooves yet! When you first remove shoes from a horse that has been shod for years, it is best to not be overly aggressive and just allow the hoof to relax on its own for a moment. Let the hoof reveal itself to you, once the constriction of metal is eliminated and the hoof can move again. Give it some time. In some horses, the hoof is still thriving and it will reveal itself very quickly. In other horses, the hoof is not thriving, often due to inadequate husbandry, and these hooves will take more time before they start to show you what they need. But eventually, you can always get to that place. Then you start to trim to what you see in each hoof; you’re not trying to strictly force the perfect hoof form you have imagined, but you are trimming each individual hoof by its own guidelines, which are unique to each horse. And you are giving it time! With this client, I wasn’t even given the chance to see this process begin. So, however my trimming style was judged by others, the humorous part is that I had not really trimmed much at all! The owner doesn’t know that and the other people brought in for their opinion do not know that…all their critiquing I most likely would have agreed with, had I been involved with the assessment, because I also thought these hooves were basically very unhealthy and flawed.
At first, it was frustrating and even devastating news, to be fired from a brand new client. I do not do what I do because I make a great deal of money doing it, I do what I do because I have a great deal of passion for it. I had spent so much of my personal time educating this owner about hoof health and function, why I trim the way that I do, what I see in these hooves that is less than ideal, what to expect after removing shoes, etc. I adjusted and massaged several of these horses on my own time, without charging, just because it seemed like the right thing to do and it is such an easy effort for me to make. I consistently made myself available for even the tritest concerns or questions. And though I had not done much other than to clean up the hooves, I was still looking at beautiful trims considering. I fully believe each of these horses could have been rehabilitated! I have successfully rehabilitated much worse. But I did refuse to promise a timeline on rehabilitation, no matter how often I was pressured. I would not ever pretend I could tell the owner when every horse would be perfectly sound. And that last part is what really seemed to do me in…
This case almost broke me, as it followed several other new cases of serious neglect that have been hard to process and have required a lot of my resources. Everything hit at once! But after reaching out to mentors and colleagues, I’m at a place now where I can laugh at the folly of it all and move forward again. We’ve all been there. Unfortunately, we’ll all be there numerous times again. We literally cannot escape it, unless we change careers. It does help to keep a close community, where we can lean on each other when needed.
Also, we do have to recognize and refuse these trouble clients to save ourselves from compassion fatigue, which can be a real struggle for anyone working as health practitioners in the animal field at any level. How can we recognize these clients? Well, in many ways, it becomes instinctual with experience. As soon as they start talking, you know! But there are also two indications, which are almost always shared:
Horse(s) with several health concerns simultaneously existing. This is especially true when the owner has not already recognized or begun to address the issues. I cannot stress that enough! If you arrive to a new client, supposedly to address one concern, but immediately have a mental list of numerous considerations that need attention, proceed with extreme caution or do not proceed at all. This is very hard to do for most of us, but oftentimes we must. This characteristic will often be there with first-time horse owners and if they are truly willing to learn, they can often be worth your efforts to teach. But still be careful and protect yourself.
Owners who are blowing through professional opinions in a very short length of time. We’ve all heard these ones talk! The fact is, if you have gone through four farriers or four veterinarians or four trainers in a year…the problem is almost always the owner. Because as practitioners, we do all vary here and there in our techniques or opinions, but assuming we are qualified and experienced in our field, we are not all that different at the end of the day. It may be just a series of bad luck for the owner, but generally it isn’t.
That all being said, we must also find space to forgive these owners if we can. Because as I wrote in the opening of this post, they have so much information, both correct and incorrect, being pushed on them by so many sources, that it must seem overwhelming. It must be even more difficult for them to process and make sense of it all, than it is for us. We have been doing this for years! We have a community of mentors and colleagues! This is everything we have focused our education and efforts towards! Breeding, rearing, training, and maintaining healthy equines. We know it isn’t easy and we know it isn’t without our continuing education, commitment, consistency, and responsibility. We know it is a challenge.
But the casual owner just wants to ride their new horse on the trail a few times a week, without any issues. And I have to laugh, apologize to the horses, and forgive that misguided human trait. Because it is entirely out of my control. And it is out of your control too.