Ive been shoeing regularly for over a year now. These are the lessons Ive learned the hard way. Ignore them at your own peril. Im writing this to help, not preach.
All For One! One For All!
I know this might come as a surprise, but horses are herd animals. Even if by casual observation it appears that they hate each other. They are most comfortable with another horse around. Preferably from their own herd. Take a buddy along with you wherever you happen to be working and things will go a lot more smoothly for you.
Its always the heels
Ive been getting away with a minimal amount of actual shoe shaping since I first started. Some horses even fit the shoes perfectly right out of the box. Factory shoes are perfectly flat. Machines are good at stuff like that. Why then, does your shoe not lay flat of the hoof you just trimmed? Your heels are too high. Find a good angle and rasp the shit out of them. Sometimes the frog can get overgrown and get in your way too. Knife that, and 90% of the time you’ll be good to go. I was taught, and have observed for myself, that you should take your heels down as far as you can without drawing blood. This is allows the horse to move in the best way. Ever seen a woman try to run in high heels?
Wind is the enemy
Theres really no way around this one. Horses hate it. A prey animal is always listening for a predator, and if the wind is howling in their ears they are gonna be skittish and extremely hard to work with. You need to keep this in mind when scheduling clients. Where I live the wind regularly picks up in the summertime at 1pm and can continue for a few hours. A tightly built, well lit barn can help, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.
Lots of carrot
Getting frustrated? Horse getting tired and annoyed? Pick up that curry comb. Get a pan of oats. Sing or hum softly. Pat them on the rump. Give em some rubbing. Give the horse some love. Sometimes difficult horses just need a softer touch.
Don’t be afraid to use the stick
Keeping the previous tip as your first avenue of approach, you have to realize that some horses are just fucking dicks. Never hit a horse you aren’t allowed to hit. Well, at least never get caught doing it… My rule is that if a horse refuses to pick his foot up for me after several minutes, he gets the flat of a rasp to the underside of the stomach. Don’t be a pussy. Let ‘er rip. You must make sure that the horse is tied very well, and to something that wont budge. Don’t repeatedly hit them. That serves no purpose whatsoever and will make your job impossible.
Bend your nail ahead of time
Your nails for the #1 hole should go in unbent. Thats the angle they are designed for. All the other holes need just a slight taper put on the point of the nail. You could wait until you’re bent over and sweating to do that precision work or… Well, you get the idea.
Get the right tools and maintain them
You absolutely need a farriers box to organize all your tools. If you don’t wanna cough up the money for one, just make it yourself however which way you see fit. This is not optional. There are a whole lot of other examples out there that I could write an entirely separate post about. Chaps. Stands. Hammers with better balance. In this business you get what you pay for. Cheap tools that are dull and dirty lead to poor work. Take care of your equipment, it will take care of you.
Wanna listen to music? Don’t bother. Do your visiting relatives want to see what you’re up to? Unless they are holding the horse for you, tell them to piss off. Hell, you shouldn’t even be next to a road that gets occasional traffic if you can avoid it. Horses hate this procedure, and they will use ANY excuse to misbehave. Focus.
I wasn’t gonna tell this story, but here goes. When I was at school learning this trade, I decided to get shitfaced the night before class, and not eat breakfast in the morning. When I was learning the stance to use on a particularly short horse, after standing up… I fainted. I fell on the point of my chin so hard that I busted a piece off of every molar in my mouth. I find that the ideal is to eat light and mostly protein about an hour before your appointment. Bring PLENTY of water and when I start to fade, I crack open a soda or energy drink. We’re trying to make some money here, not worry about sugar intake. That extra blast at the end of could make all the difference. Might save you a costly mistake.
Take your TIME!
Are you in a hurry? Maybe try sales or day trading. The horse will absolutely know if you’re rushing him. The way to get done the fastest is to keep all my other points in mind, and have patience. Work with the horse, not at him. Other than that the only way to speed things up is experience. You can only gather that if your foot remains unbroken.
You won’t have trouble with the front feet. I never have. Its the hind legs of the animal that get stiff and inflexible, especially with age. When I was at pony school, I picked up a few tricks that help the old grey mare to loosen up a little. First, square up her hind feet, then grab her tail firmly, and pull as hard as you can at the angle the tail comes out from the rump. This is like cracking the back for humans. You’ll know you’ve done it right if you hear several pops. Bingo. Even if you don’t hear cracks, just have faith that its helping. Second, make two fists, then place then at the top of the buttocks and push your knuckles into the muscle as hard as you can and drag down either side of the divide and end a little after the tail starts. If a horse has been neglected and his feet have grown far too long; these two techniques can work magic.
Get a handler
Hands down the most important piece of advice I have for new farriers. No other tip comes close to the importance of having a human ally up front. Your 8 year old nice is better than nothing. Seriously.