by Keith Seeley
Picture if you will, you are a relatively new horse owner. You’ve just acquired a new horse and you don’t know all that much about him. He’s got a little age on him, he seems gentle enough, even after you’ve gotten him home. The previous owners said he was an easy keeper. They hardly ever had to feed him much and they never had to worry about his feet. Sounded too good to be true, right? Well, all too often, new horse owners wind up purchasing some of their first horses this way. Some get lucky and really ‘get what they paid for’; meaning they got a good horse at a low cost. Unfortunately, most do not. Often times there are hidden problems with the horse. Perhaps the previous owners knew about them ‘failed to mention them’ and perhaps they didn’t. I’ll not debate that thought here.
So now you have Rusty home. His settled into his new surroundings, now what? You bought Rusty for your kids to ride. You got a second hand saddle and bridle with the horse, so you’re set there. You’ve gone to the local feed store and picked up feed, buckets, brushes and all the other nice stuff that us horse owners just can’t resist buying, even if we already have tons of them back at the barn. You figure you’re all set and ready to ride. So the big weekend comes. The weather is great, you’ve got time to devote to your kids and the new horse. But something doesn’t seem right with him. Rusty seems a bit ‘off’. Not what you have experienced as his usual self. He seems to move around a bit slower, if in fact he does move around much at all. You try to call a couple of your friends who have horses to see if they can help you determine if there is a problem and if you need to call some one. So now what do you do? You feel you need to call a professional to help you determine if, in fact, anything is wrong with Rusty. Who ya gonna call??
You basically have two choices. You can call a veterinarian or you can call a farrier. Most people think to call a vet first. In some cases, that’s the right choice. Sometimes, the horse’s problem is internal, such as if the horse colic’s or has some kind of open wound. The vet would therefore be the right choice to call first. But there are times, as with our case with Rusty, where you can’t tell what the problem is? Is it medically related, or is it farrier related? It would be great if they could talk and tell us where it hurts, but they can’t, not really. The expression on their faces will tell an experienced horse person that they aren’t feeling good, their movement will tell that person that the horse is off, but it might take the trained eye of a professional to really pinpoint the problem. So again, who are you going to call? Hard to tell, isn’t it?
Well, let’s look at the horse as though he were a building and start from the ground and work our way up. The foundation of the horse is his feet. If his feet aren’t in good shape, then the horse has a poor foundation and none of the rest of the horse is going to feel well. Think of yourself when you are wearing the wrong shoes for the wrong activity and you can’t get off of your feet for quite a while. Think about how much worse you feel as time goes on and you are forced to move around at a normal pace. It gets harder and harder for you to feel comfortable and not limp around. After a while, your whole body begins to feel the discomfort, doesn’t it? Now relate that same thought to your horse. He’s not moving around much and he’s reluctant to walk more than a little bit. You notice that his feet aren’t in the nice pretty shape as the horses you’ve seen on TV, nor are they in the same shape as some of your better horse friend’s horses. Could this be the problem? Perhaps. I think by now you get the idea of where I’m going with this scenario. If in doubt as to what the problem is and there are no physical signs of a medical problem, the person to call first is a farrier. Most qualified farriers can reasonably well discuss your situation over the phone and help you determine if you have a problem in the foot and lower leg (the farrier’s area of expertise) or if you have a possible medical problem elsewhere in the body (the vet’s area of expertise.)
A good rule of thumb to remember about horse lameness is the fact that the vast majority of all horse problems occur in the foot and lower limb. That means that a certified farrier can address the majority of all horse problems. Since farriers see more horses and more horse problems / conditions than any other equine professional, farriers have gained a vast amount of knowledge about the complete and total horse. This doesn’t mean they will attempt to address a medical problem, a dental problem, a nutritional problem or even a chiropractic problem. But they should have enough knowledge to help you know ‘who’ the next best professional is to call.
Let’s get back to our scenario. Again, the first professional most people think to call is the vet. You contact one and they make an appointment to come out. They perform an evaluation and determine that there appears to be something wrong with your horse, but can’t pinpoint anything specific. They perhaps write you a prescription for a drug or two, perhaps run some blood tests, etc. Their tests all come up negative. There appears to be nothing wrong with your horse. Now what? Some vets are reasonably knowledgeable about foot problems and know that you need to contact a farrier. Others are not.
So what’s the moral of the story? There are actually several aspects to the moral. First, recognize the need to learn as much about your horse as possible. This, I’m afraid, will be a life-long learning process. Second, learn to know who to call for what type of problem. This too will take a long time to learn well. Third, understand that even though the farrier is by far the all around most knowledgeable about the horse than any other equine professional, his area of responsibility is that of the feet and lower limb. Should your horse’s feet require medical attention beyond his ability, your farrier will advise you to contact a vet. Fourth, understand that ‘most’ vets have very little training in the foot and lower leg and should not be expected to advise or prescribe any type of shoeing, trimming or treatment for your horse’s feet without first consulting your farrier. Ladies and gentlemen, please remember this, you don’t go to an internist if you have problems with you feet. You don’t go to the dentist if you have a stomach problem. You don’t take your car to a body shop if you have mechanical problems. Then please don’t take your horse to a vet for feet problems. Each profession has its purpose. Employ only qualified, certified professionals. Now do you have a better idea of ‘who ya gonna call?? I hope so.
Please contact me if you have questions or problems. I’m here to help.