A very upset rant on a Facebook page a few weeks ago, about a farrier who allegedly lost his temper with a nervous horse and hit it on the side twice with his hammer, got me thinking. Having witnessed the same thing happen to my sweet but nervy 14.2 pony when I was a kid (again at the hands of a farrier, who hit the pony repeatedly in the ribs with his rasp after it fidgeted), I know how fast it can happen and how powerless and utterly furious the owner can be left feeling.
It made me wonder whether all we value our good, patient specialists sufficiently? I cannot praise my own farrier, Rob Reeves, highly enough. My yearling, Jinni, damaged herself pretty badly in the field 2 1/2 years ago (slipping sideways from a vertical rear while playing, knocking herself out, damaging her neck, and sustaining severe neurological damage) and Rob’s patience with her since, while she was mentally and physically ‘disabled’, has been absolutely exemplary.
Every 5 weeks it took three of us (me and 1 or 2 of his apprentices) to hold her up for him to trim, as she had difficulties keeping her balance on 3 legs, and had to be held and pushed in various places to put her weight in the right place to enable him to proceed.
A few times she totally lost her balance and fell over while he was attempting to trim her, and just lay there looking at us. He’d calmly wait for her to get to her feet again, and patiently try again. It never occurred to him to be angry or impatient with her… or with me, fortunately!
When he was suffering from a bad knee injury and had every reason to be annoyed or impatient with such a difficult horse, he never was. Okay, he may well have said “If it was mine, I’d shoot it” a few times over the years, but that was the absolute limit of his nastiness! I offered to pay him extra for the additional time she was taking, but he declined it.
Now, at a strapping 3 1/2 years old, she is hugely improved, both mentally and physically, and has just decided that having her feet trimmed is a bit of a nuisance that she would quite like to do without, and sometimes tries to snatch her foot away. Again, his patience is impressive. He calmly holds her foot, or if absolutely necessary lets go, lets her get her balance & composure again, and carries on.
All I can say is that if your farrier is not this patient, for the sake of your conscience and for your horses’ sakes, vote with your feet and find another one! They are out there. If anyone wants to praise their farrier/dentist/vet etc in the Comments, please feel free… it’s always good to share these great recommendations!
The same level of competent kindness is essential in an Equine Dentist, too. I use someone who, again, has an enviably unflappable temperament around the horses – James Arkley. When my previous EDT (who I had used for many years without a problem) suddenly turned very shouty and physical with a horse (perhaps it was the end of a long day… but he’d never seen this horse before, and she honestly wasn’t even moving a muscle when he started scragging her about in temper, so she didn’t deserve it in the slightest) that was the last horse of mine he ever touched. I am a realist… if she’d been being a nuisance I would have understood the correction, but she wasn’t.
Physios and ‘back people’ need to be just as patiently firm. My McTimoney Corley Chiropractor was endlessly patient when one of my mares was difficult for him to treat, because she was guarding a certain area. With calm persistence, we have now reached a point where she lets him treat her, without any problems.
A recent survey said that being an Equine Vet is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Of course, no matter well handled our horses are, the fact is that vets are often making the horse less comfortable than usual, so it should be a no-brainer to ask the vet to lightly sedate the horse if the procedure is at all likely to upset it, or at least to get the twitch out. Just not worth the risk for all involved.
I ask my vet to sedate any horse who might be difficult for a procedure – I try to make his/her job as easy as possible, and in return my horses are treated firmly but very kindly. Don’t get me wrong – if the horse is being a p.i.t.a. then I am not averse to a sharp word or a good shove to remind the horse of its manners. I am not a total pushover, but they are mostly treated calmly and kindly, and usually behave perfectly well, which makes it an easier and happier experience for everyone. I would be absolutely mortified if any of my horses ever hurt someone, unless it was totally inadvertently.
And, lastly, but really importantly I think. Lots of horses (mine included) are handled by women 99% of the time. The only times a man usually comes near them is often purely for the uncomfortable stuff – feet, teeth, vaccinations, and so on. So, I make a point of asking my partner or any other male of friend or family who visits to spend a few minutes of quality time with the horses if at all possible – fussing them, giving them a treat or two, so they don’t automatically associate the male of the species with imminent discomfort. I think it’s worth it, and I hope people don’t think I’m mad! Does anyone else do this?