In which shoeing an older--and opinionated--mare is explored

You can tell a gelding, but you really should oughta ask a mare.

Mel has been trimming horses since she was a kid, but never
intended to be a "real farrier" until the only one she trusted
with her horses got ready to retire.

A big part of Fiddle's rehab from her stifle injury is communicating with the vet and the farrier about the changes in her soundness.

Another big part of rehab is paying attention to what Fiddle is saying and doing as she heals.

Hardly a week goes by that I don't put my horse in front of some camera to get video of her back end in motion.  This has resulted in gradual tweaking of her rehab plan, so that we adjust the rate of her return to work to match the rate of her healing.

 Dr. Fehr and Mel have gotten pretty adept at telling me when to panic, and when to chill.  They do not advocate freaking out prematurely.

(I should note that music and talking in the background of videos 
in this post are from the barn radio,
not my amateur attempt at videography)

This week, Fiddle got her second set of post-injury shoes.  

She has been walking under saddle for about 5 weeks now, and started on trails about 3 weeks ago.  We are currently up to 90 minute sessions on trail, 3-4 times per week, still mostly walking.

Last weekend, the video of Fiddle walking downhill showed a lot of wonky-looking swing in the right hind leg.  Of course, I freaked out, but Mel and Dr. Fehr both told me to chill.

You can kind of see the weird movement in the video we took immediately before Fiddle's shoeing appointment.  Watch the right hind leg.

Fiddle is not lame, but the motion of that leg is odd...and probably sub-optimal.  It was a good bet that rebalancing those shoes and adding pads would make Fiddle more comfortable and normalize her gait a bit.

Fiddle has historically been pretty good for the farrier, but last fall we noticed that she was pinning her ears--a new behavior.

Our discussion about the ear-pinning has taken place over months.  My horse sometimes tries to boss people around, especially if she doesn't know them very well.  Part of that "bossing" takes place with her ears.  But that didn't seem to be quite the case.

A horse who pins ears might be a bossy bitch...or she might be trying to tell people something.  When she started limping, I finally caught the hint.  DUH.  

She pinned her ears because she was uncomfortable!

(I really feel like my horse would be justified in biting me sometimes when I am so dense.  She doesn't, though.  She is more patient with me than I deserve.)

Before Mel started working as Fiddle's farrier, we talked a lot about potential sources of discomfort for horses during shoeing.  

Very tall horses in particular tend to dislike the shoeing process, because farriers hold their feet up high--it's more comfortable for the farrier, but not for the horse.  

But that's not exclusive to very tall horses.

Fiddle is 16 hands, which is tall, but not extremely tall.  Some 14 and 15 hand
horses exhibit similar symptoms of discomfort during shoeing, as well.

Anyone who has worked with mares knows that they tend to have opinions. 

Left front shoe--the diagonal opposite of the injured leg

The trick is to find the balance between allowing a horse to express a valid opinion (hey! that hurts!) and permitting a horse to vote on whether something will happen or not (thanks, but I'd rather stay on this side of the creek, and you can't make me cross it!).  

How do you figure out what is a pain response, and what is a need of training response?

The trick is to know the horse.

Left front foot.  The foot looked distinctly crooked 5 weeks ago.
It is significantly more balanced and less wonky now.

So,  what do we do with Fiddle, who has a reputation for strong attitude but mostly good ground manners?

Fiddle's ears are mellow, her eye is soft here.  We are making choices she likes.
For this shoeing, we noted that, although she has been shod, she is still tenderfooted over rocks on trail.

Mel prefers to avoid padding a horse's feet, she concedes that some horses need the extra protection--and we could see some concussion bruising in the foot that supports Fiddle's  preference for shoes with pads.

So, at least for the summer season, Fee will get steel shoes + pads.  We will return to shoes + rim pads in fall and winter, when the ground is softer and we ride more in the arena and less on the trails.

Old-school calk inserted between the foot and the plastic pad

An important point of discussion has not been the type of footwear Fiddle needs, but rather the manner of application.  

Specifically: holding up her hind feet for shoes.

Fiddle is absolutely fine when I hold up her hind feet to clean them, no matter how high or what angle I hold them.  I can keep them up there for a good long time, too.

But when a farrier wants those feet, it's another story.

Mel's experience has taught her that a horse doesn't discern much between Ouch! and I think this will hurt.  They react pretty much the same way to the anticipation of pain as they do to immediate pain.

Fiddle knows that I'm not going to hurt her.  She's not so sure about some unfamiliar woman with a rasp.

It's hard to teach a horse that something that used to hurt won't hurt anymore.  I know that from watching Fiddle the first year after her spay surgery--she avoided some movements and objected to others because they had caused her pain in the past.  

Now that I think about it, I do the same thing:  I still tend to avoid stuff that used to hurt my arthritic hip joints, even though I no longer have arthritis (or hip joints).

Fiddle worries less with Mel, but she still
anticipates pain sometimes.

Mel told me about a younger mare who hated to have her feet held while shoes were nailed on.  She was okay with having the feet held for cleaning, for trimming, and for any other reason.  But during nailing, she preferred the cradle stand.

"How did you figure that out?"  I asked.

"Well, I was bleeding...and the mare was I tried a bunch of things until she relaxed," Mel said.  "She liked the cradle, so we used the cradle."

Older horses often prefer to have their hind feet held very low to the ground.  With arthritic horses, Mel carries a chunk of wood to rest the foot, so that it's only a few inches off the ground.  That keeps strain off of arthritic joints, and makes a slightly awkward position more comfortable, while still allowing the farrier access to the foot.

Mel removes the old shoe while holding the foot very close to the ground

Mel has a day job and plenty of skills aside from shoeing horses.  I wondered why she works as a farrier, which can be really hard work for not much money.

She told me that she genuinely enjoys the work, and finds it deeply gratifying to help horses improve.

But there are some days...

"What drives you craziest when you are shoeing horses?" I asked.

Mel gave me a list:  Loose dogs.  Loose children. Unreasonable expectations for miracle working (including owners who expect the farrier to teach a horse to pick up feet politely). A horse standing in a far muddy field when the farrier drives up.  An owner too busy texting to pay attention to the horse s/he is "holding" for the farrier....  Bounced checks.

She likes it when owners ask questions and do research.  

Of course, 10 minutes online is not the same as doing real research.  But if an owner hears about something new that might be appropriate, Mel wants to know about it.

"What skill do you wish owners would acquire for themselves?" I asked.

"Learn to pull a loose or damaged shoe!" she told me.   

Hmmm.   You know, it looks so easy when the farrier does it, but I know from experience that it isn't quite so simple.  Here's a good video demonstration.  

After watching this video, Mel offered to give me one of her old rasps--a rasp good enough for my occasional needs, but not good enough for daily farrier work.  Score!

So, how did Fiddle look after the shoeing was all finished?  Jim ran the camera to catch video evidence:

She's improving.

And That. Is. Good!


  1. My farrier discovered that Cartman is better for his hinds if he holds the back leg almost crossed over the other leg- he was quite fussy about them but had improved with this technique- much to my relief! Nothing worse than having a horse that needs custom shoes w pads and pour in pads and is a brat for the short!


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