March 10, 2007

A Good Farrier by Trade My Father Was

Horses were designed to live in the open air, graze throughout the day and most of the night, to go unshod and to move across long distances with quite some speed. These physical characteristics have produced an inefficient and disproportionately long digestive tract, a respiritory tract that is ultra-sensitive to dust, pollen and mold spores, and hooves that grow naturally hard and usually just enough to compensate for normal wear.

So what has man done as he domesticated the horse? To begin with, the horse was confined to a stable where he was fed dusty hay a couple of times a day, breathed ammonia from oxidated urine as well as mold spores and was unable to move around naturally. The digestive tract became prone to colic, lungs became heavey (emphesima) and hooves became susceptible to infection or founder as man loved his horses, literally to death.

To put it clearly, a horse has basic needs that we, his jailers need to meet. First, he needs to be outside as much as possible - even during the cold of the winter. Equine metabolism allows for enormous heat generation provided that they can stay dry and have some kind of wind break. Second, if horses must eat hay, and most do during the winter months here in the west, the hay must be absolutely dust and mold free. That means that it needs to be washed and maybe even soaked in water overnight before feeding out. I use a 55 galon drum as my "hay washer." By serving up clean hay, my horses' lungs are clear and healthy. I have had older heavey horses in the past that I bought "second hand" that could have been saved earlier on had they been given absolutely clean, dust free hay. Third, in captivity a horses hooves need attention. They need regular trimming when barefoot and extra attention during the wet springtime mud season. An otherwise sound horse can easilty develop an infection in the white line area of the hoof if the hoof wall is too long and thus stressed out and away from the sole causing a fissure or stretch mark. An untrimmed hoof in the springtime wet is a recipe for lameness from white line infection. It is best to let the horses move around, out of a mudsoaked paddock so that their hooves stay as dry as possible. Trim their hooves appropriately.

So, to wrap this up, these are just a few things horse owners can do to keep a healthy horse - 1) Give them fresh air, 2) Feed them dust and mold free high quality hay, if pasture is not available and 3) Pay attention to their hooves. If any one of these three things is taken for granted, you are setting your horse up for some pretty serious problems - some of which can and will kill your horse.

This short poem is actually just a silly sonnet (14 lines etc. - remember your English classes?) We have made a pretty good effort through the years to care for our horses' feet, even if it was sometimes hard on our own. Most of this poem by the way is true right to the bone -except the part about the rank old stead. I just needed a rhyme that would go with bleed, so that is what you get.

A Good Farrier by Trade My Father Was
by Paul Kern

A good farrier by trade my father was,
Nipping and rasping one-toed claws,
Countless shoes he’s attached with nails,
Hammering hooves from heads to tails.

A hoof is a hoof by most any name,
They’re mostly alike and can all go lame,
But a hoof on a foot stomped on just plain,
Can crush a man’s toenails causing much pain.

His toes were smashed by a rank old stead,
Hanging and dangling they all did bleed.
Removing his stocking and cowboy boot,
He took his nippers and trimmed to the root.

And so saved his toenails - all five toe-claws.
A good farrier by trade my father was.

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