I got out of my cozy bed on a chilly morning to write this article because my brain won’t turn off about it. The sun is coming up over the trees and I can see Mount Rainier completely covered in snow from my window. Washington is so unbelievably beautiful! I am sitting on the couch with my dog on one side, my cat on the other, both staring at me hoping I’ll get them breakfast first.
But unlike this peaceful morning, there is an anxious topic won’t let me go until I write about it. Farrier induced anxiety. Do you suffer from it? Does your horse experience it?
I have been around horses in one way or another for a long time, and farrier appointments are a fact of life for horse owners, barn managers, and stable hands. I have held my own horse and many other people’s horses for the farrier. I have heard lots of farrier appointment related comments from MANY of my own clients, and heard stories from friends, horse owners, other farriers, vets, trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists, you name it. This very unofficial body of data has led me to some conclusions….
Some people have farrier induced anxiety. Some horses have farrier induced anxiety. Some farriers induce anxiety. Some farriers LIKE inducing anxiety. We’ll unpack that last one in a minute….
*I am using the term farrier in this post to refer to all hoofcare providers, because it’s the shortest to type.*
People Who Have Farrier Induced Anxiety
What happens in your body when a farrier truck pulls up to your barn? How do you feel holding your horse or others for the farrier? You may be tense, anxious, stressed, or constantly trying to predict what will happen next. Owners have anxiety about how their horses will behave and how their farrier will behave. Many of us have stood helplessly by while the farrier yelled and smacked our horse with their hand or their tool. Many of us have smacked our own horse, silently BEGGING them to cooperate for just a few more minutes. We are put in a position of powerlessness, just biding our time until this appointment is over. We are not actually powerless, but it often feels that way.
Some of my clients have told me I can smack their horses if I need to, that their old farrier yelled at them and their horses, that their horse isn’t great for the farrier….and I wonder how much of that comes from their farrier induced anxiety. They stand tense and ready at their horse’s head, waiting for any sign of unhappiness on my part.
Horses Who Have Farrier Induced Anxiety
This is an even sadder state. Horses who flare their nostrils and move away from you when you ask for a hoof. Horses who move their head towards you to touch you but then reflexively pull back, expecting to be corrected. Horses who back away, shy away, avoid you in the limited space their lead rope gives them. Horses who avoid eye contact. Horses who stare straight ahead waiting for you to “get it over with.” Horses whose eyes are big and worried, wondering if you’re going to hit them. Wondering if you’re going to yank on that arthritic hock that really hurts. Wondering how long you need their foot for. Wondering if you are friend or foe. As soon as the flight or fight instinct kicks in, the communication and the bond is broken and you’re both looking for survival.
*Some horses have legitimate reasons for their anxiety, and it may not all be farrier related. But not every horse who won’t stand for the farrier is anxious. Some of them are disrespectful and need groundwork and connection to be reminded of our expectations.*
Farriers Who Induce Anxiety
There are some farriers who cause anxiety on the part of the owner or horse, without necessarily meaning to. They may not take the time to connect with your horse first. They may get frustrated that your horse is stiff or sore and needs breaks. They may be loud and obnoxious, lacking professional courtesy. Their energy may set the wrong tone from the very beginning. Some farriers aren’t great at reading human or horse body language. These farriers are usually unaware of how their presence affects you or your horse. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit.
Farriers Who Like to Induce Anxiety
And then we have the farriers who thrive on inducing anxiety. They have ego, arrogance, bluster, and are aggressive. They have found a career in which they can intimidate other people and animals into doing whatever they say. They enjoy a horse who stands completely still for their farrier appointment, avoiding eye contact, because that is submission and “behaving.” They enjoy owners who race to the barn to make everything perfect before they arrive, they like being treated like royalty. They enjoy when a horse gives them a hard time because they are just itching to get into a fight. They enjoy regaling you with stories of how they put other people and animals in their place with their words or their body. Unfortunately they chose to be a part of the equine industry, when that energy could be better used somewhere else.
*I absolutely adore my clients who have their horses dry, calm, and out of the rain waiting for me when I arrive. Thank you for making this job easier. But that’s not coming from a place of anxiety, but rather a care for my comfort and connection with them and their horse.*
Why Do We Put Up With All This Anxiety?
You need your horse’s feet to get done. If a shoe falls off, you need someone to put it back on. If your horse has a chip or a crack, you want someone to smooth it out. Most owners lack knowledge about hooves and the skills a farrier has gained, so they are dependent on their farrier. This is not a bad thing necessarily. I love providing a service to my clients – it is rewarding me, my client, and their horse. But there is a power dynamic that comes into play, depending on your personality. As a farrier in my area, your clients need you more than you need them. There are SO many horses here, plenty to go around for everyone. I enjoy being in an area where I can refer people to other farriers when needed. But at the end of the day, you need your farrier to provide a service that you can’t do on your own.
The Power Struggle
The other wild card is your horse. Once he or she starts acting up, you may tense up in expectation of how the farrier will react, and your horse senses that tension, and it’s downhill from there. They have their own feelings and opinions, and it often feels embarrassing or frustrating that they won’t just STAND STILL. There is another power struggle between you and your horse and your farrier and the horse.
Which just leads to more anxiety.
Well first, you have identified what is going on. Sometimes giving something a label can be empowering. You call it what it is, and now you decide what you want to do about it. If you currently have a farrier who likes inducing anxiety, you can fire them and hire someone else. Yes, I know this is scary. It’s awkward, it’s conflict. It’s risking even more anxiety on how to “break up” and find a new farrier. If you have a farrier who induces anxiety but is unaware that they are doing so, it is your responsibility as your horse’s advocate to speak up. Mention how you would like your horse handled. Explain you want to make their job as easy as possible, but be clear about what is not allowed — how do you want your farrier to react when your horse is not responding or cooperating? Share what you do for training instead of physical force. Depending on how the farrier reacts to this conversation, you will know if they are still a good fit for you or not. You do not need to let anyone, farrier, vet, trainer, whoever do something to your horse that you are uncomfortable with. You do not have to be nice, you can step in whenever you feel you need to.
Healing Farrier Induced Anxiety
The first step to healing from farrier induced anxiety is to take responsibility for what you can control. You can choose who to hire as your farrier. You can control how and when you work with your horse on their ground manners. You can control how they feel the day of the appointment. Some horses need to do some ground work or movement before their appointment. Get to the barn ahead of time and connect with your horse. Have the chiropractor and massage therapist out if they are stiff and sore. Put them on a joint supplement or adjust their diet if they have arthritis. Horseshoe Herbals makes a wonderful calming supplement, if you need to help your horse manage their anxiety. You can treat their thrush if they have sensitive central sulcus infections. You can boot them for appointments if they need cushion while standing on the concrete aisle. Give your horse (demand if needed) breaks during farrier appointments. You can take them for a short walk in between feet to loosen up stiff and stuck joints. You can reward them for good behavior during and after their trims.
The second step is to find a farrier you can trust, and who your horse can trust. I know this is easier said than done.
I wrote an article about finding someone new in your area, click here.
The third step, once you have a farrier who you can trust, is to communicate your concerns and your horse’s needs. The more information your farrier has, the better they are able to customize your appointment to what you need. I often plan extra time for some of the older horses I work on, so I can give them plenty of breaks without running late to my next appointment. I let anxious horses or arthritic horses take walk breaks, to reset their brain or their bodies. I watch how they stand closely to see if they need their hoof back to balance. I really appreciate when my clients are completely honest about their expectations and what their horse needs. Then we cam come up with a plan for their trims to be calm and easy for all of us.
Give yourself some time to trust and relax. There are other farriers out there who will be considerate of you and your horse.