Today, the farrier came. I look forward to visits from the vet and the farrier, because both are very generous with their knowledge and patient with my questions. And they both tell good stories. Today’s farrier visit started with me telling him about my horses peeling their soles. “No worries,” he said. (He’s an Aussie.) “Sometimes horses just get sole-bound.”
Then, because the horses were generally behaving, I put them in cross-ties in the barn aisle, and actually watched the farrier work – the better to ask questions. (Normally, I stand at the horses’ heads, rubbing ears and chins just to make sure my curious and perpetually starving lardy butts don’t take to nibbling the hired help.) The question at the top of my list concerned Venus’ left hind. She had this huge chip in it that I have been watching and debating on whether I should find a rasp and knock down the raw edges. The chip developed about two weeks ago and had thus far remained in the portion of the hoof the farrier normally removes. (Think of it as a chipped fingernail where the chip stops at the quick and goes no deeper.) The farrier’s answer: File such things if I feel inclined, but not really necessary unless the crack moves up into the live tissue.
And then things got very interesting. Rod gave me a lesson on hooves – where they were strongest and where they weren’t, how wild horses wear down their hooves, and the difference in wear patterns between draft horses and thoroughbreds. The most interesting gem he offered was this: “Draft horses tend to wear down the inside of the back feet faster because they push off their hind quarters with much the same movement as cross country skiers. It’s where their power comes from.” Well, cool!
During his visit, I noticed something I had not noticed in two years, even though I lift and pick their feet nearly every day. Ophelia’s hooves were almost perfectly round. Venus’ are more angular. While both are draft/thoroughbred crosses, Opie is definitely the draftier of the two. I guess there’s just a lot more power in a circle.
Once I had this epiphany, Rod pointed out how thick and even the walls of Opie’s hooves were. Then he showed me how the walls on Venus’ hooves thinned out as they came around (one of the reasons for the chip) Then he said a most curious thing. “If I couldn’t win a shoeing competition with Ophelia, I don’t deserve to be called a farrier.”
For a brief instant I was glowing with inner pride at picking a horse with such fine feet. Granted she’s a total nutcase, but I set out to purchase a horse with good feet and I got one. Then wait a minute . . . shoeing competition? I had never heard of such a thing.
Yeah, well, they go like this: Farriers get exactly one hour to trim a horse, make two shoes out of two steel bars and put the shoes on the front feet of the horse. They do get to light their forge and get it hot before the hour begins. (Incidentally, portable forges are really cool things and I didn’t know such things even existed until I saw one at an horse show several years ago.) The farriers are judged on the quality of the trim, the fit and finish of the shoes and how the nails lie in the horse’s hooves.
Then Rod went on to tell me how farriers do feet on the high dollar show horses. The soles are buffed to remove all wrinkles and dimples so they are perfectly smooth. The frogs are trimmed to a perfect triangle that forms a razor thin point. Shoes are burnished to a high sheen. If you’ve ever watched a Grand Prix horse show, you may have noticed that all the horses have uniformly black hooves. They are painted that way. But what Rod was describing was work done on the bottom of the foot, the part that is mostly invisible when the horse is working. You’d have to have really quick eyes to see the work he described. But farriers do it and take great pride in their craft.
Now my horses don’t get that kind of treatment, but they do get a good trim and I get a lot of good advice. But in a world of planned obsolescence, warning labels for morons who can’t grasp the idea that coffee is hot and bleach is not a beverage, and stuff that breaks when used as intended, it just warms my heart and restores my faith in humanity to meet such craftsmen – people who do their job well just because that’s the way it should be done. If their work is hidden behind the walls of your house, in the undecipherable code that makes your computer work or on the bottom of your horse’s feet, it’s still quality work and it matters. I’m not asking you to go out and hug a craftsman, just to notice their work and let them know you noticed. We need to encourage them and encourage that pursuit of perfection in our own lives, whether it be folding laundry or shoveling manure, do it well.