Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shoeing the BBW

Monday the farrier came and put shoes on all four of Sherman's feet.  That's the short version.  The long version involves more drama than I care to admit.  But admitting is what this is all about, so here I go.

The farrier arrived right on time for our 9:30 appointment.  He's wonderful; I like him both as a person and as a professional, and his consistent arrival right on time is one of the things I like about him.  Knowing he'd be right on time, I had taken Sherm out for our usual morning ride to burn off some excess kid-energy since the farrier would have to be dealing with a youngster who'd had no turnout yet.. and on a day when the grass is so, so green, and everyone else was turned out eating it all without him.

I met the farrier at the truck, and his first question to me was how was I feeling about this.  I admitted that I was nervous because 1.) shoeing is not something I know enough about to be confident and 2.) this is Sherman's first time, and first times always make me nervous.  Mr. Farrier was fantastic about discussing my nerves, his plan, our work together, the horse's needs, etc. We talked for probably 15 minutes about generalities, and then he wanted me to walk Sherm out for him.  He knows Sherm's conformation and the wear patterns on his feet, but he wanted to round out the picture with the beast in motion.

I got Sherm and walked him up and down the driveway, and then mentioned that another concern I had about him and shoes was his degree of overstride; he does have quite a bit-- would he be pulling his front shoes off with his hind feet?  Mr. Farrier had me put him on the lunge line and trot him around a bit in the lunge ring.  Mr. Farrier assessed that Sherm clears his front feet out of the way in plenty of time to avoid forging, so we should be good to go there.  He also commented that he moves a lot better than he expected of the BBW, having only ever seen him at a walk or standing in his ridiculous, teenage-slouchy, never-square, bored stance in the crossties.  Sherm is a sack of potatoes standing still, and he does it on purpose.  But put him in motion, and he's a pretty thing most of the time.  It was nice to have Mr. Farrier recognize this.

So after the brief lungeing session, Mr. Farrier said to put him in the crossties.  I did, and that was probably my first mistake.  Or maybe my second mistake, my first mistake being my failure to present the vet's recommended shoeing approach before I got Sherm out of his stall.  As Mr. Farrier began to look in his supply for the right shoes for the BBW, I said, "Okay, I know you're about to do your job, but I do have to report what the vet recommended, and then you can make decisions from there."  Mr. Farrier agreed, and asked for Dr. Vet's notes.

I reported Dr. Vet's notes, and could see that things were going to get sticky... Dr. Vet (who is amazing and awesome, by the way) presented a plan involving breakover changes that Mr. Farrier felt was too much, too soon.  He would rather go slow, with a significantly more conservative approach to Sherm's first set of shoes. What followed was 30 minutes of explanation, along with show-and-tell of the supply of unused and used shoes in Mr. Farrier's truck.  All the while Sherm is standing alone in the crossties.

I was afraid I'd be here-- stuck between the vet's recommendations and the farrier's opinions.  Both of them are professionals (and people) I respect, admire, and whose judgment I trust deeply.  And I'm there in the middle, without a confident, firm understanding of the engineering mechanics of shoeing a horse with conformational challenges, and I'm supposed to make a decision.  All the while Sherm is standing alone in the crossties.

What in the heck is taking so long?!
I digest what the farrier has to say, question him about the differences between his approach and the vet's, and come to agreement that his slower, more conservative, small-steps approach is okay with me. And then I have to spend 15 minutes convincing him that he has not just talked me into something that I don't want to do, but that he has made his case, and that I am comfortable going with his judgment.  All the while Sherm is standing alone in the crossties.

Finally we get to Sherm, and after dry fitting for size, a small bit of cleaning, brushing, and slight rasping of the foot, significant shaping of the shoe for optimum fit, the first nails go into the first foot at around 11:30.  Mr. Farrier has been here two hours, and Sherm has been in the crossties, not doing much of anything, for over an hour, closing on an hour and a half.  He's actually been amazingly good and quiet for Sherm, for any of our horses, really.  He has stood and waited with a minimum of attention-seeking behaviors, and I was really quite impressed with his patience.

Aside here: we decided to shoe Sherm based on the conformational issues that predispose him to suspensory strain/damage, but the farrier pointed out that he's also wearing down his hooves pretty heavily now that he's in daily work.  So it appears that shoes are a good idea for the boy on all fronts.

The farrier predicted that Sherm would be good for this first shoeing, but would be difficult to manage the next time-- this first time would be new and surprising, and the young horse is usually too busy digesting what is going on to object to anything.  The second shoeing, however, is when he'll likely object because he already knows what's coming and has decided that he can express an opinion about that.

Well, Sherm is, of course, a bit of a prodigy.  He was fantastically patient for the first two feet.  Front shoes went on with no problems, and he seemed intrigued by both the process and the product.
Front Feet-- No Problem!

Unfortunately, however, he decided that he understood both and was no longer interested in participating when Mr. Farrier got to the hind feet.  With the left hind, the first to be done, he began to resist, pulling the foot away, then pushing the farrier, then dancing around out of reach, then repeating all these maneuvers in a variety of combinations that had Mr. Farrier sweating and swearing, with me not too far behind.  We got out the stallion chain and tried correcting Sherm with that on his nose, to no improvement in his attitude.  We used the chain as a gum twitch, with just enough success to make some progress on the shoeing, but leaving Sherm with a bloody gum and me with a bruised hand.  Several anxious moments and adrenaline-filled approaches finally found us with all but one nail in the first hind foot, and Sherman having just kicked for the first time.  Mr. Farrier said, okay, he just kicked backward to tell us he's mad; next he'll start aiming, so let's take a break and rethink this.  Mr. Farrier intelligently placed a quick call to see where Dr. Amazing Vet was, just in case she was in the area and could bring a little mellow-juice for Sherm to sample so we could get through the hind feet safely.

God loves Sherman, I'm just sure of it, because at the moment he called, Dr. Amazing Vet was 4 miles away, finishing a routine call at a friend's farm down the road.  She could be here in 15 minutes.

So I put Sherm back in his stall to cool out, and I made Mr. Farrier a cup of coffee to sit with and cool himself out while I drank water with shaking hands and tried to breathe and lower my blood pressure.  I was keyed up because it's a scary situation when your young horse is responding poorly to a new situation, particularly scary when your farrier is under your young horse's immense and powerful hind legs right at that moment.

But I was keyed up as well because I feel deeply my responsibility for the entire situation.  I'm feeling

  • bad that I decided to shoe my horse; maybe this was an avoidable situation, and I made a bad call
  • bad that I've not instilled in Sherman impeccable, unshakable ground manners, having relied on his general good will and strategic avoidance of situations that push his tolerance and patience beyond demonstrated limits
  • bad that I let him stand in the crossties so long before we really got to him
  • bad that he's being bad (in terms of his personality rather than his incomplete training)
All in all, I'm feeling pretty bad.  Bad in a size that (in the moment) felt much bigger than the need for shoes, than the need to ask this horse to perform for me in any way that might require protective/corrective shoeing.  Bad.

But after a bit of coffee, a sit-down, and some time away from a cranky horse, Mr. Farrier begins to  chat lightly again, and he assures me that this isn't that far out of the ordinary for young horses at their first shoeing. Mr. Farrier is just going to be safe, and make sure the experience ends comfortably for everyone involved, particularly the horse, who needs to come out of this first time quiet and unscarred.

Dr. Amazing Vet arrives, zips a little happy juice in Sherm, and offers to hold him for Mr. Farrier through the last shoe. I'm perfectly happy to let the professionals do their jobs, and had no problem with Dr. Vet using her rope twitch on the big boy, just to keep him in line.  The last shoe went on in five minutes, without any leaning, resistance, kicking, or other argument from a happy, docile, dopey Sherm.
Doped and Happy.  (The horse, not the vet.)

Dr. Vet assures me that I should not be embarrassed or upset about this, that Sherm did his best for his first shoeing, and that she's got clients whose horses are much more experienced and much worse patients for this. She confesses that her own horse sometimes needs a little push in the mellow direction to get through this process properly.  All of which is nice of her to say; none of which makes me feel any less bad about the whole thing.  And she leaves me an oral dose of the happy juice to take the edge off the next time.  Off Sherm, not me, though I'll probably need a shot of courage in about 7 weeks...

One nice aside to needing to call the vet in for assistance-- she got a look at the shoes Mr. Farrier chose, and at the approach he campaigned for, and she agreed that his conservative approach is perfectly reasonable and in keeping with his interest in the long-term soundness of the horse.  She confesses that she sometimes approaches things from a veterinarian's "fix this now" perspective, and that the slow-and-steady path has absolute legitimacy here.  We're going to the same place; we're just going more slowly, and that's fine.  So everyone is on the same page and feeling good about the plan.

So by 12:45 both the vet and the farrier have left the farm, and I come into the house and have myself a good cry over the events of the morning.  Then I call an old friend and tell her the whole story.  She kindly listens, offers consolation and feedback, and I feel a bit better as I head back down to the barn to complete my "morning" chores.

My homework, of course, is to work with Sherman every day on handling his feet, or rather on hammering his feet. He's been fine for cleaning and trimming, but now he needs to be desensitized to the hammering so that Mr. Farrier can do his job quickly and safely.  The happy juice will help, but our goal, of course, is to have him grow up and accept the work with maturity and calm grace.  


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