One of the benefits of working at a horse-related publication that's situated less than 10 miles from Dorado's barn is that I'm able to run to the barn during my lunch break should the need arise. On Tuesday, I made one such trip so our farrier could squeak Dorado's reset in between all the horses on his agenda preparing for the Thoroughbred sales currently taking place. As it were, this is the second shoeing in a row that the sales have "gotten in our way." Dorado really needs to work on timing his hoof care needs better! (Just kidding…)

Dorado really likes his farrier...and his farrier really likes him!

Photo: Erica Larson

As usual, we struck up a conversation that covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from moving woes to dealing with horses that are difficult to trim or shoe. When trimming or shoeing a difficult horse, he says he generally gives the horse the benefit of the doubt. Of course, we agreed, there are those horses that just don't like the farrier and will do just about anything they can to be difficult. However, he said, many horses that fidget, fuss, and appear uncooperative are actually just physically uncomfortable with the situation.

Yes, it might seem like a "Duh!" statement, but it's especially important to remember this with our senior horses who might not be as flexible as they were in their younger days. When our aging equids refuse to stand still for the farrier, we can't assume he or she is just being a grumpy old man or woman. Something it's likely bothering them.

To help horses—regardless of their age or physical comfort level—stay as comfortable as possible during trims and shoeings, my farrier says he works consciously to hold the animal's legs in positions in which he can still trim and shoe effectively, but don't put unnecessary stress on the body. He tries to keep the legs within their normal ranges of motion; essentially he tries to avoid pulling the legs too far out to the side or flexing and holding them too high up.

Not long ago I worked with one of our regular contributors, Dr. Nancy Loving (DVM) on a special senior horse download. She had some great insight on how we can help keep our aging equids comfortable around shoeing time:

  • “Good hoof care minimizes stress on the joints and hoof structures, and should be a regular part of routine preventive care,” she said, but cautioned that remember that leg lifting and weight shifting during farrier visits and other hoof care might take an extra toll on old bones and joints.
  • Some senior horses will benefit from a dose of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (such as phenylbutazone, or Bute) before being trimmed or shod, provided the animal has no kidney or liver problems, she said. She stressed, however, that owners should consult a veterinarian before administering any drugs, including something as seemingly innocuous as a gram of Bute. Adverse drug reactions can be serious business, so it's never smart to risk it.
  • “It’s also important that the selected farrier is able to work on the horse’s feet without having to lift the limbs too high,” she added. “Use of a Hoofjack is quite helpful to give the horse something to be supported by to take undue weight off the other legs and off the farrier’s body.”

One last point: While Dorado doesn't yet seem uncomfortable during trims—he stands like a statue, making him one of our farrier's favorite patients—I have a tendency to give him the afternoon off from work on days he's shod and trimmed. Does he really need it? Probably not, but it makes my over-protective self feel better! That said, I know many good horsemen who work their horses on the same day as the farrier's been and they've had no ill effects. So I think this is a personal preference matter.

Now it's your turn: How do you keep your senior horses comfortable during and after trims or shoeings? I'd love to hear your tips and tricks—please share them below!