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Windt im Wald Farm
Geauga County, Northeast Ohio
since 1995

You Shoot Horses, Don't You?

F. Thomas Breningstall

As more and more horses become companion animals, the farrier's job becomes more challenging. The number one job of farriers in the past was to trim and shoe sound horses and help keep them sound for work. Job two was to keep a horse usable for breeding if he was unable to work. Since geldings can't procreate, the outcome of a lame gelding was hardly ever in question--a horse that couldn't work or breed was put down. No one could afford to feed a horse that was so debilitated.

Now people use horses for recreation, for show, and for companionship. Today the phrase "pasture sound" defines a horse that can't work, but has become a lawn ornament. After all, aren't these horses pets, companions, friends, or even members of the family? The farrier's job has evolved to include not just helping keep the horse sound, but helping make a lame horse sound.

This, I think, is how it should be. After all, it's not up to the farrier to determine when a horse's life should end. When asked by a horse owner what I think the chances are for the recovery of a lame horse, I decline to answer directly. Instead I give a number from one to ten--one being the best chance and ten no chance.

Then I insist they talk to their veterinarian and family before they put the horse down. I will do all I can to help the horse get sound again. I cannot and will not tell people to put their horse down, even if I think recovery is hopeless.

I understand if you have the money and the time to see a horse through a serious lameness, or you want to keep the horse because you love him, even if you can't use him. But you have to know that there is a time when your love must translate into humane treatment for the horse. Stopping severe pain in a horse is more important than keeping the horse alive.

Now here is something I have trouble with: People buying lame horses. Why would anyone buy a lame horse? Some say they didn't know the poor thing was lame. They thought the horse was having a bad day and that's why it was limping. Come on, before you buy any horse spend the money to have it vet-checked. Your vet, not theirs.

Even a free lame horse is no bargain. The cost of special shoeing and vet bills to hopefully make a sound horse out of a lame horse can run into thousands of dollars. And you may still end up with an expensive and lame "free" horse.

Sure, some cases work out. Yes, I have seen horses bought at auction lame and end up sound. If you start with a sound horse, you have a much better chance that the horse will stay sound.

On the other side, I have seen horses bought sound only to go lame in a short time because of illness or injury. You just never know. But if you find from the vet-check that the horse has or has had a major supporting bone broken, don't buy it. In the past this was the main reason horses were put down. Even today the chances of full recovery from a broken bone are poor.

Founder and/or laminitis are other things to stay away from. Even with the advancements made in treatment, the likelihood of re-founder is high. Ligaments, tendons, and muscles that have been cut or hyperextended are very debilitating to a horse.

You get the picture. Farriers can do a lot to help a lame horse become sound, but what we do is limited to the bottom of the hoof. All other parts of the horse are up to you, the horse owner, and your veterinarian.

F. Thomas Breningstall is an AFA and MHA certified full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. This article first appeared in Rural Heritage magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

e-mail Editor at Ruralheritage

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