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The Shoe Missing In Action
© F. Thomas Breningstall
Ah! The day is over and you just got out of the shower. You know the kind of day - we've all had them. You shod ten and trimmed five, which is to be expected; it's the middle of summer and the shows are in full swing. Dinner is hot and on the table. As you walk by the phone, it rings. You snatch the receiver off the hook and as you do, you wish you'd let the answering machine take the call. But you answer with your normal salutation. Then you hear your worst nightmare - the most feared call you could get at this time, at this place you call home.
You listen to the caller as agony flows over your aching body and mind. Your mind tries to assimilate just what the caller is saying. In an excited and agitated voice, the caller is telling you her problem. Exhausted, you ask her to please repeat what she has just told you.
"Okay, okay, Mr. Farrier, I'm sorry," she says. "This is Ms. Forget-me-not. I have to leave for a show at 6:00 am tomorrow, and my horse just lost a front shoe. Maybe you recall that you shod him last month," she explains.
"Oh, yes - four weeks ago. I do remember," you reply.
Now what do you do? Your options are: 1)hang up and unplug the phone 2) excuse yourself from the phone and don't go back 3) fake a heart attack 4) you don't want to lose this customer so you tell her you will be right over 5) you don't care if you lose this customer so you tell her where she can stuff that horseshoe and her horse 6) you can make a number of excuses why you can't come out to put the shoe back on, or 7) you can even tell her just to take the horse along and let him watch the show, instead.
But you really want to stay home and eat your dinner and get to bed early - long day tomorrow, too. If this happened to me (and it has), I explain the day I had and that there is no way I'm going back out tonight. I'll try to make arrangements for the next morning or meet the customer at the show if I can. If we can't agree on doing the work the next day, I'11 give her a list of other farriers who might be able to help her out. Another option I would recommend is that if it's a Class A show, there will be a farrier in attendance who can take care of the horse for her.
If the customer is not sympathetic to your fatigue, then maybe you don't need him or her as a customer, anyway. However, most people are sensitive to their farrier's heavy load and I have never lost a customer I wanted to keep. It is also necessary to understand that it is not always your fault a shoe is missing. Under normal conditions, if a horse has cast a shoe, I can get out in a day or two and put it back on. I do not charge to put a shoe back on if the shoe was cast in four weeks or less after shoeing. But if the horse needs to be shod all around, I charge my normal fee to reshoe the horse.
I have had customers plead with me to take money for replacing a missing shoe. I usually reply, "You already paid for them once," or "I charged you enough the first time," or "There aren't many guarantees in this life, but this is one of them - take it!"
Because I don't like going out after a long day to put a shoe back on and because I don't charge for this service, I do all I can to make sure "Old Bullet Gut" keeps his shoes on until I take them off.
Following are some shoeing tips I use to help keep the shoes on the horse. Some I learned from experience and some I took from others; when used together, they work well.
Start with a well-balanced, flat hoof on a well-balanced leg on a well-balanced horse. That's like dreaming the impossible dream sometimes. But do your best. Next the shoe - a level shoe fit to the hoof. It should look like part of the hoof. Like the chrome bumper on your truck, it looks like it belongs there. But if the bumper is bent or missing, the truck doesn't look right.
We all know how to fit a shoe to the hoof - not too tight, not too wide, not too short and not too long. But just right - you know, the Goldilocks thing. Most of the time a flat hoof, a flat shoe fit to the hoof, and well-placed nails work quite well. But sometimes you need just a little more help to keep that shoe in place. Hardly ever does a shoe just fall off. It will come off 1) if the horse interferes 2) if it cross fires 3) if it overreaches 4) if the horse forges or kicks or 5) if the horse is worked or kept in mud, rocks, roots, wet grass or sand. A shoe rarely just comes off - unless you didn't do your job. Nevertheless, I will put the shoe back on at no charge. I'm thankful I average only about ten calls a year, so it's no big problem. This was not always the case. I looked at the problem of lost shoes. I analyzed, dissected, criticized, evaluated and eventually changed how I shod some horses, and the problem of lost shoes improved a great deal.
I want to share some of my findings with you, in hopes that your lost-shoe problem will improve, also. We already have hoof balance and shoe fit. So I'll move on to the options. I have for many years bumped up the heels of the shoe. Then I learned about barbed heels. Barbed heels (not spooned heels) are just a little hook on the heel. It's just enough to hold the shoe in place if it is hit from the rear. I do this on the front shoes only. As I make the hook, I also box (bevel) the end of the heel of the shoe so that there is no blunt heel to hit with the rear hoof. Even if you shoe cold, you can do this.
I also use toe clips on the front and side or quarter clips on the rear. In tough cases I will use quarter clips on the front shoes, also. Clips have been around for a long time and they work to keep the shoe from slipping back on the hoof. The use of barbed heels keeps the shoe from slipping forward on the hoof.
As for nailing, I use six, seven or eight nails per shoe, and I have not seen any ill effects from using eight nails per shoe, even on horses that are shod year 'round, as long as the hoof is healthy. If the hoof is unhealthy, one nail may be too many. We have to judge each horse and each hoof individually and then we have to 'canister' each part of each hoof for its condition. As we farriers know, all this deciphering 'ain't fer the weak of mind.' Back to nailing again. I like the nail to exit the hoof wall about a thumb's width in height, approximately. This next tip is something I learned from my high school shop teacher. He bet the class he could make a stronger wood joint with two nails than we could with four nails. He won. I use this on some endurance horses and others that keep knocking their feet together and losing their shoes or those that have poor hoof walls, with no ill effects.
I angle the last two heel nails on each side of the shoe toward or away from each other, depending on the condition of the hoof wall. I use the opposing nails as a last resort to keep the shoe on, due to the slim possibility of causing hoof damage if the shoe gets caught in something.
When it comes time to pull the shoe, I sometimes have to pull each heel nail first, because the shoe is still on tight.
The clinch should be set well into the wall, square and smooth. Everything we do to the hoof should look like it belongs there. A beautifully shed horse is just that- beautiful.
I hope you get something useful from this story to help you in your shoeing business. Thanks for listening.
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.