Article and Photos by Abigail Boatwright
The old adage “No hoof, no horse” is especially true in the barrel racing world. When your success depends on your horse’s speed and athleticism, every measure you can take to ensure your horse’s health and safety is paramount. Caring for your horse’s feet is far more than slapping four metal shoes on the hooves and calling it a day. Learn from these farriers about the importance of proper shoeing, how to find a qualified professional and how to forge a positive relationship.
Why Choose a Barrel Racing Expert?
A farrier experienced in working with barrel racers knows the importance of getting the horse’s hoof care just right, because it can make or break your performance. Justin Knight of Decatur, Texas, shoes for competitors such as National Finals Rodeo qualifier Michele McLeod. He says a comfortable horse will always perform better.
“They are down to the hundredths of a second,” Knight says. “You need every advantage you can get. The competition is so tough that if somebody can shoe your horse, and make them more comfortable, they’ll feel better and run more correctly. When the hoof is balanced correctly and the breakover is where it should be, the horse will feel good and do the best they can.”
Tim Hensley of Butler, Georgia, has worked with barrel racing horses for 13 years. He says a barrel racing horse requires a slightly different way of handling than some other types of horses.
“They are not a backyard trail horse or a warmblood,” Hensley says. “They tend to be a little more energetic, a little more spunky. So I personally like to approach a barrel racer with a little bit more caution. These horses are at the top of their game, so I think you need to be on top of your game as well if you’re going to shoe that kind of horse.”
How To Find a Farrier
One way you can find a farrier is by consulting the American Farrier’s Association (AFA) directory (americanfarriers.org/ directory). Although Hensley says there are talented farriers who are not certified by the organization, he recommends this method, because you can view prospective farrier’s certification achievements and know they have received formal training through the association.
“For me, being a member of the American Farrier’s Association, that would be my first suggestion of how to find a farrier,” Hensley says. “We strive to do better with education.”
Each farrier said they get most of their work by word-of-mouth, and advise you to seek out successful barrel racers for recommendations of farriers they use who have good reputations. Derrick Schicke, who shoes Kelly Yates’ horses, says farriers for top riders are often fully booked, but they can refer you to qualified up-and-coming farriers.
“Find out who the best barrel racers are using—that’s where I would start,” Schicke says. “A good farrier may not be able to take you on, but he can tell you who he thinks is capable and will do a really good job.”
Signs of a Good Farrier
If you’re looking for a farrier for your barrel horse, you’ll want to ask him some questions. Hensley suggests asking about the person’s level of experience.
“The first thing I would ask is how long they have been doing this,” Hensley says. “That’s going to be a key factor. Has this person shod barrel horses before? What kind of disciplines does he normally do?”
A good farrier will want to evaluate your horse’s conformation, and also watch your horse move, Hensley says. Watching the movement could be in person on the barrels, lunging, moving in the pasture or in videos. But knowing how your horse works will help him manage your horse’s feet.
“Watching the horse’s movement helps me to realize what that horse is doing,” Hensley says. “Is that horse really working on his front end, or is he driving from behind? It’s hard to just walk up to a horse and shoe them. It’s helpful to see them move.”
Knight says he can tell when a horse could benefit from evaluation by another equine professional, such as the chiropractor or veterinarian, based on his interactions during a shoeing.
“I can tell when a horse needs some work on its back end—whether it’s hock injections or stifle injections—they are not as comfortable to shoe,” Knight says. “I can feel it and I’ll let the clients know that there is something not right. We can exchange information and work together with the chiropractor and the veterinarian, because we have developed a relationship.”
Knight says the horse will show you if the farrier’s care is working.
“If they are not doing well on their feet, anyone that has ridden a horse for any length of time should be able to tell that the horse is not comfortable and some changes need to be made,” Knight says. “It could be the horseshoer, or it could be something totally different.”
A business-savvy farrier not only makes your transaction more pleasant, but he demonstrates attention to detail—important both for business, but also the actual work on your horse’s feet.
“If I was a barrel racer, in my farrier I would look for knowledge and willingness, but also running a business correctly, showing up when you say you’re going to be there and returning phone calls,” Schicke says. “Without any of that, all of the knowledge really goes by the wayside.”
Hensley says he values experience over a degree from a horseshoeing school, because he believes that is not always an indication the farrier has apprenticed and worked in the field.
“There are a lot of very good schools that produce a lot of very good quality farriers,” Hensely says. “But the problem, in my opinion, is the graduates don’t always apprentice after they get out of school. They may have only shod 10 or 15 horses in their whole career. So make sure you find out how many years a farrier has worked on horses.”
All of our sources cite cockiness, namedropping and boastfulness as undesirable tendencies in a farrier.
“If you get somebody and the first thing they do is start boasting about horses they have shod, that’s generally a red flag for me,” Hensley says. “I tend to let my work do the talking, that way I don’t come across as bragging. Nine times out of ten, if a person has to brag about their work, there are flaws somewhere.”
Hensley says a farrier that leaves feet unbalanced, shoes the horse without taking the horse’s pastern angle into account or failing to balance the hoof are also red flags that it might not be quality work.
These farriers say to steer clear of a horseshoer who nails shoes on your horse without shaping the shoe first, because the shoe straight from the factory will not always fit the horse correctly.
“I have pulled a lot of shoes off of horses that have never even seen an anvil,” Knight says. “That is definitely something to watch out for. It’s not a good thing.” Hensley agrees, saying making the hoof fit the shoe is setting your horse up for problems later on.
“Shape the shoe to the foot, not the foot to the shoe,” Hensley says. “Most hind feet are not square, so why would you put a square shoe on a hind foot? Shape that shoe according to the foot.”
Finding a cheap deal on horsehoeing does not pay off, say all of our sources. It’s actually a cause for concern in some cases.
“Just because they can stick four shoes on your horse for $65, it’s not always a good thing,” Hensley says. “Your top farriers are going to charge more, because they are more educated and are often more willing to go the extra mile. But to get a farrier that will do those extra little things, you’re going to have to pay more.”
Schicke says you will pay more for a good farrier, but it’s worth the cost.
“It’s more about knowledge than it is anything else,” Schicke says. “Everybody wants a good price—that’s just the bottom line. Nobody wants to feel like they got gouged. But the cheapest thing you are going to get done for your horse is getting it shod. It’s about the knowledge.”
Our sources say a farrier that is defensive, rather than being willing to communicate about the care of your horse, can be a red flag.
“If you don’t have an open-minded farrier, that’s a caution in my opinion,” Hensley says. “If your farrier won’t discuss things with you on a respectful level, that might be a caution. I think communication needs to be both ways, and you need to have a mutual respect for one another. If you don’t, then there’s another red flag. Something is not right.”
Schicke agrees, saying there is no room in the horseshoeing business for ego.
“The most important thing is that if you cannot have a conversation with your farrier about what’s going on, get somebody else,” he says. “If the farrier is not continually willing to learn, he is done. Nobody knows it all.”
While pretty hooves aren’t always an indication of a properly shod horse, Schicke says carefully finished hooves can show attention to detail indicating a job well done.
Schicke says if your horse’s hooves or performance starts deteriorating after care from a new farrier, it might be a good idea to take a closer look.
“If you start seeing major flares on the horse’s foot, or your veterinarian is saying your horse’s heels are contracted, or you have lameness issues, you need to take some responsibility as your horse’s owner,” Schicke says. “You don’t have to know how to do it, you just need to know when it doesn’t look right. Learn what a correctly shod foot looks like. With the internet and other resources today, there’s lots of avenues to gain education as an owner.”
Article originally published in the August 2016 issue of BHN.