How Social Media Etiquette (or lack thereof) Affects the Modern Farrier (or trimmer ... or trainer..

Author: Sarah Kuyken   Date Posted: 8 February 2016 

You know the scene all too well, you get a wall post from one of your facebook horse health groups. "Hai guyz, this chunk off hoof is just like falling of my horse, is there anything i can feed him or rub on it too make it heel up quicker?" (abysmal spelling not a typo, I'm adding to the realism here). And the photo that accompanies the post : 

 

"Oh my GAWD, FIRE your Farrier!" Says one person. "I hope you didn't pay for that trim!" says another person.  And the poor poster who maybe never meant anything harmful about their farriers work starts to wonder "Maybe they ARE doing a bad job, maybe I should fire them, maybe I should name and shame them publicly? If I don't maybe they're out there harming other people's horses?"

I don't know how else to say this, but these posts are NOT ok, and should NOT be encouraged or shared. When the post started out as asking for harmless help comments should be kept to the question at hand or concerns politely and carefully addressed by questions such as "That big crack doesn't look very healthy, have you asked your farrier about it?". And posts that present an image such as this while naming a farrier and suggesting they have done something harmful to the horse should not be tolerated.   

Anyone can see this is an unhealthy hoof, but maybe everyone (even the poster who sees the horse everyday and forgets what it used to look like) is unaware of where the farrier started or what obstacles had to be overcome, or what end-goal the farrier is working towards.

The hoof above is one that belongs to one of MY customers, several months in to treatment no less. Now hang on a minute and hear me out, an explanation may help clear this up! This horse was terrified of having his feet done due to past abuse, was suffering from chronic laminitis which made standing on three feet very difficult, had multiple muscle tears which made it almost impossible for him to bend his back legs how you would like for trimming, had a violent reaction to sedation, and pain killers had to be used VERY carefully due to him almost dying from a kidney infection.  He presented originally with a very large abscess blow out which had been left untreated and was sprouting granulation tissue out of it like no-body's business. This horse nearly died. 

When you take in to account this explanation, and his progress photos (below), it makes it much clearer how this hoof came to look like this despite receiving regular farrier care for several months prior. As the horizontal crack worked its way down, it eventually became loose just before I was due to come back, and the owner took the above image and sent it to me to check if all was ok, rather than asking unqualified strangers on the internet.

Now, could I have trimmed this horse differently? Absolutely! Would I on most other similar deformities? You bet! But with a horse who can't pick his legs up comfortably or safely, tries to kick my face off, can't be sedated, can't have pain relief, and can't be xrayed (because you can't fuss about his back legs without getting booted AND can't sedate him), I chose the path that would give everyone the greatest chance of success and safety and worked with him slowly while his new owners also started training him. In this case the owners were aware that this crack would eventually break away and they trusted the process and when it did happen they made sure I knew and that I came out promptly to help it along. However, you can surely appreciate how, without context, that image could make it look like maybe the farrier didn't have the horse's best interests at heart (despite all the blood, sweat and tears I shed saving this pony, blood sweat and tears you wouldn't hear about with an out-of-context photo shared over social media). This pony has now gone on to do many great things, he still has a terrible fear of farriers, but tolerates my presence in his life. 

On the flip side, for this other customer, many people thought that her farrier was doing a neat job, although he couldn't tell her why her horse was a bit "off"...

Again, I'm not here to criticize someone's work, not at all, but to the average horse person with no context this looks like a perfectly reasonable foot. Unless you see this... 

What you can see here, for those of you who can't tell by looking, is a very laminitic foot with a pedal bone that is pretty close to popping out the bottom! Neat doesn't always mean healthy (and unlike the owners in this audience, many farriers would have suspected the problem before even seeing that xray)! 

I'm not here to gripe about this work, not at all, but rather hoping to show you that its not always straight forward how a messy hoof will turn out, or even a neat hoof - the average horse owner will miss many of the signs that something is working, or not working, for their horse. Unless there is an obvious and distinct change in soundness (and even this can be coincidental!) or messy looking work, most people cannot tell a good enough trim from a great trim. Without context it becomes even harder. There is a reason we train as long as we do only to basically get called "glorified toe-nail cutters"! 

When I say "Mr Frank Farrier" lamed my horse, or did this horrible trim, and share photos all over social media with limited or biased context, the average horse person (and the potential customers Mr Frank Farrier may have now lost!) would have little to no ability to substantiate this, yet this is the worst nightmare of many horse owners and word will spread through social media extremely quickly. 

I'm not here to say that every farrier does a perfect job every time, but the correct way to handle your concern is to call your farrier and have a conversation (as opposed to a screaming match, or threats) to find out what is the problem and how it can be resolved. If you want a second opinion on your horse's hoof health, book an appointment with another farrier (don't ask random strangers on the internet!). If you're the other farrier and you see a job that has been handled differently to what you would, don't talk the first farrier down to sell yourself, explain to the customer what you would change and why (believe it or not, this can be done without saying a single mean thing about the last practitioner! *GASP!*), and your work and improvement to the foot will sell itself! (Or you'll learn the hard way why the last farrier was having problems; "Oh they didn't tell me the horse rears, bites AND kicks when you drive nails, maybe that's why his shoes weren't 100% straight", "Oh they didn't tell me they were only going to rebook me again once a shoe fell off, maybe this is why the last farrier couldn't heal those hoof cracks", "Oh they didn't tell me they were riding their horse down the gravel road for 8 hours straight for one sunday every month with no hoof boots, shoes, or conditioning, maybe that's why it keeps getting brusied feet"). 

Instead, taking your opinions (insert someone complaining about how "I'm entitled to my opinion" here, also, see rebuttal piece "No, You're Not Entitled to Your Opinion" here) to social media as some form of vigilante justice, "warning" others of industry practitioners, could open yourself up to a lawsuit. IF your farrier has definitely lamed your horse, go through their insurance. If you haven't been able to do this, you either were silly enough to hire someone who wasn't insured, or you cannot prove that your farrier has CAUSED the problem. If you then take to blaming your farrier (or riding instructor, or vet, or massage therapist) anyway over social media, when they have the case history / invoices / photos etc to dispute this you may be able to be prosecuted for defamation. In an age where your snarky facebook post can be viewed by nearly every horse person in the area by days-end you could easily destroy someone's livelihood over night (only to find out later that your horse was foot-sore the following day because it was already borderline laminitic when the farrier arrived and the two bags of carrots you fed him to bribe him in from the paddock had tipped him over the edge because you didn't know your horse was about to founder or that carrots contain sugar).  Furthermore, those who "share" this information on may also find themselves liable for damages (see here). 

Very few people work in the industry simply because they think its a great way to get rich. It isn't. We do this job because we genuinely want to help horses. I often get sent photographs from followers asking for my opinion on their horse's feet (often complete with a photo of their horse in which their feet are not visible), and I simply cannot comment they way they want me to. They are generally taken at an angle that makes comparison difficult if not impossible, with limited history, no ability for me to feel for heat or pulse over photos, having to take the owner at face value when they say "it was only done two weeks ago" when you know it was probably more like 8, and no photos of what the feet looked like before the farrier started. 

The moral of this grumpy story? COMMUNICATE with the RIGHT person. Have a cuppa, discuss the concerns, work out a resolution, but understand that when you ruin someones reputation on social media due to the inability for most people to tell a good job from a bad one or by sharing photos or videos out of context, you could unfairly cost someone their life's work, or find yourself embroiled in a lawsuit. 

 

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