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A Unique Situation Under Foot

Through Education, Riders and Owners Can Become More Proactive in the Care of their Horse’s Hooves



By Erika Eckstrom
Special to Grassroots 


Every horse has a farrier. One can easily argue that the person who trims and shoes a horse’s feet is the most important person for the success of the horse. Most horses see their farrier every six to eight weeks when they come due for a trim. But what if a horse saw their farrier every day? farrier3.jpg

At the Painted Bar Stables in Burdett, NY, a unique situation is under foot. At our stables we employ a resident farrier who exclusively shoes our 50 horses: Jen Marosek VanDusen, CF.

VanDusen, a Certified Farrier and graduate of the Cornell University Farrier School, used to be a traveling farrier like most other farriers. In 2011 she trimmed and shod feet at the Painted Bar Stables as well as a number of other local farms in the area. However throughout the years I came to realize that VanDusen was not only an excellent horsewoman, both under foot and in the saddle, but was also a phenomenal teacher with an education to match, Bachelor of Science in Equine Science and a Masters in Education from Salem University in West Virginia.

Nowadays, VanDusen plays a unique role on the farm as our head instructor of lessons as well as our in-house resident farrier. She is at the stables at least five or six days every week and knows each horse from top to bottom. In this role, VanDusen has gotten to know each of the nearly 50 horses in an intimate way: being a part of their care routines, influencing the nutrition choices made for each of them, choosing and monitoring their riding and workload, and being the exclusive farrier to make choices about their feet. 


Hooves in Action
Most farriers will admit that they mostly look at a horse from the knees down. And while they inherently know that their work needs to match the motion of the horse, many farriers never truly get to see the horses move let alone work under saddle.

By working in multiple capacities around the herd, VanDusen has the opportunity to watch the horses move, both ridden and unburdened by riders. She sees them being ridden by riders of all types: children, beginners, novice intermediates, and more advanced riders. She sees them in the arena in flatwork, jumping, on trail rides and even in endurance riding events. She sees them move when the horses are feeling fresh, when they are tired, when they are playing and when they are working.

She now knows the movement patterns of each of the horses —  whether they paddle outward, or wing inward, forge —  and if they move differently in different circumstances. Armed with more knowledge, she has the ability to evaluate how each trim and each shoe impacts the daily life of the horse. 

There are many days where in the middle of teaching a lesson VanDusen will be watching how a horse is moving and completely change the farrier plan for that horse, switching to a different shoe or choosing to make a more aggressive trim to alter an angle so that the horse will have a better stride length, shoulder swing or impact strength.


From Start to Finish
It is unique for a farrier to see each hoof throughout the entirety of the hoof cycle. Most farriers only get to see a hoof at two points within the growth cycle: when the hoof is grown and due to be trimmed and as the horse walks out of their appointment with a freshly trimmed hoof.

By being present for the mid-cycle wear and tear of the hoof, VanDusen has the ability to correlate the use and events with the growth and abrasion patterns in the hoof. 
An example we regularly bring up, is that before VanDusen came on board full time, the two of us regularly discussed the amount of length that should be left on a hoof at each trim. I was always advocating for leaving a little more length on the hoof at each trim. She was always advocating for less, going to the industry standard length that gives enough protection while leaving more room for growth between trims. 
My horses work hard for a living guiding trail rides and teaching novice lessons. Spending so much time in slow and low impact but high frequency work on varying terrain, the horses were regularly dragging their feet over gravel and wearing their feet to nubs. 

As a traveling farrier she didn’t get to see this first hand — just how much they worked and when and just how much they could wear their feet so much on the very first day. They walked off the crossties with perfect feet and came back to her 8 weeks later looking fine but overdue. She never saw that point about two weeks later where they had worn their feet faster than they had grown. How would she have known if she didn’t get to see that horse one day, one week or one month after their appointment?

About six months into VanDusen being at the farm full time she told me that she completely understood why they needed more length on their feet, and actually started leaving even more than I was advocating for. The barefoot horses especially needed that extra millimeter of wear and tear to protect them as they ground their hooves in the sand of the arena or the gravel on the trails immediately that same day after they got their feet trimmed. 


Results: Proof is in the Pudding
The obvious change on our farm is the betterment of our horses. They are staying sound, having less issues, and only a handful of them ever lose their shoes. 

Our horses are moving better than ever before. With this more insightful care we have had less issues with horses forging (hitting their hind foot into their front foot), stumbling and tripping, dragging their feet, tracking out of alignment and many other movement issues. Many of the horses have even changed their posture for the better due to rebalanced and in some cases more aggressive therapeutic trim techniques that have reduced shoulder tension and back soreness. 

We rarely think about hoof issues on our farm. The main issue we usually have is our barefoot horses wearing their feet too fast but with VanDusen on site we know that with a simple mention and her observation that horse will have a shoeing or trim plan lined up before that even happens.

In a herd of nearly 50 horses, the only abscesses we see are almost always in horses that have been on the farm less than a year. Despite two thirds of our herd requiring shoes for their jobs on trail, we usually don’t average more than one or two shoes lost per month, even in the peak season. And even when we do lose shoes it’s almost always either Brumby or Hero; every herd has that horse, usually thoroughbreds, and our Cinderella is Brumby and Cinder-fella is Hero. Our farrier budget has benefited as well due to the increased efficiency.


The Takeaway
So what’s the point? Most people cannot hire someone to be a full time farrier for their small herd. The farrier cannot be at every lesson, but you can. 

Owners and riders can be a full time advocate for their horse by becoming observant and educated enough to communicate with their farrier about the intricacies of their horse’s experiences and needs. By learning more about anatomy, how farriery affects motion, and developing better hoof care techniques owners and riders can become witnesses for their farriers mid-cycle.

Through education, riders and owners can become more proactive as well in the care of their horse’s hooves. Chasing a never ending trail of lost shoes, bruised soles, abscesses, uneven wear patterns, weak walls, cracked hooves, thrush and white line disease sets up both the horse and the farrier for failure. An educated horse person can be an important part in preventing problems before they start or calling their farriers in for an appointment before it becomes a problem. 

Much of VanDusens’ goal on our farm is to teach the riders to be hoof advocates. Through a number of different farrier classes and seminar series at the Painted Bar Stables, VanDusen is now using her farrier shop to give students more insight to the axiom: “No Hoof, No Horse.” By introducing even the most novice students to farrier concepts, she is opening up a whole world of future symbiosis between those who enjoy horses and the farriers that keep them going.

Erika Eskstrom is the owner and trainer at Painted Bar Stables in Burdett, NY. 


Photo caption: Certified Farrirer Jen VanDusen has the ability to correlate the use and events with the growth and abrasion patterns in the hoof at Painted Bar Stables.  (Photo credit: Erika Eskstrom)