Q: Recently the farrier was at the barn where I board. He was working on someone’s mare when she began to misbehave. She ended up by rearing and landing on top of the farrier. In response, he disciplined her very severely. I understand there are circumstances when we must discipline our horses, but in my opinion the farrier crossed the line. The whole incident has left me feeling very upset. I wish now that I’d done something. If I witness abusive treatment in the future, how should I handle it?
First of all, the mare’s owner (as well as whoever might’ve been handling the mare at the time) bears some responsibility for the accident. Anyone holding a horse for the farrier needs to remain at attention, watching the horse’s body language for signs it’s becoming annoyed, sore or distracted. Plus, every horse should allow its feet to be manipulated before asking a farrier to put his or her life in danger. Rearing and striking out is an outrageous display of aggressive behavior and makes me question the mare’s basic training and ground manners. If the owner is unable—or unwilling—to make the mare more “farrier friendly” then it’s time to pay for professional training.
Second, the farrier is at the barn to trim and shoe horses, not to train them. While I’m in no way defending the farrier’s actions as you describe them, I can appreciate his frustration in nearly being maimed or killed by someone else’s rank mare. Unfortunately, the combination of pain and anger culminated in unreasonable disciplinary tactics.
So, what should you have done? Or what should you do if you observe similar incidents in the future? I would suggest simply stepping forward and saying calmly but bluntly, “Hey, that’s enough.” When an abuser realizes another person is shaming their actions, they’ll usually stop. That goes not only for freaked out farriers but also anyone unduly whipping, spurring or running a horse.
If you see more examples of abuse at your boarding stable, report them to the manager, owner or resident trainer. They typically have the authority to ban any trade or craftsperson from the site. Depending on where you live, you can also go even further and report incidents to the police or sheriff, or leapfrog over them and go straight to animal control. That works for abuse that you might also encounter away from the barn.
Since the response to animal abuse cases vary widely depending on the region where you live (much of that is due to local laws and available manpower), you should also keep handy the contact information for nearby branches of the ASPCA or Humane Society. In cases of outright neglect, where a horse lacks food or water or needs medical treatment, your own vet can be a wonderful resource. As a final note, if you intend to pursue a particular case or incident, try to snap a photo and get the names of impartial witnesses. Hopefully your good intentions can influence other horse lovers to be more assertive when it comes to ending abuse.
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