Question of the Week: Discipline or Abuse?

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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?

A: I admire you for becoming proactive. We all need to look out for the welfare of horses. But before suggesting what to do next time, let’s look at possible contributing factors to your scary farrier scenario.

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.

–Cindy Hale

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Punishment should away be the “smallest” amount, to get a result. Punish that is harsh, usually only brings fear, and more reactions from the horse. Every horse owner/farrier/trainer should know horses can be dangerous, and they do react out to pain, so if this farrier had cause the mare pain, she will react out of fear. This article, should not have said “rank” mare, when it may or maynot been the case.

  2. liked the advice and the comment from PKL what could have set the mare off was it green or just contrary I have a mare before the farrier came I discovered she was not happy about her right hind leg so recommended he do that side first because if he didn’t she acts up have had a number of farriers the majority listened and she behaved and of course theres always one who has to be difficult Fortunately have the best farrier in the state who treats my horses great

  3. I had a horse boarder that had an anger issue which he took out on his horses. I was out watching him work on one of his horse’s hooves and, because she (and all his other horses) was afraid of him, she pulled away from him. He took the hoof rasp and hit her as hard as he could on her side, not using the flat of the rasp, which would have been bad enough, but the edge of the rasp. I yelled at him to stop and he did, but his wife stood up for him. Needless to say, I gave them their walking papers soon after. You need to stand up to people who are abusive, whether to animals or children or yourself. If your gut tells you it is wrong, then it is so don’t hesitate to take action.

  4. It can be a really tough call to intervene on a horse’s behalf, because owners don’t always react well to your “meddling”. But the horse’s welfare should always be the primary focus.

  5. Honestly, unless it’s obviously abuse, I would say mind your own business. Everyone’s idea of “abuse” is different and unless the horse is clearly being mistreated, just keep walking. As a horse owner, I would find it annoying for a random person to come up to me and tell me to quit being mean to my horse.

  6. I had a farrier discipline my horse, my horse freaked out and broke away from him 3 times, and then was injured for 4 weeks , my horse was afraid of the steam on a cold winter day the hot shoting created…after 3 other shoers and friends who witnesses the abuse told him to stop…When I found out , I didn’ t pay the farrier and never did business with him again, as my horse was in training and I lost 4 weeks due to injuries.

  7. My farrier was kind of a show off and liked to manhandle horses. He hit my horse in the leg with the side of his rasp for no reason and I totally dumped him! He never did her hooves after that!

  8. haha Sounds like I was dating the farrier when I said I dumped him… I wasn’t, I mean I didn’t have him trim her hooves anymore. 🙂

  9. I have seen some very abusive farriers, and some very good-natured ones, and some who’ve become agitated and verbally abusive. However, it would be difficult to comment based on the information provided regarding the abusive farrier in this question. Was it a smack or a hammer to the gut or head? I once told a farrier point blank to leave in the middle of shoeing my gelding. My horse was older at the time, and his feet were sore, and the farrier grabbed his halter and hit him in his side for leaning on him. I told him my horse had never been treated that way and no one was going to start now and to pack up his things and leave.
    If the horse and farrier in question was not mine, I would still have gone over to them and asked him if he was okay and if they needed any help, and then I would have asked him if his behavior was typical when dealing with a difficult horse. If the abuse was indeed extreme, I would have probably reported him to the humane society.

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