Horses big and small, like nothing better at this time of year to come into a warm cosy stable at night and once rested, return to their field in the morning. Bramble and little rosie whinny a hopeful greeting as soon as they hear footsteps approaching and wait impatiently, their soft furry equine noses pressed up onto their stable door, for their daily outing, eager to trot off for another day’s foraging in the field.
Little rosie is looking particularly elegant just now, sporting a trace clip that has eased her itching. On cold winter days, she needs a little coat to keep her warm as the field is particularly exposed to sharp winds! A nifty little purple number does the job and looks cosy. At her age I’m sure she appreciates its warmth but opinion is varied whether a Shetland needs a coat in the first place. It does have the cute factor!
Today both waited a little longer than usual to leave their nocturnal residences, for George, the farrier was due. Coated up, rosie glanced in my direction as I tied her up at the stable entrance instead of taking her straight out. Giving me a look as if to say “Well, what are you waiting for?” she began pawing the ground, eager to leave the yard.
Bramble, still inside her stall, wearing her head collar, showed her displeasure by booting her door, as though shouting, “C’mon! Get me out of here!” She snorted and shuffled, as though irritated, wanting to be with her mini Shetland buddy. Soon both were tied up outside, waiting. ( Can you spot them waiting their turns?)
I hoped it wouldn’t take too long as little rosie, when disgruntled, can behave like a Tasmanian devil with the farrier and on previous occasions her stubborn behaviour has caused quite a kerfuffle and a few bruises!
“Brrrrrrr!” Shivering, I danced around on the spot, flapping my arms around in the style of a demented middle aged snow fairy, trying to keep warm. “Here he comes!” June and myself grinned as the farrier’s familiar van trundled into the farm. With a cheery “Hello!” he made his way over to the horses, nimbly dodging the tractor with the flat battery that took up most of the yard. Heaving his wooden box of specialist implements, the tools of his trade and hitching his leather chaps, he looked around at the horses, big and small, waiting for their hoovicures (as opposed to pedicures!) “How about a nice cuppa coffee to warm myself?” he enquired good naturedly, blue eyes twinkling. “Three sugars please!”
Taking the big horses first, George settled into his work, gripping each hoof in turn between his knees with practised ease whilst keeping us occupied with tales of his trade. We listened spellbound, wondering at his courage and skill as he recounted scary and humorous stories of horses’ different reactions to his ministrations. “Ahh,” he smiled, straightening up, wiping an arm over his brow and taking a moment’s rest with a gulp of almost cold coffee, “I’m still here in one piece, so that’s saying something!”
When her turn came, bramble obediently lifted each leg allowing an examination of her hooves.
“Looking good!” I exclaimed happily. Last year when bramble joined the yard, I was dismayed when George found deep furrows in two of her hooves. “You’ll need to take care with those.” he advised, his solemn look and furrowed brows betraying his anxiety. “Keep them clean and spray them with TCP every day.” I shuddered inwardly, wondering at the commitment needed to hopefully prevent abscess formation. Memories of another yard, years previously, flooded my mind.
A great big black Clydesdale lost almost half of his front right hoof. The farrier cut a hole in it, to release pressure build up that must have been very painful due to an abscess deep in the hoof’s sensitive structure. In this case, the poor horse endured months of treatment from his loving owners, a gentle middle aged couple who were devoted to him.
Daily, the process was long and drawn out as old bandages were removed before the hoof was cleaned thoroughly, packed with a poultice to draw the pus and keep the hoof clean, then re wrapped with padding secured with silver duct tape to stabilise it.
I helped out when I could, by holding the horse still, although it must have been a sore procedure and I worried for the owners’ safety at times, their heads down beside the giant hooves, as their beloved animal napped restlessly in the stable. Their hard labour paid off after months and at last they were rewarded with the sight of the magnificent Clydesdale cantering happily around in the field, head high, black shiny mane lifting and falling gracefully, his long blue black tail streaking out as he raced along, occasionally throwing a buck of sheer delight and happiness.
The experience instilled in me the importance of prevention and this time I was lucky with the seasons. Spring was around the corner which meant I had the best part of a year to get these hooves (2) healthy before the damp cold winter season returned. It was a challenge. Sometimes my back was sore and stiff as I bent over nearly double (small horse) squinting in the dusk with the fading light behind me, trying to persuade a stubborn tiny stone out from the furrowed hoof before squirting TCP into it. Many times I miscalculated the nozzle and ended up smelling like a clinical treatment room on my return home.
Snapping out of my reverie, I listened as George agreed. “Yep!” a big smile beamed across his face and he nodded as he stood looking at his handiwork. Regular trims enabled the hooves to recover and now, a year later, bramble was (touch wood) out of danger with hooves that are healthy and strong. “I’d keep a watchful eye on them for a while,” cautioned farrier, “But, in my opinion,” he beamed, “She’s just about there!” Good news to be sure!
Rosie, on this occasion, behaved admirably. George, perplexed, shook his head in disbelief, as she stood quietly, allowing him to lift her legs up and trim her hooves. “Well I never!” he laughed, looking down at her.
We both remembered times past when this tiny 6 hands elderly Shetland did her best to avoid a hoof trim. One leg after another buckled under her, as she appeared to allow herself to fall onto the yard floor. Three of us had a hard time persuading her to stay upright and my foot still bears the faint outline of a red mark, shaped in a tiny horseshoe, where this miniature equine stamped on it, midway through a sudden swerve that knocked farrier sideways and sent me careering into Hope, who was helping with my chestnut devil horse! Eventually farrier deftly tied rosie’s tail around her back leg, hoisting it up. By holding onto the end, it worked as a winch, allowing him to complete his task.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when it was over and I went home for a steaming hot bath to ease my aching back muscles!
Today, with a different mind-set from her and without further ado, little rosie’s hooves were trimmed to perfection. It was with a hop, skip and equine jump that she and bramble soon trotted forward eagerly headed towards their field, me trailing behind, lead ropes stretched taut, the tune of “Chariots’ of Fire” playing in my mind.
“Bye and thanks again!” I waved at farrier, as his van headed round the corner, away from the farm once again.
“Ah it’s a good life!” I thought as I swept up the shavings of hooves before the dogs chewed them. …..Eeeewwwww………..