The Art of a Farrier

posted January 25th, 2014 by
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Farrier

by Lauren Cavagnolo

Photos by Bob Foshay

ANYONE WHO’S OWNED A DOG knows there’s a fine art to trimming dog nails—holding your dog’s paw just right, not cutting too close to the quick, and if your dog is like mine, feeding him treats for the duration of the grooming. And if you’re like me, after completing the task a couple of times, you decide maybe it would be better for both of you if someone else handled the trimming.

Next, imagine trimming the nails of an animal that averages 1,100 pounds. If you’re now thinking, ‘Who do I call for that?’ Marc Munger is your guy.

Munger grew up watching his dad shoe horses and now makes his living as a farrier.

Farriers specialize in the hoof care of horses, including hygiene, trimming, disease prevention and attaching horseshoes. And though it is a profession that dates back hundreds of years, it has not changed all that much over time.

Munger’s father, Art, began working as a farrier part time in 1978. By 1992, it was his full-time job.

“I think when I was little my mother just sent me and my brothers with [my dad] to get us out of the way,” Munger said. “When we got old enough, we learned how to do it and started helping.

“I remember as a kid, Dad and I were at a job and working two horses tied to a fence as we normally would. He would trim the wall off the bottom, and I would come behind and bevel the edges on the hoof stand.”

He continued to help his father and learn the trade working summers and weekends through high school and college. He took over the family business in 2009 after graduating with a degree in agribusiness.

With only a handful of farriers in the Tulsa area and just over 25,000 in the nation according to thefarrierguide.com, it’s an important job. Like nails on a dog, if the hooves of a horse aren’t properly cared for it can lead to bigger problems down the road.

“Your number one goal is preventing lameness,” Munger said. “Horses in the wild are meant to run around to water and graze and get a lot of movement. That movement wears the hoof down at about the same speed that it grows out.”

Domesticated horses need regular trimming of their hooves and not much else. Munger says a horse’s feet should be trimmed about every six to eight weeks in the summer and eight to 12 weeks in the winter, depending on the horse.

“But if you are using them hard, riding on the road, riding on rocks or doing some sort of performance, a lot of times their feet will get sore if they don’t have any extra protection,” advised Munger.

These horses require steel shoes that are nailed into the hoof—a task not done without risk.

“You’re holding that foot right in between your legs with nails sticking out of every side of it, and if they jerk their foot away when you’re trying to break a nail tip off, you can cut your fingers,” Munger said.

“If you get a malicious horse, they may try and bite you or deliberately try and kick you. Most of the time horses will kick out when they are scared, but they are not taking aim trying to hurt you except for the very rare case.”

In addition to protection, some horses require shoes for correction due to a variety of reasons including fungal infections that eat away at the hoof or bone issues.

“There is something called thrush that is really prominent in horses,” Munger said. “It’s a fungal infection that essentially replaces the horse’s foot with a deep pocket of black fungus. I would say 90 percent of horses have some varying degree of it, a small portion of which gets trimmed out each time I come.”

In all, Munger says it takes him about an hour to remove the shoes, trim the feet and put all of the shoes back on one horse. Most of his clients’ horses are trail horses or are used for cattle performance, although he does shoe race horses as well.

Race horses wear aluminum horseshoes instead of steel and require a more precise fit. Depending on the type of race horse, quarter horse or thoroughbred, it will have a toe grab on its shoe or it may be flat, Munger said. The toe grab gives the horse traction and allows them to dig into the track.

“The importance of that as a horseshoer is that the toe grab has to be dead centered with the track of the foot, otherwise it will make their foot turn and pull funny,” Munger said. “It will also make them hit their other leg with their foot or interfere and cause them not to run fast.”

Regardless of the type of horse or its use, care of the hooves is vital to the well-being of the animal. So the next time you procrastinate on trimming your 20-pound canine’s nails, just be thankful you do not have to nail steel shoes to a half-ton animal. 

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