Back in the summer, I took some action shots of Henry working. Often times, we’ll combine family outings with quick stops along the way for him to trim one or two horses. On this particular day, he had an old mule scheduled, so what follows is a little glimpse into the work of a farrier. (If you want to know more about what it’s like to be married to a horseshoer, read this archived post I wrote.)
(The little Superman in the background is my son, Levi.)
First, Henry picks up the foot (in this case a hind foot), and braces it on the inside of his thigh. He cleans out dirt, rocks, manure, etc. with an old hoof knife or a pick. With a good hoof knife, he trims the bar (horny tissue that parallels the frog), the sole (horny tissue that forms the bottom of the hoof), and the frog (triangle-shaped elastic tissue structure near the heel).
He quickly assesses how much to cut off, doing his best to work toward an ideal hoof form in all dimensions and planes. Trimming the interior of the hoof helps with the next step of gauging how much hoof wall he’ll need to take off.
He uses his nippers to clip the hoof wall, starting at toe and trimming back to the heel.
He starts again at the toe and trims to heel, freeing a large chunk of hoof wall. (Side note: dogs go nuts for hoof trimmings. It’s disgusting, but they’ll devour the stuff if given the chance.)
In an effort to prevent the hoof wall from chipping, he rounds off outside edge with a few clips of his nippers.
He cleans up with his hoof knife to check for pre-abscess pockets and prevent potential future infection.
He uses his rasp to level the bottom of the hoof wall to the desired plane.
For a barefoot mule (or horse) like this one, he usually takes the quarters (two sections of hoof wall between toe and heel) on hind feet down lower more than the toe and heel.
He rasps around the edge of the hoof wall to create a nice beveled edge, and then double checks his work. Normally he would bring the hoof forward on his knee and clean up (“dress up”) the outside of the hoof wall, but this older mule has ringbone (arthritis), and attempting to do this would be uncomfortable for both parties.
Henry has been working as a professional farrier for over eight years, so he can usually trim all four hooves of a well-behaved horse in 1o-20 minutes.
The job is both physically demanding and highly skilled, but it can appear deceptively easy because of the seamless fluidity of his movements, a product of the thousands of times he has performed them. For Henry, tending to the needs of this old mule is just part of a day’s work. No big deal.