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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Pedicure for the Belgians: No Small Feat

Ashley and Misty, our two Belgian horses, spend their days wandering, trotting and occasionally gamboling over the rocky glacial moraine in our pasture. Two months after the snow melted, we began to notice splits in their hooves. They were long overdue for a hoof trimming. The Farmer was making his usual trek to Timmie’s one morning when he noticed the Hearthstone Farrier Services’ truck. He walked right up to Dale Gladwin, took his card and made an appointment. He made sure to warn the farrier that we had very big girls.
On the big day, the horses began to whinny as Dale backed his trailer up to the stable and hopped out. I noted that this man, who would soon attempt to manhandle over 3600 lbs of Belgian heavy horse, was no taller than me.
The Farmer had secured the girls in their tie stalls, where they were eating their breakfast corn and hay. Their jaws stopped simultaneously when they saw Dale. The Farmer had cleared out the main area of the stable, outside the stalls. The girls watched as he fastened cross ties to either side of the room and stood with arms outstretched to measure the distance. Ashley snorted in commentary.
“So you want to go first, do you, girl?” the Farmer responded. Ashley allowed herself to be led out of her stall and clipped into the chains. She tugged on them gently to test their strength, then relaxed and set her gaze on Dale.
The farrier spoke in soft tones as he let the horse sniff his gloves. He asked her if she had a sore foot. Ashley shifted her weight nervously. She turned to bite at a fly on her side but the chains restricted her movement. She met my eyes and snorted.
“It’s ok, girl,” I said, and sprayed her down with repellent so that she wouldn’t fuss as much. Dale ran his hand down her front leg and tugged on the fur at the fetlock. The hoof lifted, easy as pie. He turned to straddle the leg and bent it up between his knees, exposing the underside of the hoof. As he reached for his clippers, Ashley stiffened and pulled her foot back out of his grip. He scolded her gently, and repeated the process. Several times. He suggested I feed her a bit of corn: anything to distract her. I held the corn bowl under her nose and she slurped at it, dropping wet grain onto his back, in his hair and down the neck of his shirt. Finally he was able to clip her hoof, brush the soft frog pad underneath, and check for any damage. By this time he was covered in sweat. And wet corn.
Next he pushed his tool block under Ashley’s nose and firmly pulled her leg out in front of her to rest upon it. With her leg extended like that, she looked like a spa client ready to have her toenails polished. As Dale straddled her foot once more to file her hoof, she quickly pulled it back from him, tossing him into the hay. I shot a glance to see if he would lose his temper. He just picked himself up, brushed himself off and walked in a big circle, muttering under his breath.
This painstaking process continued until all of Ashley’s hooves had been nicely cleaned, trimmed and shaped. When she refused to move, he gently tapped at her ankle until it annoyed her enough to lift her foot. It only took about an hour and a half…I told her how pretty she was and she snorted at me.
Next customer! Misty was nervous from the get-go, after watching Ashley fussing about. She broke her cross ties in the first five minutes. We refastened her and the Farmer and I each held a lead tied to her halter as back-up. Then we watched as she flung the farrier into the hay, again and again.
“Okay sweetheart. I know you’re stronger than I am,” he cajoled, “now be a good girl and give me your foot.”
Nothing doing. He tapped her ankles. She shifted her weight. He massaged and pulled at her leg. She just turned and looked at him. I tried to distract her with corn and she just took the bowl in her teeth and threw it across the room. Soon the Farmer had an idea. He slid a piece of plywood under the horse’s hoof, and the farrier chipped at her hoof with a chisel. And that’s how we got Misty’s front hooves trimmed. By the time he moved to the back hooves, however, Misty was losing all patience. And even a gentle horse might turn to kicking if her usual fussiness doesn’t work. So he called it a day. Two hours, and six out of eight hooves trimmed. Not bad for our first time.
After splashing his face and downing a glass of ice water, Dale gave us our bill. We were amazed that he had only charged for a regular trim, even though the job had taken two hours.
“You have to charge us more for your time,” the Farmer said.
“No – I consider it an investment,” Dale replied. I was amazed that he agreed to come back in another eight weeks. We thanked him and promised to do our homework
The next day I tried to lift Misty’s hoof using the lead rope as a sling, the way Dale had taught us. She flung me into a still-warm pile of manure and I made a mental note to muck out the stalls before trying such foolishness in the future.

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