Health, safety & welfare considerations for successful hoof care & sound horses
It pays to take care of your hoof care provider to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your horse!
Hoof care professionals (abbreviated here to HCP’s and include farriers, equine podiatrists and trimmers) face a relatively high risk of trauma injury and chronic injury as well as mental and emotional burn out and compassionate fatigue. This is due to the tremendous physical risk of working with horses hooves as well as risk of mental and emotional strain as a (typically) self employed farrier, trimmer or equine podiatrist.
Most HCP’s suffer acute and chronic pain and trauma injury which might be completely avoidable if working conditions were more suitable. This article outlines the ways in which hoof care professionals might experience health conditions and how these might be lessened or avoided altogether. It is aimed at both hoof care professionals and horse owners for greater awareness and so they might work together in a more healthy, safe and efficacious manner for the mutual benefit of the professional, the owner and of course the horse.
Author Beccy Smith trimming a physically compromised horse under vet supervision; and in an appropriately prepared environment
Types of trauma experienced by the hoof care professional
Accident trauma injury
According to Forge magazine; “In a recent survey conducted by the British Farriers and Blacksmiths Association (BFBA) has highlighted the risks farriers are exposed to during hoof care appointments.
349 farriers and farriery apprentices took part in the survey; 76% reported a minimum of one injury requiring hospital treatment and 32% reported visiting a hospital three or more times.
In the study, fractures accounted for 42% of the injuries sustained with 56% of the injuries resulting from a kick from a hindlimb. 38% of the respondents reported a lasting physical impairment and 22% required more than four weeks off work.
When asked to consider the most serious injury sustained, 31% of farriers felt that it could have been unavoidable.
Being pre-warned of known behaviours (22%), improved handling (46%), a better environment (30%) and sedation (41%) were among the recommendations suggested for potentially avoiding accidents. 60% cited mis-behaviour as the cause of the injury sustained.”(1)
On the whole, many if not most trauma might be avoided if greater care is taken to provide a safe working environment.
Chronic injury/wear and tear
They type of work done (trimming and/or shoeing horses) by HCP’s clearly increases the risk of tissue breakdown and long-term chronic health issues. Some of this can be mitigated by the HCP taking better care of their body and fitness however unnecessary wear and tear due to ill prepared horses can be avoided.
Horses don’t necessarily choose to stand on 3 legs without some sort of training and positive reward or behaviour shaping. Without appropriate preparation, horses can be reluctant to pick up their hooves and hold them off the ground themselves for long enough for the assessment, map, trim or shoeing job to be completed to the best of the HCP’s ability, and to ensure the horse receives what it needs.
Having to haul the hooves off the ground, keep them off the ground long enough to do a quality job and avoid being stamped on or pulled about by a reluctant equine partner is not only exhausting, it can increase the risk of injury and trauma and create unwanted stress experienced by all parties. Simply increasing the appointment time creates unnecessary pressure on the HCP to meet the needs of his or her clients on the day. Many horse owners don’t realise the impact reluctant equine partners have on the short term and long terms well-being of the HCP.
Lame or posturally challenged horses can be more difficult to trim due to pain or balance issues exacerbated during trimming/shoeing. Properly executed positive reinforcement training can go a long way towards helping your horse and HCP during appointments, however some horses need additional support (eg vet support or therapy) in order for the best possible hoof care to be provided and executed. Doing the best possible job can assist with lameness and postural health and help with future hoof care appointments too!
It is not the HCP’s job to train and prepare a horse for effective hoof care appointments, although some HCP’s will gladly provide advice or recommend professionals who can assist the handler or owner in ensuring the best possible outcome for the horse, the owners and the HCP. Some HCP’s even offer horse training services which are separate to their trimming and shoeing services.
No HCP wants to do a job less than their best and no client wants anything less than the best for their horse so teamwork between owner, HCP and vet or other professionals is critical to ensuring a successful outcome during hoof care appointments.
Burn-out and compassionate fatigue
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
3. reduced professional efficacy.”(2)
According to a published review on compassion fatigue (CF), it is defined as “stress resulting from exposure to a traumatized individual. CF has been described as the convergence of secondary traumatic stress (STS) and cumulative burnout (BO), a state of physical and mental exhaustion caused by a depleted ability to cope with one’s everyday environment. Professionals regularly exposed to the traumatic experiences of the people they service, are particularly susceptible to developing CF”. (3)
A caring HCP can easily become emotionally involved with a case involving a lame horse and this might lead to trauma, observed second-hand; which can lead to compassion fatigue. A HCP with compassion fatigue might not be able to provide their best service and it can even lead to more serious mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression. I believe it can lead to a greater risk of burn-out and physical injury as it impacts on all aspects of a person’s state of being (mental, physical and emotional).
According to one article in American Farriers Journal online, in a poll asking HCP’s if they have experienced compassion fatigue, an incredible 89% of responders replied they had!
They go on to say “Providing care for someone else’s animal can be gratifying, heartbreaking and downright exhausting. Without an awareness of how the emotional highs and lows of the job can affect your long-term well-being, there is always a risk for life getting out of balance.” (4)
Physical burn-out and compassion fatigue are real risks to HCP’s and we all have a duty of care to be self-aware and take responsibility of our own health and safety and in order to contribute to the health and safety of others, and serve the horses we all love; to the best of our ability.
Health and Safety considerations for successful hoof care
In order for the very best hoof care outcome and to ensure a long term successful relationship between you and your HCP, we have provided some guidelines for consideration by the HCP and the owner/handler including: