Ag edition: Life as a Farrier

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“Asking a farrier if they’ve ever been kicked is like asking an electrician if they’ve ever been zapped,” laughs Randi Fisher.

Fisher has been kicked, bitten, head-butted and even had a horse fall on her, but says there is nothing she would rather do.

“The most rewarding thing is having a lame horse walk off sound, or seeing a horse that has been in pain running around the paddock, pain-free,” said Fisher, the proprietor of Fisher Farrier Service, based in Clearview Township.

Fisher’s great-grandfather was the town farrier and wheelwright in Grimsby, Ontario back in the horse and buggy days. She grew up in the Baxter area, listening to her grandfather tell tales of his father’s trade. She felt she was destined to do something farm related, and with sub-par tractor driving skills, she gravitated to horses. She says it is essential to remember that as a farrier her job is not about tools and equipment but living, breathing creatures that can experience fear and pain.

Fisher estimates there are at least 20 farriers working in the Simcoe County area and says there is plenty of work to keep everyone busy. During the peak summer season, she works five days a week and can treat 25-30 horses in a day.

Fisher learned the basics of her trade at the Heartland Horseshoeing School in Missouri. There is a school in Alberta and others in Texas and Oklahoma, but she chose the attend the one in Missouri where the man who literally wrote the book on shoeing horses is a member of the faculty. Throughout the 16-week program, she worked 12-13 hours a day Monday to Saturday visiting area farms and shoeing horses. The work, she says, is physically demanding. Following the training program, Fisher returned to Canada and spent the next two years apprenticing with established farriers. During that time she worked with one who taught her everything about doing the job well, and with another where she learned a lot of things that should be avoided.

Fisher says the farrier is an essential part of the equine health care team that typically includes a vet, a chiropractor and a dentist. She typically sees the horses in her care on a six-week rotation. Caring for horses’ hooves is definitely a science she says. In this area, the very wet environment causes a different set of challenges for horses than dry climates like Texas or Nevada. On any given day, she might have to deal with horses suffering from arthritis or other mobility issues, abscesses, or laminitis – a painful condition which can result in bones rotating or sinking within the hoof. In addition to trimming hooves and replacing shoes, treatment can involve creation of special therapeutic shoes to treat specific injuries. 

We caught up with Fisher at Mountain View Stables near Collingwood, owned by Melanie MacLachlan, where a trail ride service has funded an animal rescue operation for 13 years. MacLachlan says the horses come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are rideable, others never will be, but they will all live out their days in relative comfort. They currently house 21 horses, from ponies all the way to horses in their mid-30s.

MacLachlan is a behaviourist. Some of the horses she takes on have big problems and can be dangerous, but she works patiently with them to overcome issues.
Fisher has a large clientele, everything from “backyard horses” where a family keeps a couple of horses behind their suburban home, to places where the barns are so fancy she walks in and feels like she should remove her shoes, but the rescue horses at Mountainview hold a special place in her heart.

On the day we visited, Fisher was treating Maple – once a Mennonite driving horse that arrived at the farm super thin and still lactating. Fisher discovered a broken Borium shoe embedded in Maple’s hoof, which would have been quite painful. Maple stood patiently while Fisher filed her hooves, applied new front shoes and treated the front feet with epoxy to improve the longevity of the hooves. Maple tends to “throw her shoes” within about four weeks of being shoed, versus the average six to eight weeks, ensuring plenty of return visits for Fisher. A calm demeanour when you are working with horses is key, according to Fisher.

“A horse can detect your heartbeat from four feet away,” she said. “If you are calm, nine times out of 10 the horse will be calm.”

Still, a lot of farriers wind up getting out of the business early because the work is hard on the body with lots of knee and back issues.

“Horse people are crazy,” she quips. “If you get hurt you pick yourself up and go back to work with a limp.” 

Fisher does not go to work every day worrying whether she’s likely to get kicked. A bigger worry is whether she’ll have to chase a two-legged client to get paid. 


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