There’s a reason that “no hoof, no horse” is a well-worn adage in the horse industry. Given the impact of your farrier on your horse’s health and soundness, that adage could just as easily read “no farrier, no horse.” Think about it: if your horse is on a regular trimming and shoeing schedule, then your farrier sees your horse at least once every six weeks. Unless your horse is sick or injured, that means your farrier assesses your horse more often than your veterinarian does. And just like your veterinarian, your farrier plays an active and crucial role in keeping your horse sound, enhancing its performance and maintaining healthy feet.
According to Chris Martelli, professional farrier, that’s exactly why your horse needs a good farrier who not only has the skills and expertise necessary to do the job, but also the attention to detail and level of devotion to do the job well.
“I owe it to my clientele’s horses to be there for them whenever they need me,” Chris said. “I see myself as part of their team, just like a physical trainer for a professional football team.”
Chris, who is based in Ocala, Fla., trims and shoes Thoroughbreds, jumping and eventing horses who regularly compete at the highest level of their disciplines. He has worked for such clients as two-time Olympian Scott Keach, Olympian eventer Lauren Nicholson, international 5* event competitor Liz Halliday-Sharp, Olympian Will Coleman and others.
“These horses work hard every day, and my team and I owe it to them to be there day-in and day-out to assist in their soundness,” Chris continued. “For example, I can lose up to a year’s worth of work that I’ve done to help bring a horse along in the blink of an eye. One mistake can result in a few days off to a week off, then a month, then a season, and there go your Olympics hopes.”
In 2010, Chris started a 36-week course studying every aspect of shoeing with the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in Lexington, Ky. After completing his studies, in conjunction with a two-year apprenticeship, he received his full diploma in 2012. Also in 2012, he completed the American Farriers Association (AFA) Certified Farrier (CF) exam. In total, Chris opted to complete seven years of apprenticeships under such farriers as Chris Beymer, Alan Frye and Bob Hodges, learning to shoe a variety of horses. Now, Chris owns and operates Fox Hill Forge in Ocala, Fla., working with elite eventers and jumpers. Many of his clients have competed in the World Equestrian Games, the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and other top competitions including multiple Olympic games.
For this blog, we asked Chris about the top five things he wished all horse owners knew about farriers, and here’s what he had to say.
- Recognize that your farrier is educated in more than years. “I wish clients realized how much education farriers can bring to the table,” Chris said. “We don’t see the same 16 horses every day. At my busiest, I was trimming and shoeing 800 Thoroughbreds a month. If you break that down at seven years times 800 head times four feet, I’ve seen over 22,000 feet with multiple veterinarians and trainers. It’s basically like getting a 20- or 25- year education in seven years.”
- Go simple. “My best clients are true horsemen, who know that 99% of the time, the KISS method is the way to go. Keep it simple. There are enough variables in the horse world already. My goal is to minimize those so the horse can maximize his own natural abilities,” Chris said.
- Clients who educate themselves on hoof care, hoof health and hoof anatomy usually come out on top. “Acquire knowledge so that you can tell a good shoe job from a bad one,” Chris advised. “I’ll answer every question an owner asks me for just that reason. So many problems come from feet, and if horse owners could educate themselves in farriery, they wouldn’t lack knowledge when it comes to seeing when a shoe job is right or when it’s wrong. Also, you’re the one paying the bill. If you know something’s wrong, speak up. There needs to be a demand from the client to make things change.”
- Update your farrier on everything that goes on with your horse, from injury to illness to changes in footing. “Communication is huge because we don’t see your horse every day, but you do,” Chris said. “I’ll go back to see a horse and I know something’s different, but the owner doesn’t remember or didn’t notice when something extremely minute may have happened. Have an open line of communication with your farrier and learn to know your horse inside and out so that you know when things change, and then communicate that to us so we can work together better.”
- Respect your farrier’s time. “I only have so many hours in a day, and time is so important to me because I can only help so many horses,” Chris said. “A lack of respect for my time is probably the most discouraging and frustrating thing, like when I arrive at a barn, and the horse isn’t ready for me yet because it’s still out in the pasture. This does nothing but force every other appointment back for the rest of the day. Remember the golden rule, and don’t forget that the last time I made a concession for your account, the person who suffered after you may ask the same favor from me next month in front of your stop.”
Whether your horse is an elite athlete at the peak of its career or your beloved backyard trail horse, your horse needs a good farrier who knows how to do the job. If you’re lucky enough to already know a good farrier, try out one of Chris’s five tips next time he comes by. Your farrier will thank you, and so will your horse.