Category Archives: Preparing for Trimming

Preparing for Trimming


A shoeing bay offers the best in hoof care facilities.

While many shoers work on horses in cross-ties, David Farmilo prefers a simple shoeing bay. Of course that means you’ve got to convince horse owners to invest in an inexpensive shoeing facility.

A farrier from Oakbank, Australia, Farmilo is convinced that using a shoeing bay can make your hoof care work much easier. The simple setup also pays off for owners and trainers by providing a place to handle health care, dentistry, washing and grooming chores.

A speaker at the recent International Hoof-Care Summit, Farmilo’s shoeing bay is easy to construct either outside or in a barn and makes working with any size horse or pony easier and safer.

All an owner needs is a concrete slab, two 18 foot lengths of 2.5” diameter galvanised pipe, four base plates and four dynabolts. The 2.5” pipe offers strength and stability. Using galvanised elbows or a pipe bender eliminates bolts or seams that can snag either the horse or the farrier.

Bolting the flanges to the floor rather than setting the flanges in concrete allows the owner to remove the pipes to increase space for demonstrations, discussion groups or other needs.

Using rubber matting or bolting canvas conveyor belt material to the floor keeps an agitated horse from slipping. Deadening the sound of the hooves, the matting can also help calm a horse.

Farmilo recommends covering the concrete with rubber matting or conveyor belt material to keep everyone safe when the floor gets wet or slippery. While roughened concrete is an option, a restless horse can quickly wear down his nicely trimmed hooves.

The 10 foot long shoeing bay provides a horse with comfort and allows him to move slightly on his restraint rope.

Farmilo says the four foot high side rail is the ideal height to contain the horse while allowing an escape route for the farrier on either side. “This height allows the farrier to move or throw himself sideways and under the rails” he says. All the farrier has to do is remember to duck his head the first time.

In the shoeing bay, Farmilo cross-ties horses to the four foot high rails with two lead ropes attached to baling twine for safety. A light breeching rope is placed behind the horse’s rump.

The side rails control the horse’s movement. “In cross ties, you can have a horse quickly turn 180 degrees on you, but that won’t happen in the shoeing bay,” says Farmilo.

I always cross-tie using two lead ropes tied at any place to the rails with baling twine which will break under pressure. The shoeing bay is long enough that a light rope across the back of the shoeing bay does not cause the horse to feel overly contained. The rope can be moved forward or back to allow for the length of the individual horse. It is an added safety measure in case the horse moves back and gives the farrier an easy exit path.”

In cross-ties, the horse will often play the farrier against the holder. But horses quickly figure out that the shoeing bay is an area where they learn to stand quietly. Plus it’s extremely safe for both the farrier and the horse.”

Farmilo says the results of using a shoeing bay will amaze you. “Horses will be so much easier to control and you’ll be able to improve the standard of your work,” he says. “You won’t need someone to hold every horse. While the horses are still cross-tied, this setup allows the owner or trainer to see more of what’s going on.

Farmilo doesn’t have any trouble shoeing bad-mannered horses in a shoeing bay. “I don’t like to have clients hold horses when I am shoeing,” he says. “Instead, I prefer to get my clients to sit in a folding chair, get them a cup of coffee and have them watch what I do. As I move to the next foot, they can move their chairs so they can see what I’m doing.”


2 lengths galvanised pipe 2.5” diameter x 18 foot long

4 x 2.5” galvanised flanges

8 x 0.5” dynabolts

4 x 2.5” galvanised elbows if no pipe bender available


As per diagram.

For elbows either bend pipe in pipe bender

Or use ready-made elbows.

Attach to floor with either 2.5” galvanised flanges dynabolted to the concrete or set the pipes directly into the concrete.

Rubber matting or conveyor belt matting on the floor helps settle the horse and prevents slipping (attach conveyor belt matting with dynabolts)

Horse should be cross-tied using two lead ropes (attached the rails with binding twine for safety) and also a light breeching rope should be put behind the horse’s rump.



In a previous article I praised the advantages of a shoeing bay, and offered plans for the construction of the same. The overwhelming requests for plans that I have received has been amazing – it gladdens the cockles of this old farrier’s heart to think of shoeing bays springing up all around Australia, making the workload of the farrier so much easier and safer.

It was when one such request also included the question ‘what if I just make a rail on one side, and use the wall on the other’ that I decided to clarify just why the dimensions of the shoeing bay and its construction are so important.

It is so easy to accept the method of carrying out any simple task without questioning exactly why the task is carried out in that manner, and I thank him for asking that simple question.

I remember the story of the young bride who always cooked a leg of lamb after cutting off the knuckle and discarding it. Her young husband queried why she did this, after all it was his favourite piece, and she said in some surprise that she didn’t know – her Mum had always done it, so she assumed it was the right thing to do. On asking Mum why she cut the knuckle off, the reply was that her roasting dish was not long enough to fit the knuckle. Moral of the story – always ask the question why.

Back to the shoeing bay – the height of the rails, four feet from the ground, not only contains the horse but also allows the farrier an escape route on either side. To be boxed in, especially against a wall, by a horse that erupts for whatever reason is sheer folly. The height of the rails allows the farrier to move or throw himself sideways and under the rails if there is any trouble. All the farrier has to do is remember to duck his head the first time. It’s guaranteed that he will remember to duck his head if it happens a second time.

The length of the shoeing bay, ten feet long, is comfortably long enough to contain the horse, and to allow him a little leeway to move on his restraint. I always cross tie using two lead ropes. The shoeing bay is long enough that a light breeching rope across the back of the shoeing bay does not cause him to feel overly contained. The breeching rope can be moved forwards or backwards to allow for the length of each horse. The breeching rope is an added safety measure in case he moves back, and again gives the farrier an easy exit path.

The diameter of the pipe used for the construction of the bay, 2.5” galvanised pipe, offers strength and stability and is not going to buckle or give way under any circumstances. Using galvanised elbows or a pipe bender to achieve the bends eliminates any bolts or seams that can snag either the horse or the farrier. I have bolted flanges to the floor, rather than setting the poles into concrete, which gives me the flexibility of removing either or both of the shoeing bays to increase space for demonstrations, discussion groups or for the occasional outdoors party.

The conveyor belt rubber attached to the floor with dynabolts serves a three-fold purpose – I use canvas conveyor belt so an agitated horse will not slip on it, even if urinated on, and the matting actually helps the acoustics, deadening the sound of the hoofs, and consequently calming the horse. Also, a restless horse will not wear out his feet like he would on a concrete surface.

A purpose built bay for your own horses can certainly be situated in a smaller area than I would use. I have a lot of horses brought to me for reconstructive hoof work, horses that are unbroken and have never been inside a shed. My blacksmith’s shop to cater for this is forty foot square, with fifteen foot ceilings, and is a very open space, containing only two shoeing bays both with canvas conveyor belt floor covering. Anvil stands, plus forge and tool trolley are the only other goods in the shop, and I have yet to find a horse, unbroken or otherwise, that has objected to entering the shed or the shoeing bay. The largest horse I have shod in the bay was a 19.2 hands Shire horse, who had never been inside a shed and who stood quite happily for two hours while I hot shod him with size eleven shoes.

The addition of some relaxing music in the background results in an environment as good as it gets for both farrier and horse, and while I have the occasional objection from clients who don’t want to listen to classical music, I’ve yet to find a horse who objects.


There is only one way to tie up a horse while you are trimming or shoeing it and that is loosely. No matter how much you molly coddle that horse, pamper it or talk to it, your horse is a wild animal and there is just no predicting when an Afghanistan Climbing Camel is going to walk around the corner of the stall and frighten the heck out of your horse.

If you don’t want him to break his neck trying to escape from that camel, then make sure he is loosely tied. If he is serious about breaking free, he should be able to pull back and be free of the rope without taking the fence, gate or stall with him.

On one of my outback courses last year, I missed seeing that one of the participants had securely tied her horse to the rails despite my previous safety warning never to do this. Not only did he try to break free and fail, but he came down hard on my foot.

During another recent course, the horses were tied to the rails while we had a lunch break. Returning to the yards, the horses were dozing in the sun when one became startled at our sudden arrival. Of course it was the one horse which had been incorrectly tied. The horse pulled back hard, cutting off its air supply in the process, and frightening itself even more. By the time it did this three times, its eyeballs were about ready to pop out of its sockets. I grabbed a loop knife from my pocket and hacked through the halter rope freeing the horse which then fell backwards. The whole thing took about five seconds, and the horse was close to collapse. When its owner arrived, I explained why his new halter was now in two pieces.


Many years ago I tied a horse to a weldmesh gate using baling twine. While I was under her front leg the horse pulled back, but she was so tall that as she lifted her head she actually lifted the gate off its double hinge. As she ran backwards, the gate hit me in the middle of the back and flattened me onto the ground where I was sandwiched like a piece of toast in a waffle iron.


I invite feedback from all my course participants and a recent feedback email gave me a jolt. It read “Changing from a participant to a viewer this time was lucky for me in a way as it allowed me to be in the right place at the right time (ie not under my horse) to pick up a great piece of knowledge from David that has enabled me to solve ongoing mystery injuries with my horses. David mentioned that if a horse won’t stand still when a farrier is doing the front feet to look at where the farrier is standing. He said that quite a few farriers pick up the horse’s leg then drag it out to the side to work on it; an unnatural and often painful position for the horse which means they will often try to ‘escape’ the situation. Well, the chiropractor has been telling me for ages that my horses have torn/scarred pectorals (which I found odd since they are very quiet, not in work and we have no slippery areas). My farrier came on Friday and I noticed, yes, he drags the leg out to the side and hangs on to it when the horse rears in response to the pain. I saw immediately how this ongoing damage to all my horses’ pectorals is occurring and how they are re-injured every six weeks.”

This is a really sad state of affairs and can be the result of a combination of several factors all of which involve total misunderstanding of the horse.

Horsemanship is a very important part of being a farrier. The horse is a flight animal and horses fear being trapped and will immediately get defensive. Read the body language of the horse – good trimming and shoeing is only possible by doing this.

Discomfort is part of being a farrier, and for those who are not farrier fit, you often need to be in an uncomfortable position to enable the horse to be comfortable. Fear of being close to the horse often leads to pain for the horse when the leg is pulled out too wide. Also a person who fears being kicked or struck will then tense up instead of going loose – the horse will pick up on this and become nervous.

Poor trimming and shoeing result in pain for the horse. Many horses find it impossible to stand still even on flat surfaces because their out of balance feet are causing great pain in their shoulders or back. For these horses, it is important to get one foot corrected as quickly as possible (usually the worst one in front but sometimes a hind) then the horse will allow you to correct the rest comfortably. You may often think that the recalcitrant horse is being that way through bad manners, but 98% of all these problems arise from bad feet (ie pain).

When you pick up a horse’s front leg, he has what I call a ‘Happy Spot’. This is an area of about one foot square that when you hold the foot up off the ground at the fetlock joint, there is no tension at all, and the horse is standing on his other three legs perfectly balanced and comfortable. That is the spot to work on the hoof.

However, most people then pull the leg out another foot, and then up another six inches so they can step in and work on the leg where they are comfortable. That immediately puts the horse out of his comfort zone, the hoof has been removed from its ‘Happy Spot’ and the horse will not stand there for more than a few seconds before it starts to shift its weight, pull its leg back and then get branded as an ‘idiot’ or as a ‘bad horse’. This is even more evident with a hind leg.

With a hind leg, it is picked up in exactly the same way, and you find where the horse’s leg is relaxed by simply holding the hoof and taking it out the back to find that Happy Spot – it may be a lot lower than what you expect, it could be a little bit higher, or out the back a bit further, or back under the horse a little, but wherever that relaxed spot is, that is where you work. Another tip – when working on the hind leg, the Happy Spot is when the hock is at no less than a 90 degree angle

Not all horses are comfortable with their leg held in the normal workable position. If your horse is of the mature variety and becomes agitated during the trimming or shoeing procedure, understand that he is finding it hard to flex his legs up that high any more, so lower the leg down to where he is happy and he will relax and then you may continue. I regularly shoe some older horses with their hoof no higher than 300 mm (one foot) off the ground, because they are stiff in the shoulders and hips, yet they lead an active working life.

Learn to stand in a balanced posture when working under the horse. If you push, he has to push. But if you are both balanced, you will both be able to relax and enjoy the company. Also, in order for the horse to balance when you pick up a leg, he has to be able to spread his legs. All he is doing is trying to balance. You need to allow the horse to stand square with the fourth leg in the Happy Spot.

There are now more and more people handling horses who are not natural horsemen with horse blood in their veins so to speak. Many are embarking on a horse career at a later age in life, and while they may seek tuition at riding they are lacking tuition in horsemanship which should always include handling the legs. A favourite bush terminology for them would be that they are ‘haunted’ about handling the legs and this transmits fear to a horse which creates a very dangerous situation.

I would be a liar if I said I never felt fear around any horse. However, when around horses it is necessary to transmit confidence. I found many years ago that horses cannot decode whistling, and whistling has saved me from many potentially dangerous situations.

At my courses I tell the participants to always introduce themselves to the horse, saying that they wouldn’t go up to a filly in the local mall and just pick up her leg without introducing themselves first. This always provokes a laugh, but people do tend to ignore good manners when around the legs of a horse and hopefully this will change their attitude in future.

Novice horse owners take riding lessons where they learn to sit correctly, and it is important to realise that picking up the legs takes just as much teaching and understanding to achieve mutual cooperation and respect. There are many positions for correctly handling the legs which I cover in my DVD and my courses, and it is not just a matter of standing anywhere and expecting the horse to cooperate.

When approaching a horse with a bad shoeing record I listen intently to all the negative comments put forth by the owner which would make most people fearful to proceed. I approach the horse, introduce myself to the horse in a friendly manner and explain to him that we have never met and I am not going to do anything to cause him pain, and I don’t expect him to cause me any pain. I approach him on an equal basis and afford him the respect that I also expect from him in return. Most of these horses become soft and pliable and cooperative, often yawning, licking lips, dropping their head and going to sleep. People attending horsemanship courses understand this when dealing with the top half of the horse, but promptly forget about it when handling the legs.

If you are having trouble with the horse not wanting to stand kindly while he is having shoes nailed on, then just go back and have a look what nails you are actually using. You may find it is a whole lot better to go back down a size in nails for the sake of the horse and to achieve a successful and calm completion of the job. There is absolutely no reason for a horse to become nervous or jittery when the shoes are being nailed if it is being nailed with the correct selection of nails into the correct shoe for that size hoof after the hoof has been correctly balanced.

Horses are generally very reasonable, and if a horse is fearful of having shoes nailed on, or fearful of men or fearful of lifting its leg or whatever, it almost certainly indicates a previous bad experience. It takes time and patience to win back the confidence and respect and to teach him that everything is going to be OK now.

On the rare occasion that a horse is really playing up, and won’t be persuaded to be nice, I have no hesitation in calling it quits for the day rather than persisting and spoiling a beautiful friendship.


This question was thrust upon me the other day when I was asked to define the difference. Any farrier will tell you that he learns very quickly to identify these two categories of equine handlers, because the smooth transition of the day’s work and everyone’s safety depends on his instant assessment of not just the horse but also the horse owner or handler.

You may think he is just a farrier; however the need to survive has taught him to be a part-time psychologist who often resembles a contortionist with a quick mind and a good sense of humour, and with a very high pain tolerance.

A horseman is usually a competitive person or stockman who has experienced the value of training his horses to be confident and obedient, and they in return have developed a high degree of empathy and respect. The farrier can usually relax around these horses and expect not to be confronted with any sudden disasters, and thereby do the job he is there for.

The horse lover is the softy who loves all animals, has to have a horse around him to complete the menagerie, rides for pleasure and indulges all animals like everyone’s favourite granny. Shoeing the horse lover’s horses can be an entertaining experience for the farrier.

There was a time when I used to believe whatever these people told me, such as when I noticed the grey mare had no hind shoes. ‘Oh, she has never needed them until now!’ said the client. So I bent down to lift the near-hind leg and woke up some time later minus some top teeth. I found out later I was the last in a long line of injured farriers, whereas a true horseman would have pre-warned me.

Lack of discipline training in pet horses, such as biting the farrier whenever he bends over, can also have far reaching effects. After a long day and many such bites I arrived home somewhat late and went straight in to shower, my wife came in to enquire about my late arrival, saw all the (love) bites up my ribs and shoulders, promptly put two and two together, came up with ten and I slept on the couch for a few nights.

Many well meaning horse lovers come prepared with a bag of carrots, and then each time the horse nips me or pulls away, he is rewarded with a lovely carrot, which encourages him to nip again as soon as the carrot is gone.

Often the well meaning horse lover just doesn’t realise the importance of preparation for the arrival of the farrier. One such morning in winter I pulled up at the horse yard on time at 7.30 am and could see the three horses still out in the paddock, then the owner came flying out of the house wearing a long pink dressing gown and slippers. After calling and calling the horses, which duly ignored her, she ventured into the paddock with a dipper of oats. This really got their attention, so she gave each of them a mouthful and they proceeded to follow her into the yard where I was waiting to get started.

She was about ten paces from success when the bossy gelding decided that if he couldn’t get the oats he would get anything, took a good mouthful of the pink dressing gown and ran backwards in fright with teeth still clamped tight. In the cold of that morning all the buttons up the front of the gown went off like crackers and it became obvious the good lady was not prepared for horse work. The end result was the horses all bolted back to the paddock and would not return for fear of the pink spinnaker.

Horse lovers live for the friendship of their animals but don’t seem to get to enjoy the full use of them because of these unplanned disasters. It is however, character building for the visiting farrier.

I have learned over the years that it is necessary to take time to guide and help these people plan their facilities better which in turn helps themselves and others stay out of trouble easier. A dedicated shoeing bay area helps teach the horse to be tied up and stand patiently for grooming as well as shoeing. Having the horses ready for the farrier when he arrives is a great incentive for him to want to come back and shoe them the next time too.

Sometimes though, potential disaster can turn into success. I was shoeing a young Arab mare in the driveway for June and Fred – it was the mare’s first set and she was being a bit testy. It began to rain so I suggested we move into the carport under cover. I noticed that Fred had all his gardening tools hung up around the edges and decided it should be OK so long as I was careful. But I didn’t see the garden rake leaning against the post.

The mare was really putting on an act now and I don’t get violent – I was just tolerating it when she slammed her foot down on my toe and jumped sideways, swished her tail which got caught on the hanging shovel and it fell along with several other implements sounding like a runaway bull in a junk yard. The mare was really bouncing around now with eyes like saucers. Finally she stepped on the rake and the handle shot up and belted her in the ribs. She stood stock still from then on quite convinced that I had complete control over all those implements of torture. It would have made a good ‘how not to’ movie.

The fact is however that both the horseman and the horse lover derive pleasure from their horses in their own ways; for me, in hindsight, it has been a wonderful learning experience, and I thank them all.