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.