There’s no such thing as a horse farm that doesn’t need veterinary and farrier services. And many, if not most, farms have found it beneficial to develop relationships with one particular vet and farrier rather than using an array of individuals. To explain the value of that strategy and share tips for finding appropriate pros for your barn, we talked to the owners of two very different equestrian facilities—one a small Arabian breeding and sales business focused on endurance riding; the other a bustling all-breed, all-discipline boarding and lesson barn.
Getting to Know You
“I think the relationships you establish with these professionals are key,” says Anna Shaw, who operates the boarding facility, Seven Oaks Equestrian Center, in Pikes Road, Alabama. “The biggest help is that they know the horses.”
By handling routine health-care needs, Shaw’s farm vet sees even healthy horses at least once a year. This hands-on knowledge and his good rapport with Shaw make it easy for him to keep Shaw updated on breaking health news in the area.
A vet who knows your horses, your program and your care preferences also has an advantage over an outsider in emergency situations, says Judy Einspahr, who owns Praire Park Arabians in Chapman, Nebraska. That familiarity can even help your regular vet more easily diagnose problems or spot potential trouble before it reaches critical proportions.
For instance, Shaw recalls when a horse on the farm had mild but persistent signs of colic. The farm vet recommended an ulcer medication, which did the trick. “If he had not known that horse for a while, he might not have picked up on that without a ton of diagnostics,” says Shaw.
The same theories apply to using a regular farrier: One who knows your horses—their history, special needs and jobs—has an advantage. At the least, says Shaw, he’ll know which shoes to stock for every visit. Plus, he’ll be better prepared than an outsider to handle any emergency shoeing situations.
Finding Dr. Right
When it comes to finding good professionals, Shaw and Einspahr believe in referrals. When Shaw moved into her current location and didn’t know anyone, she sought insider advice by talking to equestrians at local shows and tack shops. She also got input from her boarders.
When Einspahr’s long-time vet retired, she found that his younger partners didn’t have the same reproduction experience her farm needed. She asked other area breeders for advice and did a little trial-and-error experimenting to find her new vet.
Once you’ve found some promising professionals, Shaw and Einspahr suggest asking each prospect a series of questions that will help you pinpoint the individual most suitable to your facility’s needs.
What’s their specialty? A show barn probably doesn’t need a reproductive expert, while a breeding barn likely has little use for a vet whose primary experience revolves around competition horses. Likewise, vets and farriers may have more experience with—or a personal preference for—particular breeds.
Explain your program’s focus and the types of issues you typically face, then ask if that professional feels comfortable with that area of care, suggests Einspahr. If the vet or farrier is fairly new, don’t be afraid to ask about his schooling, too, she adds.
How much do they charge? You don’t need a complete listing of fees, but do ask the cost of services you’ll use frequently, such as farm calls, routine vaccinations, or a basic trim and shoe. You don’t need the cheapest vet or farrier, just one whose pricing seems fair.
Also, ask vets if they’ll split call charges when they’re attending more than one horse on your place, as Shaw’s farm vet does. Or, if they’ll split the call charge if several clients gather in a single spot on his route, as Einspahr’s vet does.
For Shaw, it’s also important that her vet and farrier bill her, rather than her clients. She then adds the charges into the clients’ monthly board bill, so they have just one check to write, rather than two.
Where do I fit into your clientele? “I don’t want to be client number 200,” says Shaw. “I want to be higher up the ladder in terms of response time. I also want to know if the vet will come in the middle of the night if we have an emergency.” With her primary vet, she knows that her farm will get his attention first if there are, for instance, emergencies of equal severity on her farm and someone else’s. “We can now guarantee to our customers that our vet will come when we call,” she says. Likewise, Einspahr’s vet is on-call 24 hours a day.
For farriers, says Shaw, it’s likewise good to find someone able to come out essentially on a moment’s notice if, for instance, a horse loses a shoe the night before a show.
Will they work with other professionals? A boarding barn owner must please her clients—some of whom may have a different vet or farrier than the one you’ve chosen. And sometimes you may simply need special services offered by another pro. Make sure that your farm’s preferred professionals understand and accept this. “Our vet knows we use other people, and that doesn’t bother him,” says Shaw.
Similarly, your vet and farrier should be willing to refer horses to colleagues who can get the job done. Both Einspahr and Shaw want professionals who are willing to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.”
Finally, says Shaw, it’s ideal if your vet and farrier are willing to work with each other. For example, if a horse needs to be tranquilized for a trim, Shaw’s farrier will work with the vet to find a mutually agreeable time to attend to the horse.
What about…? You may have other questions particular to your farm and your horses. For instance, a breeding barn might find it crucial for a vet to have a portable ultrasound machine and experience in collecting and shipping semen. Shaw appreciates that her vet will do free phone consultations. And Einspahr is thankful that her farrier is willing to do some basic training with her weanlings during their first few trimming sessions.
Talking with prospective vets and farriers also lets you assess their personality and “stall-side manner” with you and your horses. As Einspahr notes, some professionals have the technique and knowledge, but simply don’t know how to read or handle horses well.
Both Einspahr and Shaw prefer personable professionals willing to take the time to get to know them, their horses and their stable management methods. Someone willing to treat you as an equal, rather than a subordinate, is also key, says Einspahr.
Roll it all together, and you get down to the ultimate qualification. And that, according to Einspahr is fairly straightforward: Someone you can trust to give your horses and your clients’ horses the best care possible.