Carolinas Equestrian Trisha DingleIf you don't have a safe area to tie your horse, or if you have a horse who tends to be nervous when working on, it’s important that either you or an experienced handler is available to hold your horse for your EP. Even if you tie your horse, someone should always be available to jump in should the horse start dancing around. A few months ago my Arabian dressage gelding, Tango, threw a rear shoe – a very odd occurrence for him. My farrier was scheduled in two weeks, but I called to tell him just because I thought it was funny that only my horse could manage to pull a perfectly tight rear shoe in good footing. My farrier – who lives 1 ½ hours from me – immediately started trying to rearrange his schedule so he could come put the shoe back on. I told him not to worry as we only had one more show left but it was a small one and even giving Tango some off time I knew he’d be ready, and it wouldn’t hurt for him to have a week or two off. But I was touched that he was so willing to try and fit us in if I needed him to.

So often I hear horse owners and even professional trainers complaining about how their vet never calls them back, or how their farrier is always cancelling or not showing up as scheduled. This has always seemed odd to me, as I’ve never had that issue, and in fact the professionals I have worked with always seem to go out of their way to work with me. On the flip side I’ve also heard so many vets, chiropractors, farriers, and others lament about “bad clients” – clients who constantly cancel/reschedule appointments, unruly/dangerous horses, bad working conditions, etc. And while I’ll admit that there are some very unprofessional people working in this industry, I’ve found there are far more horse owners who don’t treat their horse’s caretakers properly. Yes, being a farrier or veterinarian is a “service industry”, but in the equine world these people are putting their lives in danger on a daily basis and deserve to be treated fairly. Below I’ve compiled a list of how I treat the people I work with, and hopefully by following my example you can maximize your relationship with these people for the good of your horse. (For simplicity’s sake I will be using the term “Equine Professional”, or “EP”, to refer in general to anyone you use to help care for your horse, including but not limited to farriers, veterinarians, body work specialists, dentists, etc).

Mutual Respect

First and foremost you must respect the EP you are using. If you doubt their skill, or feel that they are not competent in their chosen profession, then you will never be 100% happy and no matter how hard you try there will always be tension in your relationship. Many EP’s are more than happy to share their knowledge with you and explain what they are doing to your horse, but if you are constantly second guessing them or telling them how to do their job then the relationship just is not going to work. On that same note, it is important that you do use an EP who is comfortable discussing your horse’s case with you and is willing to listen to your concerns, as well as share his/her knowledge. If there is any doubt in your mind, you are better finding someone who you are perfectly comfortable with.

Be Professional

You must behave in the manner you wish your EP to behave. If you have a scheduled appointment be sure to keep it and be on time (if not early). Have your horse already caught and in a stall, or tied up. If your EP likes to schedule routine appointments ahead of time try to accommodate him/her. If your EP is scheduled to only do one procedure on one horse, don’t add two or three or four more horses when they show up (making them late for future appointments that day). And most importantly communicate – emergencies happen, so if you are running late let your EP know, or if you (or another client at the barn) need another horse looked at contact your EP ASAP to find out if he/she has room to add on to your appointment that day. Being professional really is just a continuation of having mutual respect with your EP – respect that they have a schedule and their time is precious, and your EP will most likely do the same in return.

Provide a Safe and Comfortable Work Environment

You don’t need to own a fancy show barn to make you EP comfortable. Ideally you should have a dry, level area for them, especially in inclement weather. Even a carport or garage (clutter free of course!) can serve in a pinch. It may take a little time and money, but making sure you have a comfortable area for your EP will pay off in the long run. If you do have a barn keep the area your EP is working in clutter free – barn tools, hay/shavings, and grooming equipment should all be neatly kept away from the area. If your horses are tied make sure the tie/cross ties are hung correctly and safely. Try to pick an area out of the wind and direct sunlight. In my barns I’ve gone the extra mile to hang heat lamps in our work area for winter and provide fans and cross ventilation for summer. I also pick an area where there is not a lot of foot traffic so my EPs and horses are not disturbed. By providing a safe and comfortable work environment you aren’t just minimizing injury to your EP and your horse, but also minimizing the chance that a mistake will be made from an uncomfortable EP (think about it: how well can a farrier trim a hoof if they can’t feel their fingers from the cold and their tools are slipping as they are getting rained on?).

Carolinas Equestrian Eqyptian Rose Sport HorsesHaving a safe grooming area that is clear of clutter and has good lighting is always appreciated by your EPs - especially if you include heat lamps for winter months and fans during the summer!Train Your Horse!

One of the number one complaints I hear from EPs is having to work on an unruly horse. Having bred horses for the past twenty years and worked with rescue horses, there is NO EXCUSE for a horse to misbehave when being worked on. Foals and young horses should be handled regularly, and even if their breeder or previous owner didn’t do their due diligence then it is your job to do so. If you have an older horse that acts up due to prior experiences, it is your job as the new owner to retrain him so that he is comfortable being worked with. You are not paying your EP to train your horse – and if it’s something you can’t do on your own it is your responsibility to pay a professional trainer to do so. And if you are a professional trainer, SHAME ON YOU if any horse in your care is repeatedly difficult for the EP.

That being said, even the best-behaved horse can and will act up when it is in pain and/or scared. It is important that you know the difference between a horse in discomfort and one being belligerent, and if you aren’t able to determine the difference it is important that you leave the horse handling to someone with more experience. Keep in mind that your emotional level will affect the horse as well – when my “child” Tango was in the hospital I, a professional trainer and equine rehabilitator, was a basket case. Tango sensed my anxiety and was much better off having my friend hold him while the vets worked on him.

Along these lines, it is best that you discuss ahead of time with your EP how discipline will be handled. I know many horse owners get upset when their EP disciplines their horse, but if you aren’t going to react when a horse misbehaves then you can’t expect your EP to sit back and risk being injured. The EPs I work with know I expect a certain behavior from all my horses, and if they misbehave the EPs immediately back up and let me do the discipline (as they know it will be effective and end the undesired behavior immediately). That being said, if I am not in the immediate area I have complete trust in all my EPs that they will discipline the horse correctly and fairly.

Perks & Bonuses

The question of tipping your EP (specifically farriers) comes up often. This of course is purely a personal preference – as a “starving horse trainer” I am on such a limited budget that I do not tip my EPs; however that being said I know that it is a thankless job and generally EPs do not charge what they are worth and are mostly self employed, so tipping is always appreciated. I do try to show my appreciation in other ways – depending on their schedule I will offer to buy them lunch, and for EPs traveling a distance I’ve offered my guest bedroom and additional meals. Even little things like a gift basket at Christmas, a card on their birthday, or a beer at the end of a long day, go far in building a repoire with your EP and showing them that you do appreciate how hard they work.

Communicate About Payment

There’s nothing worse than working a long day only to have your client ask if they can post date a check! EPs have bills too, and many are self-employed. So the best way to avoid any animosity is to speak with your EP ahead of time to discuss payment options. Any new EP I hire I always ask what their general charges are and whether they bill or expect payment at time of service, as well as what payments they accept – personal check, credit/debit card, PayPal. And yes, some of my EPs are fine with post-dated checks, but that’s always something I ask before the scheduled appointment. As a professional trainer I also discuss payment of EPs with my clients, and include it in my training/boarding contracts. In general I do not advance any funds for client horses – it is their responsibility to arrange payment with the EP. And if they have not done so ahead of time the service is not performed. If you are a trainer or barn manager it is important that you support your EPs when it comes to payment – if you have a client with a history of non-payment or bounced checks to EPs, it is your responsibility to protect your EP and not seek their services for a client’s horse until a payment agreement between your client and your EP has been reached.

Loyalty

If you would not recommend your EP to your best friend, then chances are you need to find someone new. One thing that goes a long way towards keeping a strong relationship with your EP is loyalty and a show of support. It is also important that your team of EPs have a mutual respect for one another – they don’t have to like each other, but they should respect each other as professionals and be willing to work together for the good of the horse. If you are constantly seeking second opinions by changing what EP you use, or fire one of your EPs because another says he’s not doing his job well, you will soon find no one is willing to work with you. This goes back to my very first point – if you don’t have a mutual respect, then you can’t expect them to go out of their way to provide for you and your horse.

I hope you find what I’ve included in this blog useful, and that it helps you form a strong team to properly care for your horses. Even if your “team” only consists of a farrier and veterinarian, it is important that all three of you are able to focus on the proper care of your horse, and following the protocol above will greatly increase that chance. My personal team includes me (as trainer and owner), farrier, veterinarian, holistic veterinarian, massage therapist, dentist, and saddle fitter. I am happy to say that all of us have a wonderful working relationship and mutual respect, and because of that I am able to have a successful show string, healthy & happy retirees, and have rehabilitated and rehomed a number of horses.

Contact Trisha at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.