I’m preparing a pony to go to their new home. I have the brand inspector scheduled, and I have an appointment to take the pony to the vet in town for a health certificate and Coggins. These are all legal requirements. There are also a number of other things I do to prepare a pony for travel. Because we as people travel regularly, we probably don’t think about the stress travel causes. For ponies, the stress of travel can be high, so I try to do what I can to prepare them for it. This means there are things I do and things I avoid.
One of the things I do is properly trim the pony’s hooves. Over the years I’ve learned three reasons for doing this. I once took delivery of a pony that helped me understand the first reason. A few days before the pony was to arrive, the seller said “It’ll need to see a farrier soon.” I was crestfallen. This pony was traveling over a thousand miles on hooves that needed trimming. When it emerged from the transport truck, the pony was noticeably stiff and uncomfortable.
It’s stressful enough for a pony to stand in a stall for a few days on the road. Standing like that with hooves that need trimming is added stress that isn’t necessary. There is abundant evidence that poorly trimmed hooves affect the rest of the body (click here for one example.) For similar reasons, I also don’t think it’s fair to ask a pony to stand for a few days on hooves that are freshly trimmed. I’ve seen ponies be more uncomfortable on freshly trimmed hooves than on hooves that are long and need attention. When I’m about to ship a pony out, I make sure their hooves are properly trimmed two days and preferably more in advance so that standing for a long trip is as comfortable as possible.
I also learned the second reason for sending a pony off with properly trimmed hooves after taking delivery of a pony. In this case, it wasn’t because the pony was uncomfortable upon arrival. It was because the pony’s toes were long. As far as I could tell, they’d been trimmed somewhat recently. So why would this pony’s toes be long? I suspect it was because this pony’s hooves tended to splay, and long toes were one manifestation. The previous owner’s farrier didn’t try to correct the problem. I’m lucky that a farrier once told me that as an owner I needed to work on hooves with a tendency to splay between his visits to help my ponies have better hooves.
I’m also fortunate to be a breeder where I see foals on a regular basis to remind me what hooves are supposed to look like at all ages. I try to send ponies out with their hooves trimmed as close to ideal as I am able. A client recently told me that their pony’s hooves were perfect when he arrived, and after a year with their farrier they weren’t nearly as nice. By sending that pony out with good hooves, I helped his owner make better decisions about farrier care for him.
The third reason for sending a pony off with properly trimmed hooves is especially important to me as a Fell Pony enthusiast. For many long time breed stewards, how a Fell Pony moves is an important characteristic of the breed. How hooves are trimmed impacts their movement. I often notice that a pony is due for a hoof trimming first because they aren’t moving like they should rather than by looking at the hooves themselves, much less a calendar. Another reason with Fells for using movement to assess hoof trimming status is hair! On ponies that have lots of feather, sometimes you can’t see the hoof well enough to evaluate hoof angle, toe length, etc. So, the third reason to send a Fell Pony off to a new home with properly trimmed hooves is that it gives the new owner their best chance to see the movement that is a hallmark of the breed.
I don’t consider myself a farrier or an expert in hoof trimming. I expect to continue to learn about proper hoof trimming as long as equines are in my life (which I hope is a very long time!) I do know that being a farrier doesn’t guarantee proper trimming; I’ve had a so-called professional lame my ponies by trimming them improperly. I’ve also been fortunate to learn from some gifted farriers. (Click here to read an article about a particularly interesting clinic.)
In addition to hoof trimming considerations in advance of travel, I also adjust a pony’s nutritional program (click here for more information). And then there are things that I avoid because they are stressful and a pony about to travel doesn’t need added stress. One of the things I avoid is worming. Many people take worming for granted, but I’ve learned it can stress the immune system. I once took delivery of a pony that was wormed just hours before loading onto the transport truck. The pony developed a minor infection while on the road that I then dealt with after the pony arrived, requiring that the pony be kept in isolation from the rest of the herd until normal health returned.
As a breeder, I’ve learned from my mares that weaning is stressful. If I am shipping out a broodmare, I make sure the weaning process is well over before transport. I’ve taken delivery of mares whose sellers used departure on transport as a weaning tool. While convenient for the breeder, I don’t think it’s fair to the mare to have a sore udder while dealing with the stress of travel.
Hoof care and other aspects of husbandry all can be adjusted to assist with the stress of transport. I think it’s important to make these adjustments to the extent we are able. I know that having a pony leave my care is stressful on me, so preparing the pony for the stress they’re about to experience seems the least I can do and helps me with my own stress, too!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015
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