Eli was interviewed by Emily Covington in December, 1999. Our questions, and his answers, are presented below.
"A horse is only as good as his feet". This is an often spoken truth heard among horse people. Every activity that we ask of our horses, from show jumping to barrel racing to dressage demands that the horse stand upon four, well-balanced and cared for feet. Making this requirement more difficult is the fact that few horses are born with perfect feet and changes in the foot occur over the lifetime of the horse. For these reasons, it is understood how vital a role the farrier plays in the well being and longevity of the horse.
Background: Equerry is pleased to present our interview with Eli Wolf, a Texas farrier with over 35 years of experience in horse shoeing. He has served as official Farrier for Barrel Racing organizations and Grand Prix events alike. Based out of College Station, near Texas A&M University, Mr. Wolf is now semi-retired but continues his work on a somewhat more relaxed schedule. This enables him to stay on top of important new trends in the industry as well as providing quality work for his clients. His focus centers on Laminitis, Navicular, hoof reconstruction and crack/split repair.
Mr. Wolf strongly believes in education for today's farrier, and has created an informative website located at: http://www.askthefarrier.com. The site educates professionals and anyone interested in furthering their own knowledge about shoeing and the horse's foot. In conjunction with the site he also publishes an electronic newsletter. Visit the site for more information and subscription rates.
Eli is also a participant on the Equerry Panel of Experts for Equerry's "Ask the Experts, where you can submit questions for Eli to respond publicly (once you are there, go to the Topics Directory and look for the category, "Equine Health Management" and the topic, "Foot and Shoeing").
Equerry: How did you begin your career as a farrier?
Eli Wolf: It came natural that I would become a Farrier because my father was and his father before him. I grew up on a horse ranch and we were a large family of mostly boys earning our keep buying and selling horses and moving stock. We had to tend to our own horses because we had too many and the need required a full-time Farrier on premises. So the men in our family, back to Grandpa, were trained as Farriers and many of us were amateur Vets, too. Not much has changed today if you look at any of the horse operations here in Texas.
I got under my first horse at 8 years of age and shod my first at about 12. It didn't take long before I was shoeing neighbor horses for pocket money and it took off from there. By the time I was 16 or 17 I had developed quite a client load and was making pretty good money at it.
When I grew up I attended Farrier school but only lasted 2 weeks before I became bored due to my advanced skills learned growing up on the ranch. So, I hooked up with a friend of my father who was a seasoned Farrier and Apprenticed for a while. I then hung out my own shingle and went about hammering out a living and managed to Apprentice under several more seasoned Vets in order to learn specific skills I wanted to incorporate into my abilities.
Equerry: Do you have a primary area of expertise?
Eli Wolf: Yes. Although, with some exception, I shoe whatever comes to me, I focus on hoof reconstruction and working with lame horses (Laminitis, Founder, Navicular) using the EDSS taught to me by two wonderful colleagues and friends of mine named Gene Ovnicek and Patty Stiller.
Equerry: In your experience, what have been your greatest challenges as a farrier?
Eli Wolf: I'd say some of the greatest challenges have been (1) getting past the terrible reputation of old that we Farriers had in the equine industry (some of which still prevails), (2) establishing respect among other equine professionals, (3) balancing what is best for the horse with what is best for the client, (4) not compromising values for financial gain, (5) staying focused while wading through the mud and muck of constantly (almost daily) changing attitudes and trends which center around hoofcare.
Equerry: What are the most common hoof or shoeing that problems you see today?
Eli Wolf: The most common *hoof* problems I see are terrible trimming and severe imbalance. Long toes and low heels (LTLH) are the top culprits in these areas and it seems that people have accepted it as normal since it is so predominant. Race horses are the best example of this butchery. I am still shocked at how often I encounter owners with horses suffering from LTLH that have known of the situation for a long time, but, who thought it was normal since they have never seen a horse look different.
In shoeing, I'd say shaping the foot to fit the shoe is the biggest problem. Many who call themselves "Farriers" will trim a foot lousy from the git-go, then will nail on a shoe, and finish by rasping down the foot to fit the perimeter of the shoe oftentimes dubbing the toes in the process. I call these types of Farriers "Cowboy Farriers".
Over a period of time the foot remodels and the client discovers something is going wrong in the way the horse moves and I get a call asking me to come in on a consultation over a lame horse and I am confronted with having to explain how it happened and why it'll take close to a year to reverse. I never like having to clean up behind these "Cowboy Farriers" but I find myself doing it a lot. The one big reward from doing this, though, is when the clients tell me later how my work has caused their beloved horse to become sound again and is starting to move like its old self.
Equerry: What can today's farrier do to be as informed as possible on the latest techniques and advances?
Eli Wolf: One tremendous asset we now have in this profession is the Internet. In my opinion, a Farrier who is not keeping himself current on trends and research is not only doing the client a disservice, but is doing him/herself a disservice, too. The Internet is a highly effective tool for the Farrier and easy to learn how to use. Any Farrier who prides himself in his/her work needs to learn to add the Internet to their tool resources. Failure to do so is pure laziness, in my opinion. The Internet has been a tremendous boost for the profession allowing us access to a wealth of information from the comfort of our home-offices (for some Farriers from the comfort of their rolling offices with laptops) and without the financial commitment of the old days. It is far easier now to research an equine topic than it was in recent years and I think the profession has benefited greatly.
Two wonderful examples of how the Internet has helped in my work is (1) I was contacted through my website by a stable owner in Nebraska who had one of her horses suffering from a mysterious hoof ailment that was causing the hoof to slough off in chunks. The local Vet was 200 hundred miles away and didn't have a clue and her Farrier was baffled. My experience gave me an idea of what was going on and with the help of a Texas A&M Vet we were able to do an email diagnosis of "Selenium Toxicity" and prescribe a course of Farrier/Vet treatment which resulted in a 100% turn-around, and, (2) a trainer in Finland contacted me through my website about problems with one of her Saddlebreds and Farriers were not available in her area. I was able to walk her through what needed to be done via email and she later emailed me that her horse was fully sound and that the new skills I taught her were being used to benefit other owners and trainers in her area. I also put her in touch with my Farrier supplier who had an email address and she was able to secure needed supplies which weren't available in her country.
Equerry: What advice would you give to an average horse owner to keep his or her horse's feet in as optimal condition as possible?
Eli Wolf: Feed a good diet based upon the nutritional needs of the horse and not what the barn gossip says to feed, and, make certain to feed the feet via supplements, and, don't shoe unless necessary.
Many people operate under the mistaken belief that feeding grain to a horse takes care of everything from head to toe and that bad feet can be remedied with topical goops. Furthermore, they believe that if a horse does anything beyond walking on grass they need shoes. The truth of the matter is that (a) many horses do not need grain at all, (b) topical goops applied to the hooves do little to nothing beyond aggravating the Farrier who has to clean it off, and, (c) horses don't need shoes just because they are horses.
Equerry: Occasionally, dialogue can be difficult between a farrier and the horse owner. Can you offer any advice as to how to make this relationship as positive as possible?
Eli Wolf: The most important thing for the owner to do is to treat the Farrier as a professional and respect his/her skill and advice. The most important thing for a Farrier to do is to return that respect. Each party has their opinions and common lines of communication need to be opened to exchange those opinions for the ultimate good of the horse.
Oftentimes, I run into clients who try and use technical terms with me in a futile attempt at impressing me with their knowledge, or, thinking it gets me to listen better. Many clients are afraid to show their ignorance when it comes to hoofcare because they feel that they should have as great a degree of hoofcare knowledge as they do equestrian abilities. Many Vets are the same way.
On the same token, I know of Farriers who intentionally refuse to speak easy with a client in terms easily understood because s/he feels they need to have a higher degree of knowledge of hoofcare than the client.
If both parties would approach the situation with their guns holstered and make an honest and forthright attempt at mutual respect and consideration,more could be accomplished and the horse would benefit in the end. I have no problem talking with my clients in a manner easily understood and showing my ignorance in a situation if necessary. I place the care and well being of the horse above my own pride and I think the greater harm is done in trying to blow smoke than admitting one's ignorance and allowing themselves to learn something new.
Equerry: How can a horse owner tell if his or her horses feet are looking good?
Eli Wolf: As a general rule of thumb - if (a) the wall is healthy and free of cracks, splits, defects and damage, (b) the frog is moist and resilient bouncing back like firm rubber to the touch, (c) the sole plane is thick enough for P3 support, moist, and has good bar support in the caudal aspects, (d) the heels are straight and under the horse (i.e. free from crushing, contraction, etc.), (e) the white line is well-defined, healthy, and runs the perimeter of the foot, (f) the frog sulcus is well-defined and healthy - you have yourself a good foot.
Equerry: Are there any classic or typical signs that a horse's feet are having problems?
Eli Wolf: Yep. Think of hooves like human fingernails - they are the same material. If your nails are peeling, cracked, split, brittle, too thin or too thick, would you consider that normal? Same with a horse. In a horse, two big indicators hooves are having problems are flares and splits. "Flares" occur when the horn growth is not controlled by trimming and the excess growth is pressed outward as it grows down from the Coronary band by two greater forces - the horse's weight and the ground. A horse stands with 56% of its bodyweight on the front and 44% on the hinds according to Texas A&M studies. So, if the hooves are allowed to grow unchecked by regular trimming there will be almost 700 pounds pressing the overgrowth against the ground in a normal horse. This will cause the horn to "flare" at ground level. If left untrimmed for long periods of time the horn will curl and twist as it grows and actually form what is sometimes referred to as "elf boots" which must be trimmed using a hacksaw.
"Splits" are usually secondary to flares and are what happens when strong forces such as the ground and the horse's weight increased by motion forcefully separate the horn tubules. Splits can be damaging to not only the horn as it grows because new growth will follow the line of the old, but, the split can run up to the Coronary band and cause lameness - not unlike splitting your fingernail to the quick. Splitting can be controlled and reversed in most cases if caught early enough.
Equerry: What key things should a horse owner know about his or her horse's feet?
Eli Wolf: Best thing to remember is the famous slogan "no foot .. no horse". Many owners try and skimp in footcare thinking the horse is performing now and if anything happens it can be easily treated. Fact of the matter is that if the feet are neglected, not only will it be inconvenient when they fail, but, quite pricey as well. Any money saved in skimping will be lost 3-fold in repairing damage done in the long run.
Equerry: Thank you, Eli Wolf!
Eli Wolf is on the panel of Equerry's "Ask The Experts" where you can ask questions on the subject of "Foot and Shoeing" and view his public responses. You can also visit Eli's informative web site at http://www.askthefarrier.com and get information about his paid subscription newsletter.
Emily Covington was employed at Hilltop Farm, Inc. in Colora, MD from 1992 through 1997. Starting as a working student, she later served as assistant stable manager, and rode young horses, including her own. She has produced a variety of photography and artwork for the farms publications. She now lives in Redlands, CA where she continues to ride and does various freelance work for Hilltop.
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