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What If My Veterinarian and My Farrier Disagree?

Well, you may have a problem – but then you already knew that. It is not, however, a problem without a solution. It may take some diplomacy and fortitude on your part, but it can be solved.

In an ideal world, professionals would be professional all the time when on the job. They would always make the right decisions based on the information available. They would store their egos at home when they left for work and they would all cooperate in the best interests of the client.

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world. Vets and farriers are people, not deities (in spite of what some of them, and us, think), and we are all subject to the frailties and failings of our species. Egos and reputations get involved. Oneupsmanship sometimes plays a part. Mutual respect may be lacking. Arrogance is always a possibility. But be of good cheer: most often it is simply a difference of opinion and perspective. Disagreement on treatment regimen alone does not make for a messy situation. It can often lead to healthy debate and ultimately to a better solution. Give your vet and farrier the opportunity to work out a solution between themselves before you step in to play peace maker.

If the disagreement goes beyond healthy and informative discussion, you have a people problem as well as a professional problem. You have to approach it as both. It takes people skills and technical knowledge to make the right decisions.

The first thing you need to do is have a heart-to-heart with your gut instincts. It is highly likely you will instinctively trust one offered solution, or one person, over the other. If this is true, then your problem may be solved. Go with your gut.

The second job you need to do is get a thorough understanding of the problem your horse has. This is a good idea anyway, because, after all, it is your horse and ultimately your responsibility. The more knowledge you have of what is going on, the better chance you have of ferreting out the correct avenue of treatment.

How to do this? Read. Go through your old horse magazines and books. Go to the library. Poke around on the Internet, and spend time going from link to link. Go to the tack shop and look for new books and articles on the subject. View this situation as an opportunity to learn (as well as a pain in the breeches).

Once you have familiarized yourself with the technical jargon and as much of the finer points of the problem as you can absorb, go back to your vet and farrier separately, and discuss their opinions with them again. Take notes and ask each the same questions. DO NOT say “Yeah, but he said...” to either of them. This will just get their dander up. Simply gain information. Your level of satisfaction with the answers you get will ultimately help you make the correct decision.

If either of them gets haughty or arrogant with you, remind them that they work for you, not the other way around. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in their emotions. You have the problem horse and you pay them to help you.

If, from that exercise, you learn enough to make the treatment decision yourself, then do so. Once done, let both professionals know what you have decided and why, and go with it. If either one gives you unreasonable grief about it (how much is unreasonable is your call) perhaps you should seek another in that field.

Making the decision yourself will not be popular with at least one of them. Be prepared for some fireworks. If both your farrier and vet are top professionals and really good people, you won't have any problems. Not all of us are that lucky. If you are sure of your position, stand your ground.

If, on the other hand, your research leaves you wanting for a decision, there are other avenues you can pursue. One is to go back to both your farrier and vet and attempt to get them on the same page. It is much easier to get an agreement if the three of you meet face to face. If you play mediator over the phone, both are isolated and can, if they choose, hole up in their ivory towers and be stubborn. If they meet and have a worried and slightly upset client to deal with, they will be more likely to work together to solve the problem. Don’t play he said/she said; insist that they talk to each other personally, with the horse in front of them. If need be, bring the problem to a head with a line like “Look, I have a lame horse here. I pay both of you to take care of him. Right now I need you two to work together to solve this problem, not argue with each other about who’s right. My horse doesn’t care who’s right. He just wants to feel better. Please help him.” This shifts the issue to horse care and gently reminds them both of the primary issue. Above all you have to remain in control of yourself. If you go to pieces, then there is no mediator.

Another solution is to bring in a second set of professionals for second opinions. This may work well if you get a consensus between two or more that makes sense to you. Be prepared for it to backfire, though. You might end up with four people disagreeing instead of two. This is rather unlikely, unless you have a really complicated and difficult problem. Most issues that involve both vets and farriers have a fairly finite number of possible solutions.

Still another option is to take your horse to “The University.” Vet schools nearly always have the latest in diagnostics and are as up to date on treatments as anyone around. This can also solve the “who’s in charge” dilemma, since the vet school usually carries more weight than either local professional.

One word of advice is to inform both farrier and vet of your decision to seek outside help because they disagree. DO NOT blame either of them for the disagreement. There likely will be enough ruffled feathers as it is. Finger pointing won’t solve anything. But if either of them gets in a towering snit about your decision to seek a second opinion, then seriously consider replacing him in your stable of horse care professionals. A second opinion is not a slap in the face; it is a concerned horse owner doing the best s/he possibly can for the horse.Every horse owner has the right to expect a team effort from the professionals s/he hires. When that team spirit is not in evidence, you need to take a serious look at your team. Making changes in your lineup may be the best thing for the benefit of your horse and the sanctity of your sanity.

The bottom line is that the bruised egos and inter-professional rivalry or lack of respect is not your problem. It’s their problem. Don't let them drag you into their problems. The job of all farriers and vets, first and foremost, is to look out for the health and well-being of the patient – the horse.

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