Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Trouble in River City...Starts with a "P" and...

UC/Davis staff checking the evidence. {image: horsetrionics.com]
The Pre-Purchase Exam and Other Tricky Situations:

Got into an interesting discussion the other day on the farrier's role (and of course, the veterinarian's), in the Pre-Purchase Exam.  And as we wandered down the minefield of memory lane foibles, the discussion naturally widened to the whole area of veterinary/medical information -- the politically charged arena of "who in the hell's business is it anyway?"  Why is this an issue for farriers?  Bottom line is that we get around, and in the process of our travels, we collect a lot of unpleasantries about the horse's we work on daily.  Not to mention the owners, who often have a propensity to share personal insights with our butts.  "You know, I haven't had an orgasm in fifteen years."  Yeah, that's a quote from my book and yes, I did choke on a mouthful of nails.  I feigned sympathy for her plight and changed my phone number.

In my early days, I spent a little time plating at the track.  Now anyone that has ever worked at a racetrack understands the following conversation:

"Say, Andy...uh, you shoe for Billy Bob's barn...uh, we're thinkin' about maybe claimin' Bushy Bill for a client of mine.  Uh...listen, somethin' I should know about maybe?"

"Uh.  Ya know, that horse sure has a pretty face."

That is about the outside limit of any conversation at any track.  Otherwise, the Stewards will escort your sorry ass to the back gate and terminate your license.  See, horses are in many cases, a business arrangement.  And at the racetrack, both the claiming of horses and the industry of gambling can be negatively effected by so-called "inside information."  The folks with the most access to that information?  Contractors, particularly veterinarians and farriers who service many barns for different clients and acquire a great deal of personal veterinary/medical information along the way.  And no, there are no federal or state statutes (such as HIPPA), to govern the exchange of that information.  But there are the rules of racing, contained in that rather abstract tome the Commissioners draw like a gun, whose purpose is to protect and maintain the integrity of the sport -- better put, to protect the gaming public from subterfuge and espionage "by people in the know."   Ha!  We've all seen those Mickey Rooney movies, right?

Well, it is a good rule.  But you immediately chortle back:  "I don't work at the racetrack!  So what?!"  The answer is that politics and horses aren't just confined to racetracks.  And this is America; land of the free and infested with an abundance of law school graduates -- lawyers.  Further, we no longer deal with the old euphemism known as horsemen/women -- we deal with horse owners.  Folks who understand things like $50k cars with extended warranties and not $50k horses that suddenly develop a bad case of...limping.  Especially when that conversation occurs about a week after the pre-purchase exam. 
Now before you assume this to be a veterinary-bashing session, back up a second and understand a little history of the 'vet-check.'  The process went through some evolution from the notion of 'a heart-beat and a smile' to a highly assumptive process based on technology and really...the expectations of the buying public.  Which meant that a lot of well-intentioned folks got carried along for a pretty unhappy ride.  This culminated in the early 1980's with a rash of litigation over what the pre-purchase exam really constituted -- defined by some as an 'assumed warranty' of some sort.  Insane?  Certainly.  But these cases, and in almost all instances of litigation involving horses, are overseen by a judge and jury who couldn't recognize a horse unless Roy Rogers happened to be sitting on it.  Not a jury of your peers, but a jury of semi-retired real estate agents that have had less than a thrilling experience with a car salesman.  They see it as a broken toy -- a very expensive one.

This does not always...
Equal this....
Of course, once word got around, most of this science via soothsaying went by the wayside, the pendulum swinging to the opposite extreme:  "Well ma'am, he's alive.  I mean, he's alive today...uh, I mean this afternoon.  Let's say 3:00, just to be clear." 

Naturally, I'm exaggerating a bit because...hell, it helps to make a point.  And I also want to be fair to both professions -- it is a tough balancing act because veterinarians (and farriers), are also business people, professionals and humans.  Issues of trust, loyalties, confidence, friendship -- opinion, beliefs;  all play into the evaluation of a potential purchase.  And yeah, ego as well, not to mention piles of money.  The latter capable of skewing any body's judgement, even temporarily.  So, certain lines need to be drawn, limits placed; protocols established, because owners (humans as well), are fishing for as much information (realistic or otherwise), as they can garner, very often self-selling themselves on a decision based more on emotion than the facts placed before them for consideration.  Yeah, read the tea-leaves carefully.  Might be more involved than just a conversation about a horse.        

Now for farriers, the pre-purchase can be a wonderful moment for expounding on those years of experience, ingrained wisdom acquired from countless seminars, clinics, contests -- that horse you worked on in 1982.  Opportunities abound to appear as how we all truly want to be viewed as professionals:  smart.  We don't get those moments too often and the temptation often causes us to leap the boundaries of common sense, not to mention the lines of discretion needed to respect the principles of confidentiality.  The reality is that it is none of our damn business, perceived loyalties or otherwise.  Why?  Because the horse is in flux, and as a matter of chattel, i.e., property according to law, the question of ownership at that moment is just that -- a question.  And those kind of questions are best left to the buyer, seller and the veterinarian.  If the vet is wrong, he has insurance. If your opinion jumps into the fray -- right, wrong or up there with the minor Greek gods, you're probably fired -- by somebody.  Since the radiological exam is last (as it should be), the farrier should try to keep it simple...very simple.  Pull the shoes, clean the foot, replace the shoes -- preferably using the same nail holes.  This is the moment to be a mechanic, not a sage.  Feel free to cure cancer or save the world after the check clears the bank and some idea exists on who really owns the bloody animal.

Okay, seems pretty straightforward...maybe.  Excepting perhaps, the nature of your own business as a separate entity from what all these other folks are engaged in.  The question is:  who are you really working for?  No, not always the person writing the checks.  Many farriers aspire to work for the bigger show barns, and with good cause.  Better horses, wealthier clientele, good working conditions...soothing to the ego perhaps.  Slower pay probably, but consistent.  Same dumb questions, but somehow they seem more sophisticated at the end of the day.  But who's the boss around the joint?  Certainly isn't the client.  It is the trainer, and if the trainer brought you into his/her game, then he/she is the guarantor of all relationships under that roof.  They are your job security.

The first thing you need to do is step into their world for a minute. You think you have difficult clients, many with wildly unrealistic expectations?  Guess again.  Most trainers could easily end up with more ulcers than an asteroid if it weren't for the fact that they (perhaps like many farriers), actually love what they do everyday.  Yes, mostly the horses, but since horses can't write checks, clients are part of the deal.  And before I am drawn and quartered by horse owners, please realize that many owners know perfectly well that they can be a pain in the ass.  They are the first to admit it actually.  This normally occurs about five-minutes after Precious deposits them head-first into a 3-foot oxer.  That is the point when we all make the transition from listening to actually hearing.  So, try to love the trainer.  He/she is the only thing between you and a bunch of crazed equestrians.

Now, trainers do not make the majority of their income standing in an arena watching their clients fall off horses.  Their real income is derived from buying and selling horses to and for clients.  Like real estate in many ways, and for these services, they gain a commission.  They also develop horses for the market -- with or without clients -- and it is economically risky at best.  It is also traditional and goes back hundreds of years in all disciplines.  But...big but:  trainers do not always buy horses because they are big, beautiful and sound.  They buy them because a client can actually ride the damn thing without getting killed.  Death = no more checks.  That is exactly why many farriers will look at a new purchase and go, "WTF"...or some variation on that theme.  Why?  Because the client is part of the development process and their needs are in transition.  Sure, they could buy some pretty green monster that looks good in the cross-ties, but the client will gain no confidence in their abilities and the trainer will be the only one riding the horse.  And that is okay too, if that is the plan; i.e., an investment horse.  Know what in the hell is going on before you open your mouth and keep the conversation between you and the trainer.  Beware of clients on brain-picking expeditions that will undermine your relationship with the trainer.  And every barn has a couple of these folks that are more than willing to stir things up. Why?  Make a list of human vices and pick one.  However, do cultivate relationships with grooms.  They know the barn, the horses...privy to the whispers that float between the walls.  Quite often, they are the early-warning system and certainly know more than the trainers when it comes to 'barn politics.'  

Still, you might ask, "Why is this so bloody important?"  Simple. There is more to professionalism than a straight nail line or the ability to make a shoe out of a rasp and three Coke cans.  The first tenet of communication is trust and violating the rules (or not bothering to understand them), will get you fired. You might be the greatest thing since Scotch Tape, but if you kill a sale for a trainer you could easily lose the entire barn.  And sure, you were right!  Shout it from the rooftops.  The horse is a disaster area!  Well, either fix it or walk away.  Just use your skills, not your mouth and as they say, "Live to fight (or look smart), another day!"        
Shit happens...what you do with it is up to you!
[image: horsetrionics.com]