ETN’s first CPD feature for farriers explores good hoof care. Farriers are expected to continue their professional education by keeping up to date with the general developments in farriery and to keep their knowledge and skills up to date throughout their careers. CPD (Continuous Professional Development) is mandatory for Approved Training Farriers, newly registered farriers and strongly encouraged for all other farriers and apprentices.

January 2016

A farrier’s role in good hoof care

By Ian Hughes DipWCF

Farriers take on a great responsibility to maintain soundness - and to work with other equine professionals when horses show signs of lameness to bring about as successful an outcome as possible.

The role of a farrier has changed over recent years. A better trained and educated professional person is now expected to work alongside vets, physiotherapists, saddle fitters and so on.

Foot balance has long been debated by the farriery profession, which traditionally has the responsibility for maintaining and correcting the equine digit to achieve a healthy, sound foot. As demands on vets increase due to pre-purchase examinations and insurance evaluations, they too have the need for a complete understanding of foot balance and modern farriery.

Every time a horse or pony is shod or trimmed, the farrier should take time before any work starts to thoroughly assess the whole animal. It is only by doing this that they will see things that may relate to what farriery may be required. And with the owner or rider present, more information or ‘history’ can be gained, giving a better overall view of what is required as far as the shoeing or trimming is concerned.

Once static and dynamic assessments have been completed, and any information offered from the owner noted, then assessment of the hoof capsule itself can take place. 

The main aspects that are noted are the views from the side (lateral view) to assess length of toe and heels and to check the hoof pastern angle (HPA), making sure it is correct and not broken back, or even broken forward. 

Then, a look at the hoof from the front view (dorso-palmer) to assess that the angle of both the inside of the hoof capsule and the outside are equal. 

And finally a look at the bottom of the foot (solar) to check the medial lateral balance, just in case one side has more foot to remove than the other side. 

After these checks - plus the information gained from watching the horse walk and trot in the first part of the assessment - the trimming and shoeing process can begin.

Communication with owners 

The importance of communication with the owner cannot be over-stated. It is only when the farrier, vet and owner - and any other equine professionals - work together that a solution to a problem can be reached quickly and efficiently.

This also prevents misunderstandings that can lead to more stressful and difficult situations in which the horse will be the one that may suffer most, due to incorrect treatments or missed time-scales.

Over many years of working with a regular clientele, a working relationship is formed where neither takes the other for granted and assumptions are not formed misguidedly. This relationship is a very special one, should be looked after and not taken for granted. So when an emergency does arise, it will be dealt with promptly and professionally.

Recommended hoof care practice and products 

It is always extremely important for good hoof health to be maintained. Cleanliness is of upmost importance at all times: picking feet out daily is vitally important, not only to make sure that dirt and dung is removed but also to check there are no foreign bodies in the foot that may cause injury or lameness at a later stage. 

And at least twice a week, although this may need to be more often in areas of the country with a higher rainfall, the feet should be thoroughly washed out and the health of the frog and sole checked and an antibacterial, antifungal topical treatment applied. There are several brands on the market, some of which have a good track record. 

Other factors affecting hoof health

Many factors can affect the strength and integrity of the hoof capsule, and it’s usually external and environmental conditions that cause the biggest issues.

The hoof capsule is very sensitive to moisture and becomes soft and weak when exposed to a certain level of moisture. This in turn makes the hoof wall soft and pliable. The horse’s bodyweight pushing down onto and into the hoof capsule causes the foot to become flat while the heels start to flatten out and run forward, pushing the toe forward too, giving the appearance of a long toe, weak heeled foot.

Stables should be kept clean and dry, so the horse is not stood for any period of time in a dirty, wet bed. The feet will be very quickly affected by the dung, and particularly the urine, which can cause the hoof capsule to become soft and weak quite rapidly.

If a horse has good foot balance and is correctly shod or trimmed, the quality of the horn will have the best chance of being healthy and strong. However, in some cases where the horse’s conformation is not as straight as it could be, then this won't allow the foot to strike the ground flat, even though the foot has been trimmed level and the correct shoe fitted.

The horse’s foot is designed to dissipate and minimise the high loads and stresses going through it as it impacts the ground whether at walk, trot or a faster gait. If the foot is landing on one side or the other, the forces through the hoof capsule won't be even and this may cause parts of the wall to crack or fracture. A horse that is doing a lot of exercise, particularly on hard ground, may find itself plagued with hoof wall cracks and crumbly feet.

It’s also recommended that, if possible, an equine nutritionist’s advice is very useful if any foot problems arise. It’s important to make sure the horse is getting the best nutrition it needs to help with the growth of good quality horn.

Benefits of working with other equine professionals. 

As a part of the Team GBR Para Dressage team, and working very closely with other equine professionals for the benefit of the horses on the squad, it's very easy for me to see only positives when working within a team environment. 

Any problems or issues are picked up far earlier and treated much quicker because there are more than one pair of eyes cast over the horse, and ideas can be discussed as to the treatment and possible outcome and, importantly, timescale.

This means that the owner and rider know they are in safe hands and will be back working or competing as soon as possible.

Case study: Onychomycosis 

A case of Onychomycosis or White Line Disease was presented at the University of Liverpool with a recurring lameness issue that had been causing some head scratching due to any lack of visible changes to the hoof capsule.

Only when the black cob had an MRI scan was it revealed that the pedal bone was unstable within the hoof capsule on both fore feet. And, after some exploratory removal of horn using a motorised bur, it became clear that a fungal infection had managed to break down the various layers of horn so that the horse’s pedal bone is no longer completely attached within the hoof capsule, thus causing pain and lameness.

The treatment is to remove all affected horn, again with a motorised bur. That meant, in this case, the vast majority of the hoof wall had to be removed and the remaining horn treated topically with a human nail fungal treatment to make sure the fungal infection was eradicated before rebuilding the hoof capsule.

After a period of a week or so of topical treatment, the hooves were dry enough to start the long process of cleaning the last remnants of the damaged horn. Then it was a case of rebuilding the hoof capsule with Methyl Methacrylate (MMA), a resin based flexible hoof replacement that is strong enough to withstand the horse’s weight yet flexible and pliable enough to drive nails into. Therefore a normal shoe can be fitted and refitted when needed without the need to replace the filler every time the horse needs shoeing.

It wasn't long before the horse came sound and returned to full work. Once all the filler has grown out, normal horn can take its place without a return of the fungal infection.

Case study: Canker 

I was asked to look at a serious case of canker affecting three of the four feet. Canker is often debilitating and can be very difficult to treat. It was traditionally assumed that most horses who contracted the disease were usually stabled, kept in dirty conditions and with poor hoof care, but this isn't always the case.

Equine canker is an infectious process involving primarily the frog in the first instance, progressing in more severe cases to the sole, bars and even hoof wall which become soft and weak with a cheesy exudate and cauliflower-like growths.

This particular case was upsetting for both horse and owner, with no treatments seeming to work in over a year of battling with it. 

Most literature would agree that initially the affected tissue should be debrided and the affected tissue removed up to the corium involved. 

Prior to the horse’s general anaesthetic, each foot was washed and cleaned and an Esmarch bandage applied to the fetlock prior to debridement to prevent excessive blood loss, as the frog is highly vascular and the tissue very sensitive.

Once the damaged tissue was removed, the hoof was cleaned again and a pressure dressing applied, with the Esmarch bandage removed to allow normal blood flow. All three affected feet were treated in the same way. 

The following day, after the initial period of recovery and dressings applied, the horse returned home with instructions given to the owner on managing the dressings. 

Two weeks later at the follow-up appointment, treatment began, removing any proud flesh that had erupted and applying various topical medications.

Because canker and sarcoids have similar properties, the frogs were treated with a low-strength sarcoid cream and strong antibiotics administered, which were changed daily.

With canker having such a poor prognosis, it is very difficult to give timescales and manage expectations, and without the full support and hard work of the owner the chance of recovery would be limited. The horse in this instance is now doing well and hopefully the improvement will now be long-lasting, even permanent. 


About the author

Ian Hughes DipWCF was the Head Farrier of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympic Games in 2008 and London Paralympic Games 2012. He is currently Team Farrier to the British Paralympic Dressage Team, honorary lecturer at Liverpool University Large Animal Hospital and the preferred farrier for some of the country's top riders. Ian runs North Wales based Equine Therapeutics. He also takes specialist remedial clinics at Ashbrook Equine Hospital in Cheshire.


All about farriers…

ETN publishes its first CPD feature for farriers this month. The article and accompanying quiz – a great read for manufacturers, distributors and retailers of horsecare products too - are accredited by the Farriers Registration Council (FRC). Here, Brigadier David Greenwood, Registrar of the FRC, gives an insight into farriers’ legal status and the training involved with entering the profession.

I am grateful to ETN for giving the Farriers Registration Council (FRC) the opportunity to contribute an article to support engagement with equine owners. 

The article sets out the importance of choosing a qualified and registered farrier to attend to an equine’s footcare. The article is also aimed at men and women who aspire to be farriers, and explains the requirement and the process an applicant must follow to train for the profession of farriery.

Why choosing a qualified, registered farrier is important

Farriery is defined in the Farriers (Registration) Act 1975 as ‘any work in connection with the preparation or treatment of the foot of a horse for the immediate reception of a shoe thereon, the fitting by nailing or otherwise of a shoe to the foot or the finishing off of such work to the foot’.

A farrier is a skilled craftsperson with a sound knowledge of both theory and practice of the craft, capable of shoeing all types of equine feet, whether normal or defective, of making shoes to suit all types of work and working conditions, and of devising corrective measures to compensate for faulty limb action. 

Farriery is hard work, both physically and mentally, and it is practiced on animals with a range of temperaments, some of which may be fractious. Shoes may be made from metal and from other modern materials such as plastics and resins.

A ‘farrier’ should not be confused with a ‘blacksmith’. A farrier works with horses but needs training in blacksmithing in order to make the shoe properly. A blacksmith is a smith who works with iron and may never have any contact with horses. 

How to check a farrier is registered

There are several simple steps that a horse owner can take to confirm that their farrier is registered. Upon payment of their annual Retention Fee each year all Registered Farriers are issued with an annual Registration Card and car window sticker. The card includes their name and the year of validity. Equine owners are encouraged to ask to see a farriers’ registration card when first entering into a business arrangement.

How to find a farrier

You can check the registration status of any farrier on the ‘Find a Farrier’ feature of the FRC website at www.farrier-reg.gov.uk. The search feature will allow you to search for a farrier by location, name and or qualification. 

Alternatively, you can contact the offices of the FRC by telephone on 01733 319911 where a member of staff will be happy to check the Register on your behalf. A simple enquiry should be complete in no more than a couple of minutes.

How to become a farrier

In Great Britain the approved route to becoming qualified as a farrier is by undertaking an Advanced Apprenticeship (AA). Candidates for an AA in Farriery must be at least sixteen years of age, however there is no upper age limit. 

Candidates must serve a period of apprenticeship whilst employed by an Approved Training Farrier (ATF). 

During the course of the training, and in order to be eligible for registration into the Register of Farriers via an apprenticeship, the following outcomes must be successfully completed by the apprentice: -

• Technical Certificate – WCF Diploma in Farriery (QCF)

• Diploma in Farriery (Work Based)

• English and Mathematic Functional Skills (Level 2)

• College Certificate in Business

• Six Personal Learning and Thinking Skills

• Employee Rights and Responsibilities

Training comprises planned experience gained with the ATF interspersed with periods of centralised 'off the job' training at an approved college. Apprenticeship is delivered by the colleges which have been approved by the FRC.