HORSES have evolved and adapted for millions of years to roam over a variety of terrain without any farrier intervention. So why do people shoe their horses?
Horses require a form of protection if the hoof wear is greater than the growth. Farriery is an ancient craft dating back hundreds of years, with shoeing horses becoming an important aspect of equine care when roads started to be built and horses had to deal with hard surfaces.
These days owners can opt for keeping their horse bare foot, using boots to protect their feet when riding, or they can decide to shoe their horses to help support the limb and assist with the demands of the equine activity they participate in from hacking on roads to the intensive demands of competition and race riding.
Within Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, there are a few options available to those seeking to become a farrier, unlike England / Scotland & Wales where their legislation (Farriery (Registration) Act 1975) requires farriers to gain a recognised qualification. This usually involves them attending college, training with an approved training farrier, which usually takes four years+ and then passing the Diploma of the Worshipful Company of Farriers (DipWCF).
There are no such laws in NI or ROI, which means it is up to the individual how they want to go about gaining farriery skills.
Does this mean that anyone can buy the equipment and start shoeing? Yes, but this does not usually happen. Farriers are proud of their craft and endeavour to develop their skills to do a good job and ensure the health and welfare of the horse. Some apprentice with a local farrier and learn on the job, others make the decision to attend a course and gain a recognised qualification.
There are two courses available to locals, one in CAFRE Enniskillen Campus where they can train on a part-time basis for the DipWCF, the other one is an apprenticeship scheme run by Farriery Ireland to gain the QQI Advanced Certificate in craft – Farriery and is based in Kildare.
The owner, farrier and vet are all crucial in ensuring the horse stays sound, can cope with the work load and ultimately extend their working life. The old saying ‘no foot no horse’ still rings true to this day.
So if you decide to shoe your horse what are the aspects that you and your farrier need to consider? Well the conformation of the horse needs to be assessed to identify the action of the limbs, the balance of the hooves and determine any irregularities or conditions that may need remedial shoeing.
The farrier will look at how the horse moves assessing the flight of foot how it lands, is it balanced, does it land on one side slightly ahead of the other, then establish how the hoof leaves the ground and pushes off the surface. The use of slow motion options on your phones cameras has helped tremendously with this process allowing the farrier to make more precise observations.
The shoeing cycle can also impact on this, the recommendation is to shoe on average every 6-8 weeks (although research by Lesniak et al in 2017 found that 4-6 weeks is the ideal), even the hoof growth during this period can impact slightly on the break over point (when the hoof leaves the ground).
Toes that have been left too long can really delay the breakover and balance of the hoof which the horse has to compensate for and in doing so this increases the stress on the limb. It is important to discuss the optimum shoeing and trimming cycle for your horse with the farrier.
The type of work and surfaces the horse may encounter will also guide the decision making process. There are a range of shoeing options available these days to aid the biomechanical efficiency of the gaits, in other words certain shoes can be used to aid the horse’s movement and athleticism.
The choice of shoe may be selected to aid the support of the hoof which can mean selecting say either a bar shoe, something with rolled toes to aid breakover or giving extra support with a lateral extension and even the option of glue on shoes.
Due to ongoing advances in the products available to the farrier they can select from a range of pads that have been designed to protect the hoof but also reduce concussive impact on the hoof and limb. The type of pads available can range from the traditional type made of soft leather to antibacterial plastic pads that protect the sole and frog. There are even products that can be poured onto the sole of the hoof forming a protective barrier that perfectly fits to the contours of the surface.
Therefore, whatever choice you make with regards to the hoof care of your horse, communication with your farrier is key to a successful relationship and a sound horse.