What is a farrier? Quite simply, a farrier is any person who is trained and qualified to correctly put shoes on a horse or pony and provide good all-round hoof care and advice. They will be one of the most important people in your horse’s life and my best piece of advice is when you find a good one, treat them well and do all that you can to hold on to them. When I relocated my horses from Devon to Oxfordshire a few years ago, finding a new farrier was the hardest part. At one stage I seriously considered moving back, just so I could return to the farrier I’d used for years, because he was brilliant in all ways.

Visits from a farrier will be frequent — around every four to six weeks — and sometimes you may need a last-minute visit urgently, perhaps due a pesky lost shoe, which in my experience always seems to happen the day before a competition or special ride. So it’s important that you have a good relationship with your farrier, and that you communicate well with each other.

What is a blacksmith?

Don’t confuse a farrier with a blacksmith. A blacksmith does work with iron, but they may never work with a horse. A farrier is trained in blacksmithing so that they can make a shoe out of iron, and they also train to fit a shoe to horse hooves. Shoes aren’t only made from metal, there are other options such as plastic shoes (which glue rather than nail to a hoof) and those made of resins.

What is a farrier?

According to the Farriers (Registration) Act 1975, a farrier is a person who has “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”.

Anyone who shoes a horse in England, Scotland or Wales is required by law to be registered with the Farrier Registration Council (FRC). In order to qualify for registration, farriers have to complete an apprenticeship, which takes several years, before passing a final assessment. “Only Registered Farriers, enrolled farriery apprentices, qualified and trainee veterinary surgeons and persons carrying out first aid in an emergency may legally practice farriery,” confirms the FRC.

In the USA, the American Farrier’s Association was set up in 1971 “to further the professional development of farriers, to provide leadership and resources for the benefit of the farrier industry, and to improve the welfare of the horse through continuing farrier education”.

What is an equine podiatrist?

Trimming of a hoof that is not going to have a shoe put on is not covered by the Farriers Registration Act, which means it is not imperative that a farrier does it. However, a lot of damage can be done to a hoof if they are trimmed without the correct training, potentially causing severe lameness, and so a farrier is your best port of call for hoof trimming too.

Alternatively, equine podiatrists are specialists in barefoot hoof care. They are able to provide trimming and general barefoot advice, but must not fix a shoe of any kind to a horse’s hoof.

According to its website, the Equine Podiatry Association UK (EPA) was launched in April 2006 “as a self-regulating professional body” for its members practicing in the UK. Members are required to hold a relevant qualification in barefoot hoof care and update their skills through training every year. Before employing the services of an equine podiatrist, check they are registered on the EPA UK’s website.

What you can expect from a farrier

  • He or she should be friendly, polite and approachable.
  • To be easily contactable. Some prefer a phone call, others work by text message.
  • To attend to shoe your horse on the agreed date.
  • Be willing to discuss and explain any part of the shoeing or trimming process.
  • To treat your horse fairly, kindly and with patience.
  • To do a professional job on your horse’s hooves and give sound advice specific to their hoof care which you can understand.
  • To alert you to anything untoward that may need special attention, for example hooves that are becoming too dry or early signs of a possible puncture wound in the hoof.
  • Insurance that covers them to do their job.

What a farrier expects from you

  • Clean and dry standing with good light and a non-slip surface.
  • Your horse to have clean and dry hooves and legs. A clean and dry tail is appreciated when shoeing or trimming the hind hooves too.
  • A secure, safe tie ring to tie your horse to, unless you will be holding them.
  • A properly fitted head collar and good leading rein.
  • A competent helper if you can’t be there in case your horse needs holding.
  • A well mannered horse that is happy to stand still and hold each leg up for the farrier, without leaning on them
  • The offer of a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit to go with it always goes down well too!
  • Public liability insurance, which will cover you in the event that your horse injures your farrier or damages their equipment.

If your horse is young and/or being shod for the first time and you don’t know how they will react to it, or perhaps you already know they are nervous for some reason, it’s important to be honest with your farrier. This will keep all three of you safer and you can work together to build confidence about shoeing in your horse.

I once owned a Thoroughbred who hated the smoke that occurs when a hot shoe is first placed against a hoof. If it blew towards him while being shod, Classic would run backwards every time. Our solution was to always face him upwind, so that smoke blew away from his head, and he was always held by a competent handler (myself or my sister) rather than being tied up. It didn’t fix the problem as such — Classic still hated smoke well into his twenties — but it was a safe, workable solution for us all.

What is a farrier’s job?

Horses’ feet are nearly always better off without shoes, says farrier Chris Powell, who is a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, but many equines can’t work efficiently without some protection on their hooves.

“Many people think it was the Romans who brought shoeing into Britain. That’s unlikely as they only had ‘hipposandals’, which were strapped onto the hoof in a similar way to modern boots,” says Chris. “It’s more probable that one of the countries further north developed the method, possibly due to a greater need created by the wetter climate.”

Chris adds that farriers are continually working on a living structure.

“The hoof is not a piece of wood that we can whittle and change into whatever size or shape we would like it to be,” he explains. “Almost every job we do on a horse has to be a compromise in some way. When we trim the foot, we are limited by how much foot we can take off. When we fit a shoe, we are limited by things like how big the shoe can be. Too small and it doesn’t offer enough cover and support to the heels; too big and it can be pulled off.

“When we nail the shoe on, we are limited by the anatomy of the foot and the quality of the horn. When nailing on, we also have very tiny parameters to work to and the slightest deviation can result in catastrophe. We are millimetres away from the sensitive tissue with every nail.”

What is a good farrier and owner relationship?

“A farrier’s competency used to be measured by how long the horse’s shoes stayed on, but nowadays we know that may not be in the best interests of the horse. Hooves are always growing out of balance, but if you stay on top of these things, your horse will perform better and shoes will last longer,” says Oxfordshire-based farrier Ben Benson.

“Some owners like to save on their horse’s shoeing by going as long as possible between farrier visits. However, ensuring that all the tolerances are kept tight and that the feet don’t get out of balance is absolutely vital. For every 1cm of toe that a horse grows that is out of balance, it is the equivalent of 50kg of intrinsic weight on his back.”

For owners who like their horse to go seven or eight weeks between visits, the farrier will find plenty of hoof to cut off, warns Ben.

“Removing a significant amount in one go is one of the worst things you can do because you are making drastic changes to the hoof that will affect the tendons and ligaments. If legs swell up, or the horse is stiff after shoeing, these are indicators that you’ve left it too long.”

Another area for improvement is horse husbandry.

“An owner can spend thousands of pounds on a new saddle or lessons and yet they don’t even pick out their horse’s feet before the farrier’s visit,” says Ben. “I see a lot more thrushy feet these days than I ever used to, and my theory is that this is due to a drop in husbandry standards. Dry, clean and picked-out feet should be a priority every day; not just when the farrier is coming.”

How to look after your farrier

Of course you are paying your farrier for a service, and so you expect certain things from them — good communication, prompt visits, being pleasant to talk to and deal with being just a few of these things — but there are ways you can help improve and look after your relationship too. These include:

  • Paying your bill on time, every time. Don’t wait to be chased.
  • Providing your farrier with somewhere clean, dry and undercover to tend to your horse. Not always possible if your horse’s live out 24/7 and any decent farrier will understand that, but do the best with what you’ve got.
  • Make sure your horse’s hooves and legs are clean and dry when your farrier arrives. They can’t put shoes on hooves caked in mud and they don’t want to be running their hands up and down wet, muddy legs.
  • Either remove rugs, or if it’s cold and your horse is clipped, undo the surcingles and tie them up out of the way.
  • Make sure you are there when your farrier arrives, and your horse is in the stable ready to be shod. They haven’t got time for you to drive in late or fetch your horse in from the field.
  • If your horse loses a shoe, find it and keep hold of it. It might be in good enough condition to go back on.
  • Say thank you. Good manners cost nothing.

Useful contacts

Check that your farrier is registered with the Farrier Registration Council

Find out more about the American Farrier’s Association

Make sure your equine podiatrist is a member of the Equine Podiatry Association UK

Main image: copyright Your Horse Library/Kelsey Media Ltd

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