EMS placement learning aspects of the farriery process

Karis riding a horse

My week was structured to incorporate experience of the wide range of techniques and products that farriers use on a regular basis. Although a certain level of theory was necessary, it was very much a ‘hands-on’ week where I had the chance to be involved in many aspects of the farriery process.

The skills and knowledge I gained will be invaluable in my veterinary career and I had one of my best EMS placements so far.

Developing a theoretical and practical knowledge of farriery

Steve, a fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, felt it was important that I developed both theoretical and practical knowledge of farriery so that I would have a basic understanding of procedures relevant to equine practice. He was good at explaining and demonstrating how important it was to trim and shoe to suit the individual horse, as well as its environment and the work it was required to do.

He also explained his view that farriers should be shoeing for ‘five years’ time’. By this he meant that there was no point applying a technique to benefit a horse now that would hinder its performance in later life. This thought process is one that will stay with me.

Learning about dynamic hoof balance

One topic we spent considerable time on was assessing hoof balance – the relationship between the leg, the hoof and the shoe.

Steve talked me through some of the ways balance could be achieved through trimming. We discussed various issues, such as static and dynamic balance. He also covered the pros and cons of other methods of trimming, stressing the importance of adopting a blend of techniques that could be adapted to create a programme tailored to the individual horse.

"The skills and knowledge I gained will be invaluable in my veterinary career"

Hoof balance proved to be an important introductory topic as it allowed me to relate Steve’s methods to the dynamic assessment of a variety of his client’s horses.

One important aspect of dynamic hoof balance is to observe the hoof in motion. Walking and trotting out a horse is essential for this, as well as for evaluating lameness. While a horse was being presented, Steve described how to assess it. This will be an extremely valuable skill for my veterinary career and I was pleased to have his guidance. Lameness evaluation is a skill I will build on and improve through experience.

Practical experience in a range of skills

To follow up lameness investigation, Steve taught me how to use hoof testers, getting me to carry out hoof checks after removing the shoes of many of the horses we saw.

He also provided me with a cadaver limb to allow me to practise a range of skills. I was able to fit a shoe (including nailing it on); place a crack plate on the hoof wall; dig out a potential abscess site in two locations and carry out a dorsal wall resection.

By nailing a shoe onto the limb, I was able to appreciate the skill needed to perfect this technique – it would be an easy mistake to place the nail slightly askew and render the horse lame.

To practise applying a crack plate, Steve created a crack in the hoof wall of a cadaver limb. I applied shoe glue to the hoof wall before placing the metal plate to ‘build up’ the wall. I then screwed the plate to the wall. Steve explained how and when he would use this technique, along with the application of bar shoes, to take some of the strain off the cracked area. This type of repair would be used in a horse with thin hoof walls, such as a thoroughbred.

Applying glue to hoof
Karis applying glue to hoof before placing metal plate 

I was pleased to be able to practise excavating the sole of the foot to find a potential abscess. This is another essential skill – the same applies to the opportunity to have a go at a dorsal wall resection procedure, which could be used, for example, to allow the surgical removal of a keratoma. The cadaver limb gave me valuable practice and Steve provided me with the appropriate tools to have a go.

Aside from applying metal shoes, we also tried out a range of other products on his client’s horses. Steve showed me how to apply products from a range of hoof repair materials. We used an instant packing material to create a spongy cushion between the sole of the foot and the ground to support the hoof and absorb some of the concussive forces.

In another horse, a fast-setting silicone was applied underneath a rubber pad. The pad was applied above the horse’s shoe, with no contact between the sole and the ground; this would be especially beneficial in thin soled horses as it gives sole protection if the horse were to step on a stone.

I used fast-setting hoof adhesive on the cadaver limb to practise two other techniques (pictured above). I built a shoe without nails and added a medial extension to it, as if to correct a foal with a lower limb deformity, for example.

We also looked at the application of Imprint therapeutic plastic shoes. These shoes are used for a wide range of remedial purposes; for example, in laminitic horses. I learned how the shoes become mouldable after being heated in boiling water and learned how they can be fitted without nails.

The unique skill base of farriers

The placement clarified the importance of having a strong relationship between vets and farriers, as farriers have a unique skill base that we vets can draw on.

The specific focus of farriers obviously goes hand-in-hand with a more in-depth knowledge of the equine distal limb. Farriers are also likely to be in contact with a horse, and its owner, every six to eight weeks, allowing them to build up a more informed profile of the animal, whereas vets are only called in when there’s a health problem involved. Where vets and farriers work in partnership it should be much easier to find a treatment or management system that works best for each horse.

Dorsal Wall Resection Process
Karis completing a dorsal wall resection procedure

Steve put together an extensive programme and shared a huge amount of skill and knowledge with me. He was not only a patient teacher, he also gave me a pair of farrier chaps, hoof knives and a footstand! I will certainly be in contact with him in future when I need advice.

• The Equine Veterinary Studies Award granted by the Worshipful Company of farriers is available annually to every UK veterinary school. One student from each school is chosen through a strict selection process run by the veterinary school themselves. Each student is then paired with a host farrier and spends one week working alongside them and learning their craft. As part of the award the student can apply for freedom of the livery from receipt of the award until two years postgraduation. Any veterinary student interested in this award should contact the EMS coordinator of their veterinary school.

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