12 April 2002

HEALTHYHOOVES,

PLASTIC-SHOD

Plastic shoes in a

blacksmiths shop?

Michael Charity meets a

farrier who combines

ancient and modern skills

FARRIER Andrew Poynton is quite literally in the very heart of Malmes-burys community, for his Town Forge blacksmiths shop is sited in the High Street, centre of this bustling Wiltshire market town.

That his ancient craft as farrier and blacksmith is ever in demand is strange to contemplate in a world of computers and silicon chips. But demand there is without doubt, enough to keep him and an assistant continuously busy over a six-day week.

However, in a modern twist to his traditional skills, he has come up with an invention that means horses and ponies are now able to put their worst feet forward. Andrew, who has run his business in the centre of the Wiltshire town since 1991, has developed special therapeutic plastic "shoes" that are proving to be invaluable where owners and vets are faced with acute lameness, damaged feet, Laminitis, or orthopaedic problems in foals and young stock. Andrew, who developed his idea in conjunction with local vets group, George Equine Practise, is finding his creation so successful, folk from the equine world up and down the country are in hotfoot pursuit of his animal-saving brainwave.

&#42 Great reaction

A fellow of The Worshipful Company of Farriers and smithy to Prince Charless rare breed of Suffolk Punch heavy horses, Andrew is delighted with the reaction he is receiving from his invention.

"It really all came about because I was sad to see so many animals having to be put down through leg and foot injuries, where conventional heavy shoes were impossible to fit without making the problem worse or causing more pain to the horse. I started thinking how this could be overcome and after many hours burning the midnight oil and waking at three in the morning with ideas going

around my mind, I finally came up with the idea of using thermo-plastic materials to create a foot-friendly shoe."

Developed in league with the local vets practice, it works like this: Once the correct size of shoe is chosen, grooves are cut into the side of the hoof. The selected plastic shoe is then immersed in boiling water and while still malleable, fashioned into the pre-cut grooves then freeze-cooled onto the hoof, using special adhesive at the same time to seal the horn to the hoof. The time from hot water to fitting is just three minutes – the gain is no pain to the animal and a foot that can be put to the ground, bingo, problem solved.

Andrew, a member of the board of examiners for the Worshipful Company of Farriers and with 21 years shoeing experience behind him, says: "In any condition where the fitting of conventional shoes becomes difficult for the farrier or painful for the animal – the plastic shoes come into their own.

"The response has been tremendous, there is growing interest from the horse racing bloodstock industry, coupled with demand from the hunting and equestrian field, so much so that we have now introduced courses to teach vets and farriers the fitting technique for the plastic shoes.

Dr Peter Clegg, senior clinician with the prestigious Liverpool University Animal Hospital, is now using this system in conjunction with a resident farrier to resolve equine foot and leg problems.

"Most of my work naturally results from the equine world, as this is my specialist area but there is a constant demand for the skills of a blacksmith all requesting a variety of tasks. To give you an example I have recently put in a set of commissioned drawings to reinstate the former iron gates that once hung on the Norman archway of Malmesbury Abbey. I am really looking forward to the opportunity of carrying out the work, which will mean that I can leave my trade mark in the town for posterity. Other jobs come into the shop on a regular basis such as hanging scrolls, kitchens utensil racks, garden tables, railings, in fact anything that needs a blacksmiths craft."

Elsewhere in the town there sits an ornatewell-head that Andrew designed for a former mill residence. Dotted around the countrysides high spots are beacons, examples of the huge braziers he has fashioned for anniversary and civic celebrations, a sometimes glowing tribute to the age old art of smithying. All this, proof indeed that the old ways can sit easy with new technology and provide a service to the community in a down-to-earth, iron age way, that in the 21st century is still forging ahead!

Above: Andrew fitting conventional shoes in his shop. Looking on is customer Jan Blakeston with her gelding, Knight.

Inset: Andrew demonstrates how his plastic shoes sit comfortably on the hoof.

New shoes:

Plastic shoes

alongside a conventional

iron shoe.