29 October 1999


FARRIERY is steadily shifting its definition from craft to profession. To do this the Fellows of the Worshipful Company of Farriers are promoting a researched approach to the art of shoeing.

One of the active fellows is Simon Curtis, a fourth generation farrier from Newmarket who qualified in 1972. His career has taken him to most continents, including India to correct a stallions foot with torn laminae and to Derby runners, Hickstead show jumpers and Burghley eventers to mend hoof fractures.

"The ability to treat hoof fractures has been made possible by new composite materials. I first saw it done in California in 1986, and I have probably repaired 300 since then."

These cracks are caused by concussion, possibly through conformation, synthetic tracks or an unlevel foot. The technique will soon be spreading as 16 farriers recently attended a course at Newmarket.

The technique with this, as most other treatments involves getting the foot into balance. "For orthopaedic shoeing, people become very wrapped up in the different shoes. It is how the shoe is applied that determines whether or not it will work," says Simon. "The preparation and application is 99%, the actual shoe is 1%."

While horse owners know that poorly maintained feet can accentuate or cause lameness or deformity, most are confused about which can and cannot be improved by remedial work.

"The important time to catch toe-in or toe-out conformation is before three-months-old," he says. In fact Simon recommends that foals are first trimmed at four to six-weeks-old. "This is easy at professional studs where people are regularly handling the foals and there are plenty of skilled grooms to assist, but can be a problem where someone has one or two foals."

Having over 27 years of experience of treating foals he has reached some valuable conclusions as to when foot balancing techniques can correct a deformity and when they cannot.

&#42 Three reasons

"It seems there are three clear reasons why foals toe in or toe out: an offset knee, rotation (from the chest) of the whole leg or angular limb deformity."

With off-set knees there can be some improvement if started young, but in the worst cases it is impossible to improve.

For full leg rotations Simon believes that it is not the trimming work that produces the improvements. "Leg rotations usually come from a narrow chest. When the chest expands at about three months and the foal strengthens the condition rights itself – of course keeping the foot in balance ensures this happens smoothly.

"The reason thoroughbred studs seem to have so much more of a problem with this than general riding horses is because the professional managers see the conditions early, and want to do something about it. By contrast less experienced owners do not see the problem – and it rights itself!"

The third reason – angular limb deformity – can be corrected if the bend is caused by a different growth rates at the growth plate, but not if it is caused by crushing of the carpal bones. "I find that you know which it is after two weeks. The former would have started to show some improvement at that time, the latter would not."

Simon will reveal more of the myths and miracles of farriery at the Equine Event, Stoneleigh, Warks, on November 6 and 7.

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