Monday, December 2, 2013

My journey with hooves

I first started to take an interest in hooves around 2004, when my horse at the time got an abscess as a result of being pricked by a horseshoe nail. I found caring for the abscess and watching the changes in his hoof really interesting. It burst just below the coronary band and so I watched it grow out, and that's when I really started realising that hooves were far more intricate than a sensitive frog to be watched when picking out feet.

My dad had gone to college to study to be a blacksmith, (he thought he'd enrolled in a farriery certificate - but was mistaken), and he thought that I would enjoy a career as a farrier. My mum was not happy with the idea and persuaded me to go to college to get my A levels instead. Halfway through my A levels, I wasn't making many friends and my grades were not as good as they could have been. I spent more time at the stables than usual and constantly asked to leave A-level college and go away to farrier college instead.

Finally my mum gave in and let me go. In contrast to the college I was at previously, I loved every minute of farrier college. I left first thing in the morning as it was 45 mins away on the bus, and got home late at night. I never had homework as I finished everything in class, but I would often put in extra hours in the forge on weekends, as I wasn't as physically strong as some of the other students. Passing the course and gaining my pre-farriery certificate was one of my proudest moments, and the whole time I felt I was doing the right thing for me. My mum began to see that maybe her idea of a suitable career for me wasn't the best fit, and I was more suited to working with horses.

She couldn't really complain, as she bought me my first pony at a young age and should have known my life would end up revolving around them. The odds were never in her favour - don't most young girls with a pony grow up to be a broke lady spending all of her time with her horse?

Once I finished college, we emigrated to New Zealand. I was so excited about this as I was under the illusion that New Zealand was a green country full of horses, sheep and not much else. A perfect place to fulfil my dream of becoming a farrier. However, I found that apprenticeships were a lot harder to find in New Zealand (especially if you were a girl!!!!) and so I finally had to give in to my mum and go back to school.

After settling in we bought horses for my sister and I, joined a pony club and began thinking about other careers that I would enjoy. I tried riding track work, becoming a barista, going to flight attendant college, working in retail. Eventually I ended up at a small zoo and stayed there for a while. I'm an indecisive person at the best of times, it was only by some miracle that I had managed to select a career path at that age. Having to do it a second time was just too much to ask!

During my journey finding a replacement career, my horse Oscar's feet were on a journey too, which I was oblivious to.

Over a season of shoeing, my horse's healthy and strong feet had contracted and became twisted and out of shape. His frogs had become slivers between crushed heels and he was sore over stones.
I went to remove his shoes, and tried barefoot trimming for a while, but finally found a farrier to take me on as a part time apprentice, and sought his advice. The shoes went back on and we tried different remedies to open up Oscar's heels and make him more comfortable.

Nothing made any kind of significant change, but he was a lot more comfortable with the correct shoeing Only turning him out for eighteen months in which I couldn't ride him on any kind of hard ground allowed his feet to recover. Below is a photo of his frog double the size it used to be, but half the size it was when I bought Oscar.

As an aspiring farrier, it made me sad to think that I had caused such damage to something I aim to protect and care for, but it was still interesting to see the difference a good job can do for hoof health. Whether that is barefoot or with shoes is irrelevant - the right shoeing job will absolutely not cause the damage you see on pro-barefoot websites. Those case studies are resulting from either a bad job initially, or lack of an appropriate hoof care routine. Those cases can be found in both shod and barefoot horses.

In New Zealand, practising farriers do not have to hold any kind of qualification or be registered under any governing body. This is in stark contrast to England, where farriery is governed strictly and the route to becoming a farrier is long. I had presumed the profession was similar globally (or at least across western countries), which led to me not doing much homework when choosing my first farrier. Alarmingly even in countries like the USA, farriers can gain a qualification after only a few weeks as opposed to four + years. Where possible, I would select a farrier that is WCF (Worshipful Company of Farriers) registered, or holds their diploma. This registration is open to farriers world-wide, providing they sit a physical and theory based examination which includes tool making (including shoes). Otherwise, you are asking for problems. In New Zealand, there is a very similar course which takes just over four years to complete. Upon completion of a similar examination, a farrier will be certified under the NZ Farriers Association. I'm not sure whether there is an equivalent in the USA/other western countries, but I am extremely skeptical of short courses at 'farrier schools' and think the root of the farrier/trimmer arguments results from the kind of shoeing that comes out of places such as these.

Eventually I found a British registered farrier to take me under his wing. Not as an apprentice with a contract, (because I was female - :o!) but as long as I showed up at the forge, he would supervise and continue teaching me so I could sit the NZ farriers exam in my own time. As I got stronger and learnt more, I began to practise on my own horse under careful supervision. The photo below is the first time I shod a horse completely alone. I was determined to do it myself, and though it took two hours and I was exhausted afterwards, the job was perfect. Pats on the back all round.

Currently, my farrier plans are on hold as my partner is already a qualified farrier (therefore beat me to it) and one of us needs a fixed salary for financial security reasons (damn home ownership and all that). I do have a lot of fun with the marketing side of his business- hardly any farriers in NZ spend money or time on marketing and so it's an open field. Despite taking one for the team and going back to university to get a 'proper job', I'm naturally still fascinated by the hoof and enjoy continuing to learn more about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment