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Hoof care and shoeing
The hooves of a horse or pony are cleaned by being picked out with a hoof pick to remove any stones, mud and dirt and to check that the shoes (if worn) are in good condition. Keeping feet clean and dry wherever possible helps prevent both lameness as well as hoof diseases such as thrush (a hoof fungus). The feet should be cleaned every time the horse is ridden, and if the horse is not ridden, it is still best practice to check and clean feet frequently. Daily cleaning is recommended in many management books, but in practical terms, a weekly hoof check of healthy horses at rest is often sufficient during good weather.
Use of hoof oils, dressings, or other topical treatments varies by region, climate, and the needs of the individual horse. Many horses have healthy feet their entire lives without need for any type of hoof dressing. While some horses may have circumstances where a topical hoof treatment is of benefit, improper use of dressings can also create hoof problems, or make a situation worse instead of better. Thus, there is no universal set of guidelines suitable for all horses in all parts of the world. Farriers and veterinarians in a horse owner’s local area can provide advice on the use and misuse of topical hoof dressings, offering suggestions tailored for the needs of the individual horse.
Horses and ponies require routine hoof care by a professional farrier every 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the animal, the work it performs and, in some areas, weather conditions. Hooves usually grow faster in the spring and fall than in summer or winter. They also appear to grow faster in warm, moist weather than in cold or dry weather. In damp climates, the hooves tend to spread out more and wear down less than in dry climates, though more lush, growing forage may also be a factor. Thus, a horse kept in a climate such as that of Ireland may need to have its feet trimmed more frequently than a horse kept in a drier climate such as Arizona, in the southwestern United States.
All domesticated horses need regular hoof trims, regardless of use. Horses in the wild do not need hoof trims because they travel as much as 50 miles (80 km) a day in dry or semi-arid grassland in search of forage, a process that wears their feet naturally. Domestic horses in light use are not subjected to such severe living conditions and hence their feet grow faster than they can be worn down. Without regular trimming, their feet can get too long, eventually splitting, chipping and cracking, which can lead to lameness.
On the other hand, horses subjected to hard work may need horseshoes for additional protection. Some advocates of the barefoot horse movement maintain that proper management may reduce or eliminate the need for shoes, or propose hoof boots as an alternative. Certain activities, such as horse racing and police horse work, create unnatural levels of stress and will wear down hooves faster than they would in nature. Thus, some types of working horses almost always require some form of hoof protection.
The cost of farrier work varies widely, depending on the part of the world, the type of horse to be trimmed or shod, and any special issues with the horse’s foot that may require more complex care. The cost of a trim is roughly half to one-third that of the cost of a set of shoes, and professional farriers are typically paid at a level commeasurate with other skilled labourers in an area, such as plumbers or electricians, though farriers charge by the horse rather than by the hour.
In the United Kingdom, it is illegal for anyone other than a registered farrier to shoe a hoof or prepare the hoof to receive a shoe. It is not illegal in the UK for anyone to trim hooves for maintenance or cosmetic purposes, as long as it is not done preparatory to the application of a shoe. The farrier should have any one of the following qualifications, the FWCF being the most highly skilled:
DipWCF (Diploma of the Worshipful Company of Farriers)
AWCF (Associateship of the Worshipful Company of Farriers)
FWCF (Fellowship of the Worshipful Company of Farriers)
In the USA, there are no legal restrictions on who may do farrier work. However, there are professional organizations, such as the American Farrier’s Association (AFA), that maintain a voluntary certification program. Levels of certification in the AFA include:
CF (Certified Farrier),
CTF (Certified Tradesman Farrier),
CJF (Certified Journeyman Farrier)
For each level of certification, farriers must pass written exams (addressing anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics), forging exams (modifications to keg shoes and building shoes from barstock), and live shoeing exams. Once a farrier has completed the highest level of certification (the CJF), he or she can also pursue Specialty Endorsements, such as the TE (Therapeutic Endorsement).