The veterinary–farrier relationship: Establishing and sustaining a
mutually beneficial liaison
Reprinted with permission from Equine Veterinary Education (EVE).
Original published in Equine Veterinary Education Vol 30 November 2018.
W. A. Moyer†
, H. W. Werner‡
, S. E. O’Grady§
and J. T. Ridley¶
Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Texas A&M University,
Billings, Montana; ‡
Werner Equine LLC, North Granby,
Virginia Therapeutic Farriery, Keswick,
Virginia; and ¶
Ridley Horseshoeing, Leighton, Iowa, USA
The importance of farriery and thus hoof care in veterinary
practice is undeniable (Merriam 2003; Werner 2012). The
intent of this article is to explain the veterinary–farrier
relationship, its current status and importance of developing
and sustaining a working, trusting relationship. The benefits of
such a relationship include acquiring and maintaining clients,
the ability to perform various actions that one profession is
better equipped to provide than the other, a constant source
of experiential learning and most importantly benefitting the
horse. Thus, the relationship centres foremost on the health
and welfare of the horse. The authors describe why such a
‘marriage’ is important, how they may begin and sustain, as
well as errors that will harm or negate such a relationship.
Farriers, historically, were recognised as the primary source
of medical care for horses well before the late 18th century
when veterinary medicine as a discipline emerged as an
educational process and profession (Bullock 1929). The
progression of knowledge concerning anatomy, function and
physiology, diagnostic tools, as well as previously unknown
treatments evolved (especially in the last few decades).
Those factors continue to create opportunities for both
professions. Ideally both professions should work ‘hand-inglove’
to the benefit of the Equidae world. Understanding the
history and culture of both professions is the lead in to
logically using the skills of both.
Contrasting and comparing the two professions
Establishing a relationship
Veterinary medical practitioners are required to acquire
considerable educational experiences followed by strict
credentialing to practise legally. The ultimate acquisition of a
veterinary licence requires success in a variety of
undergraduate courses (mostly basic sciences) followed by
acceptance to an accredited college/school of veterinary
medicine. The present veterinary medical curriculum is easily
as robust, if not more so via the many species a student is
exposed to, as that required for human medicine.
The educational experience encompasses most all
species (dogs, cats, cattle, horses, exotic animals, aquatic
species, wildlife, etc.). It is universally agreed that the present
veterinary medical curriculum is on ‘overload’ as a direct
response to ever growing knowledge and technology
advances (diagnostic and treatment tools). A few decades
ago radiographic imaging was a ‘stand alone’ course in
diagnostic imaging; now students are exposed to
ultrasonography, scintigraphy, digital radiography and MRI.
Therefore, student exposure time to a variety of entities has to
be limited. The point being that student experience with
regard to the art and science of farriery is minimal (for
example, many colleges do not have a ‘in-house’ farrier)
(Kirker-Head and Krane 2010). Thus the importance and
necessity of seeking help from the farrier community is clear.
Once DVM, VMD, MRCVS (or equivalent) designation is
earned, licensing requires both national (and state) board
requirements to attain a licence in a given jurisdiction. Some
graduates, not all, may choose to enter into specific
internships and ultimately residencies, perhaps additional
degrees such as an MS or PhD. All holding a valid licence are
also required to attain continuing educational credits on a
yearly basis to maintain such a licence.
A variety of reasons and experiences, or lack thereof,
determine the level of confidence a given veterinary medical
practitioner has regarding handling and managing foot
problems. It is safe to state that ‘hands-on’ experiences are
often minimal for most recent graduates; further it is safe to
state that some practitioners are not comfortable, lack the
interest, or physically are unable to handle certain aspects of
foot care. There are those who are experienced and
credentialed to do both, they are, however, in the minority.
In some countries farriers (horseshoers and blacksmiths)
are able to practise and open a business in the absence of a
required education or credentialing process. Educational
experiences may come in one of the following ways: a
formal 2–3-year apprenticeship with an experienced farrier; a
broad variety of structured farrier school courses exist – the
time spent varies with the course; and some are literally selftaught
by watching others. Unlike some European countries,
the USA does not require specified training and credentialing
to open a business. Thus, the range of experience and
expertise can vary between highly trained and experienced
to little or no training and a part-time business. The location,
the financial strength of the horse-owning population and the
discipline in a given area will also reflect the farrier’s
experience. Disciplines within the equine athletic world vary
with what a given sport or purpose requires and request with
regards to farriery: for example, trimming and ‘plating’ TB and
QH racehorses vs. the same with trotters and pacers vs.
gaited horses vs. dressage vs. showjumpers vs. ranch and
stock working horses vs. ponies vs. donkeys and mules vs.
brood mares and foals, etc. The desired hoof wear and
understanding of the various equine endeavours can vary
and so can the experience of a given farrier.
To summarise the education and training of the two
professions; the veterinarian undergoes an intensive
approved curriculum of a specified length of time leading to
a veterinary licence but lacks the exposure to and
experience in farriery. In contrast, the farrier may pursue a
field or trade with no standardisation or approved curriculum
for varied lengths of time and taught by individuals with
varied thoughts, theories and methodology. Therefore, this
scenario does not detract from the importance of farriery in
equine veterinary practice but may present an initial hurdle
or challenge to both parties as to ‘what constitutes good
basic farriery and how it is applied’ has not been defined.
Developing and maintaining a business (veterinary and farrier
practice) requires and is enhanced by collegial and
cooperative professional behaviour. The specific working environment (racing stable/backside of track, backyard
horse operation, breeding facility, etc.) determines which of
the two practices has the most respected and frequent
contact with a client. A large operation may involve multiple
farriers. The key being that of a respectful interaction as well
as recognising that an individual farrier may have significant
influence with an owner or trainer. Thus, respect may or may
not have anything to do with one’s educational experience,
initials after one’s name or a farrier’s knowledge and skill.
Clients can and will determine the level of respect and very
clearly prefer an approach that is co-operative. The rewards
via a respectful relationship can be many and may include:
- Referral in either direction and thus an opportunity for
increased exposure and business
- Farriers are very often excellent ‘horse people’ and at
times recognise health-related problems that an owner
fails to note
- Either person can be very helpful by providing advice
about a specific horse’s behaviour or how best to handle
a particular client
- A rewarding and continuous learning experience can
- And, lastly, a trusted friendship may well happen
Initiating a relationship begins with a simple introduction and
evidence of respect for both professions. The ‘I’m a Doctor and
thus know it all’ attitude on the part of the veterinarian is likely to
fail; the same being true with the farrier with the ‘I have been
doing it this way for decades’ attitude. A mutual concern for the
horse and owner should be made the foremost attitude.
Admitting one’s weaknesses, be it the medical knowledge by
the farrier or inabilities or lack of experience in farriery by the
veterinarian is a good beginning. In other instances, both
individuals are experienced and knowledgeable which should
lead to experiential exchange. Suggestions include: providing
one another with convenient contact information, treating one
another as equals, demonstration of ‘old fashioned’ good
manners, sharing relevant current continuing education
information and a ‘how can I help’ presence. Avoid as often as
is possible any negative discourse about other professionals. It
should not be surprising that such discourse often is embellished
and is shared with others (social media and Internet). An
example is that of a horse acutely lame as the result of what
appears to be a misplaced nail or nails; all too easy to blame
the farrier. A combination of factors determines the placement
of any nail: the horse’s behaviour, handlers’ ability to stabilise
the horse, configuration of the hoof (thin, upright quarter wall) or
maybe the horse torqued the shoe which changed the position
of the nail or nails. Managing horses with chronic laminitis is
perhaps the greatest challenge for both parties (Moyer and
Schumacher 2000). A myriad of techniques are ‘out there’ with
unfortunately little or no repeatable and documented
evidence suggesting one is better than another. The outcome,
regardless of the approach, may be that of a failure. Blaming
one or the other for failure in these cases is generally illogical
Enhancing the relationship
How then might one enhance a relationship? Thoughts and
experience in this regard include:
Damaging a relationship
- When one sees good work by either party, it is useful and
so rewarding to verbalise that to the owner/caretaker. It is
not surprising that such information is often forwarded.
- On a given day offering a cold drink, cup of coffee, or
whatever is a cheap and positive investment.
- Assuming that listening is part of one’s work ethic and that
new or enhanced knowledge is acquired, a ‘thank you’ to
the provider is welcomed.
- Mentioning, promoting or even inviting the other party to
upcoming appropriate clinics, lectures, etc. is often met
- Calling and/or sending digital images to either party for
discussion or as a follow-up is greatly appreciated – and so
easy these days!
- Taking a few moments to ask about one another’s ‘other
life’ away from horses is invariably both positive and at
- Admitting errors and mistakes is often rewarding as well as
an additional learning experience.
- A simple ‘thank you’ when one or the other helps is the
measure of a good person.
What are the elements that may damage or negate a
relationship? That may include the following while also
knowing that there are times when one is not able to
understand a failure:
- Sharing negative information with others about one
another (could be pricing, horsemanship, appearance,
lack of knowledge, etc.) invariably enhances negativity
- Farriers making diagnoses, taking radiographs or other
diagnostic images (other than photos) providing treatment
plans, performing invasive hoof wall penetration surgeries
and/or providing medications is not only unlawful but also
a guaranteed negative response.
- Inexperienced veterinarians pulling shoes for whatever
reason and causing hoof wall loss; failing to protect the
feet of a now barefoot individual; not saving the removed
shoes (owners and farriers end up losing).
- Veterinarians criticising farriers (and vice versa) without
knowing the circumstances; for example, the owner/trainer
insisted that a given horse be trimmed and shod under
their misguided direction; the horse is incredibly difficult to
work on; and/or the handler is part of the problem, etc.
The point being – the veterinarian was not present when
the work was performed on the horse and thus cannot
know the circumstances.
- Veterinarians leaving incomplete instructions (so-called
prescription) for a selected trimming/shoeing without direct
contact with the farrier; admittedly, such conversations
may be difficult to arrange, but leaving a voice mail, text
message and contact data is easy.
As in all relationships, conflicts may arise. Quick
recognition and frank, yet discreet discussion is indicated to
preclude destructive circumstances. Effective
communication between all parties – farriers, equine
practitioner and owner/handler/trainer is essential in providing
the best care for the horse and service to the client.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of a strong
veterinarian–farrier partnership(s) in equine practice. A
mutually shared dedication to doing what is best for the
horse will continually cause the farrier and veterinarian to
examine their respective ‘business models’.
Those practitioners with insufficient formal education and/
or experience with farriery can lead to conflict and reduce
owner/trainer confidence in case management. It is the
responsibility of the equine practitioner to acquire and
maintain competence with regard to the equine digit
(anatomy, biomechanics, treatment options) as well as
familiarity with the selection of available farriery appliances
and materials. Such knowledge is acquired by asking those
who know as well as access to a variety of farrier
publications. It is very useful for both parties to know that
progress has been made in clearly defining terms used in
equine podiatry – thus an accepted terminology should be
used (O’Grady et al. 2007; Parks and Mair 2009).
Effective and timely communication between all parties
involved (to include the owner/handler/trainer) to create a
‘team effort’ to maximise the care and service to the client
and horse should be the goal (Moyer and Werner 2008).
Given today’s convenient technology, verbal and document
communications are easily facilitated. All clients have
expectations – realistic or otherwise – regarding prognosis,
rate of progress and costs. Timely and effective
communications are essential, useful and usually rewarding.
Bullock, F. (1929) Notes on the early history of the veterinary surgeon in England. Proc. R. Soc. Med. 22, 627-633.
Kirker-Head, C.A. and Krane, G. (2010) Farrier services at veterinary
teaching hospitals in the USA. Equine Vet. Educ. 22, 519-525.
Merriam, J.G. (2003) The role and importance of farriery in equine
veterinary practice. Vet. Clin. North Am. Equine Pract. 19, 273-285.
Moyer, W. and Schumacher, J. (2000) Chronic Laminitis: considerations
for the owner and prevention of misunderstandings. Proc. Am.
Assoc. Equine Pract. 46, 59-61.
Moyer, W. and Werner, H.W. (2008) Developing and sustaining a
mutually functioning relationship with farriers. Proc. Am. Assoc.
Equine Pract. 58, 176-177.
O’Grady, S.E., Parks, A.W., Redden, R.F. and Turner, T.A. (2007)
Podiatry terminology. Equine Vet. Educ. 19, 263-271.
Parks, A.H. and Mair, T.S. (2009) Laminitis: a call for unified terminology. Equine Vet. Educ. 21, 102-106.
Werner, H.W. (2012) The importance of therapeutic farriery in equine
practice. Vet. Clin. North Am. Equine Pract. 28, 263-283.