Spring care from an ancient profession

by Andy Bryenton

Spring is a time of intense activity in the equine world, as the blankets are packed away and green grass replaces hay on the menu. But it’s also a season of soggy pastures and mud, coinciding with the time of year when riders want to get out and about with their horses. This means keeping a careful eye on hoof care, and a call to the local farrier for some timely assistance.

Farriers represent one of the oldest professions still in practice — even the modern guild of farriers in England dates to 1365. There are pictures and mosaics of farriers plying their craft back into antiquity, and the reason is clearly apparent in springtime — a horse is only as active and healthy as its hooves allow.

To prevent bacterial infections it’s often necessary to pick out foreign objects daily in springtime, while also paying careful attention to mud which can build up on a horse’s lower legs and cause skin irritations. 

Farriers must undertake four years of training to carry the title of their profession, and this gives them an in-depth knowledge of the ailments which can afflict equine hooves. It also helps them determine just what needs to be done to deliver optimum movement, happiness and hoof health in different seasons.

After a shoeless winter it may be necessary for the farrier to make a detailed assessment, then trim the hoof and go on to select or even forge exactly the right shoe.

Some are practical, while others are actively therapeutic — another role the farrier must assume is that of a healer by way of his or her craft. This can be remedial, preventative or stretch to the truly miraculous, giving horses a literal new lease of life.

There’s a reason a horseshoe above a doorway means good luck — it’s an ancient mark of respect for a craft that’s been preventing mishaps and disasters in rural communities for centuries.

Evolved over millions of years to provide the perfect balance and support for one of nature’s most powerful running ‘machines’, the horse’s hoof is a complex and finely tuned structure as unique and purposeful as the human eye and brain.

Farriers may work with medieval-seeming hammers, anvils and fire, but that’s simply part of a long tradition. In many ways, they are right up with the state of the equine health art, as focussed as a human podiatrist working with an olympic marathon runner for great results. Remember to call your local farrier early in spring to allow time for new shoes to wear in before a busy and enjoyable summer of riding.