Welfare, Farrier Groups Advise Caution on Do-It-Yourself Hoofcare

The International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) has issued a statement cautioning enthusiastic horse owners not to tackle their own hoof care work in pursuit of a "natural" unshod hoof. Reacting to the groundswell of popular interest in "natural" barefoot hoof care programs, the ILPH cited possible dangers to both horses and humans when untrained owners use razor-sharp farrier tools designed for professional use.

Days after the ILPH released its position, the Farriers Registration Council (UK) and Worshipful Company of Farriers (UK) followed suit. In the United States, American Farrier's Association President Emil Carré posted a letter of agreement on the Hoofcare & Lameness magazine web site (www.hoofcare.com).

While many in the natural hoofcare camp saw the releases as protectionist attempts to deflate the popularity of the barefoot paradigm, the objections stated were primarily limited to the safety of horse and owner in a potentially dangerous situation.

A leading teacher of barefoot hoofcare, Hiltrud Strasser, DVM, of Germany, recently toured the United States and UK, teaching her theories of hoof trimming, which is one part of an overall holistic horsekeeping system. After hearing of the successful results of Strasser's trimming, many horse owners bought a book or videotape and tools, and set out to alter their horses' hoof balance.

While some owners have been successful in learning the skills and how to use tools, and have had cooperative horses, the danger of injury to horse or owner is high, warned the ILPH and the farrier groups.

"Any attempt to radically alter an abnormal foot shape is not, in my view, something an amateur should attempt," commented Jim Dukes, MRCVS, on behalf of the ILPH.

The statement issued on behalf of the Farriers Registration Council and Worshipful Company of Farriers further warned, "Owners who cripple their animals through ignorance or inappropriate techniques are as guilty of cruelty as those who do so through malice."

In Germany, Strasser runs a training program for people who wish to learn her methods; her graduates call themselves "Certified Strasser Hoofcare Specialists." Unlike farriers, they do not apply shoes, only trim according to Strasser's guidelines.

Recently a group of 10 American and Canadian students returned from Germany after completing the first Strasser training course offered in the English language. They are now establishing practices in North America.

Todd Merrell, a recently certified Strasser hoofcare specialist in British Columbia, Canada, lamented the negative publicity that Strasser's teaching has received.

"Dr. Strasser in no way advocates that individuals trim a hoof without completing her hoofcare specialist certification program, which entails a year of training and requires yearly re-training and re-certification," he stressed. "It is undeniable that there is a burgeoning interest in viable barefoot options and, in my opinion, Dr. Strasser provides just this. However," he cautioned, "her methods look deceptively simple. They are actually quite complex and subtle, and should not be attempted by individuals untrained in the method's entirety."

About the Author

Fran Jurga

Fran Jurga is the publisher of Hoofcare & Lameness, The Journal of Equine Foot Science, based in Gloucester, Mass., and Hoofcare Online, an electronic newsletter accessible at www.hoofcare.com. Her work also includes promoting lameness-related research and information for practical use by farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners. Jurga authored Understanding The Equine Foot, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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