American Farrier's Association Convention

The American Farrier’s Association Convention held in Lexington, Ky., March 3-6, was planned with the professional farrier in mind. While the lion and the lamb vollied outdoors throughout the four-day event, inside the convention center farriers from all over the world escaped the vagaries of the weather and took advantage of the occasion to increase their educational opportunities through a number of lectures, demonstrations, hands-on experiences, observations, and by interacting and communicating with other farriers.

In addition to the educational programs, there was a Media Learning Center, where tapes were made available on a regularly scheduled basis. The topics ranged from conformation and its relationship to lameness, to injuries, problems, and solutions of the athletic horse, to corrective shoeing of horses with navicular and laminitis. Farriers could watch demonstration tapes on a variety of subjects, such as hoof repair and various forging techniques. One tape was devoted to helpful hints for horse owners, while another dealt with teeth and aging.

The convention’s trade show was international in nature, providing a venue for top manufacturers and distributors of farrier supplies and hoof care products.

One of the main underlying themes of the lectures was the symbiotic relationship that exists between farrier and veterinarian. A prime presenter at this year’s convention, Jean-Marie Denoix, DVM, PhD, Professor of Veterinary Anatomy, made the journey from France to share his insight with the assembly. Denoix’ major area of study is the locomotor system of the horse, including anatomy, biomechanics, and lamenesses. He combines this interest with an expertise in imaging techniques. This combination of talents and interests has propelled Denoix to the forefront of international speakers on the topic of equine locomotor problems. His two presentations at the convention, ‘Corrective Shoeing of Hock Injuries’ and ‘Biomechanics and Lesions of the Distal Interphalangeal Joint,’ emphasized the need for farriers and veterinarians to work together.

Beginning with the premise that both professions agree that shoeing plays a fundamental role in treating osteoarticular and tendinous disorders of the horse’s foot, Denoix, in his Hock Injuries lecture, showed how trimming and shoeing can contribute to improving hock problems involving lateromedial imbalance in both young and adult horses, sagittal disorders including joint angulation defects and tendon lesions, and osteoarticular lesions (OCDs) in young horses.

For example, in young horses one of the most frequently encountered cases is the tarsus valgus or cow hocked individual, in which the cannon bones deviate outward and the fetlock joints are wider than the hocks. Although the condition might in time correct itself, a veterinarian might be called upon to correct the problem surgically. The farrier can play an important role as well. If a compensating varus of the fetlock joint exists, the farrier must only trim the foot short and recommend veterinary intervention. If the fetlock joint has retained the correct orientation, without any epiphysitis on the medial side, then trimming down the lateral heel and quarters and possibly fitting a shoe with a wide medial branch and narrow lateral branch are indicated to support the hocks, thereby limiting strain on the ligaments and reducing bone compression.

In the tarsus varus case or ‘bow hocked’ foals, the hock is deviated laterally (outside) and the cannon bone is oriented medially (inside). In such a condition, the fetlock joints are closer than the hocks if both hind limbs are subject to the same defect. Therefore, the same principles apply as in the case of the tarsus valgus, but they are reversed from one side to the other. If the foal does not correct itself in a matter of time, and it does not have any compensating anomaly of a valgus fetlock joint or lateral epiphysitis, the internal heel and quarter must be trimmed down. An orthodpedic shoe fitted with external wide web and wide fitting is indicated. If the farrier’s work does not accomplish its goal, then the farrier should immediately inform the veterinarian in order to perform corrective surgery as necessary.

After taking the audience through other examples of how the farrier and veterinarian work together to correct hock problems, Denoix reached his conclusion: ‘The veterinarian needs the farrier’s technical expertise in order to improve horses with hock problems; farriers for their part must have the insight of an accurate diagnosis in order to adopt a rational trimming and shoeing solution.’

Denoix’ second presentation of the convention concerned corrective shoeing of the distal interphalangeal joint. He discussed the principles and the rationale of the corrective shoeing, and for each type of injury he mentioned adequate and inadequate types of shoes. For example, if the injury involved the medial collateral ligament caused by lateromotion, medial rotation, or the lateral sliding of P3, the corrective shoeing would be a shoe with a wider medial branch, a narrow lateral branch, and no lateral extension (wedge).

Denoix reminded his audience that an adequate trimming and shoeing program requires precise diagnosis of the injured structures, accomplished through radiography and ultrasonography.

Michael A. Bowman, DVM, in his live demonstration and lecture on ‘Radiographs For Farriers,’ also emphasized the importance of a good set of images from which a farrier can work. In his live demonstration, Bowman used a fluoroscope to obtain images of a horse’s lower leg and discussed fluoroscopy compared to radiography. Fluoroscopy is radiograph in real time and has certain advantages—it allows for quick evaluation of the horse and joint, it allows for a multitude of views to be obtained, there is no delay or waiting for images to be developed, and retakes of images or images from different angles can be shot instantly. There are, of course, disadvantages as well. Prime among these is price. A fluoroscope costs about four times as much as a radiograph. Another disadvantage is that the bone detail is not quite as good on a fluoroscope as it is on a radiograph. If the farrier or veterinarian is looking for a hairline fracture or a stress fracture, the degree of the fracture might not be as readily evaluated without an X ray. A third disadvantage is that parts of the horse’s body with too much body mass can’t be visualized with a fluoroscope.

Bowman discussed other ways to aid the farrier’s evaluation of the horse. He stressed the importance of farriers in understanding the gait of the horse and watching the flight of the foot. Because it requires the best rhythm, the trot is the preferred gait for observing lameness. Careful observation of these elements leads to picking up on things that otherwise might not be known. One should especially look for the sound leg. The horse’s body weight will fall down on the sound leg (down and sound), and the chest or head will move upward on the lame leg.

Observing the horse’s gait also can reveal any imbalance or abnormal foot flight. For hind leg lameneness, the hip hikes upward on the lame leg, the point of the hock moves asymmetrically, and there might be a short step or dragging toe. In addition to observing with the eyes, observing with the ears provides a means to detect lameness, especially with the horse’s trotting on blacktop or concrete.

A flexion test helps make the lame leg more obvious as well as isolating the joint that is the likely source of the lameness. It is important to establish some form of grading system, for example the 1-5 grading system: 1 out of 5—normal; 2 out of 5—slight lameness; 3 out of 5—average degree of lameness; 4 out of 5—severe lameness; and 5 out of 5—fracture lameness. Performing a flexion test is very important. In fact, asymmetry might not show up until a flexion test reveals lameness.

Another tool used to detect lameness problems is the nerve block. There is one basic rule to remember: regardless of where the lameness is thought to be, one should start at the bottom with a heel block and rule out one region at a time

In addition to the aforementioned methods, hoof testers are a crucial part of any lameness exam. It is important for the farrier to find a type of hoof tester he or she likes best and stick with it. The bigger the hoof tester, the more response it can elicit from subtle tissue. It is equally important to ritualize the hoof testing procedure and perform the test the same way each time. Using the same procedure each time can lead to finding the most subtle changes. Farriers need to look for a horse to show some resistance, to show some subtle change in the form of a pulling away or a tensing up. It is important to remember, however, that using a hoof tester can make a normal horse sensitive; therefore, the farrier must be subjective in interpreting the horse’s response to the hoof tester.

Bowman stressed that laminitis is the number one reason that farriers and veterinarians need each other. Having a laminitic horse creates a tense time for everyone concerned: owner, veterinarian, and farrier. A good set of X rays is important for providing as much information as possible to farriers so they can do their job. Radiographs are a must in the early stages, but, according to Bowman, medical therapy should be started immediately without waiting for an X ray.

He added that corrective trimming and shoeing are dangerous in the first 48 hours due to the stress of the pathologic changes occurring and the likelihood of complete rotation of the coffin bone. Surgery for founder once was considered a last resort, but today procedures are initiated very early in the laminitic attack. Possible surgeries include hoof wall resection, coronary band grooving, hoof capsule removal, and deep digital flexor tenotomy. Bowman emphasized that the more aggressive the attack against laminitis, the better the outcome might be. It is important for the farrier and the veterinarian to have a plan for shoeing and trimming and a type of shoe that they feel comfortable in applying; however, they need to be flexible and adaptable as well.

Farriers attending the convention received tips on how to pass certification. One session was devoted to shoeing the front feet of a horse and another session to the hind feet. Using a horse from the Lexington Mounted Police, Dennis Manning, AFA Certified Journeyman Farrier, reviewed the certification process. The three areas for evaluation and certification are hoof preparation, shoe quality and fit, and nailing, finishing, and fit. The farrier should look at the guidelines, do the work, then look at the guidelines again to see if the work corresponds.

Manning stressed the art of making shoes. Knowing that every foot is individual and that the four feet on a horse could mean four different shapes and sizes, the farrier must decide what needs to be done and create a shoe that will allow him or her to accomplish that goal. The farrier must know where to put the holes in the shoe and where the heel hole should go, how much of the frog to take off, and how much to trim, keeping in mind that for the horse’s sake, it is best to leave a safety margin and not trim too much. Underlying both sessions was the basic principle that the farrier first needs to make a close evaluation of the feet, and that the primary purpose of the shoeing is to protect the horse.

One of the highlights of the convention was the demonstration of farrier technique by the French Garde Republicaine Farriers. The four-man French Garde Republicaine team consisted of Christian La Frond, Joel Gobron, Jean Luc Remy, and Didier Redon. The farriers demonstrated the way the horses used by the French government for parades, state occasions, and crowd control are shod, a method used for a century or more (See photo page 57).

Standing patiently, the giant grey Percheron who was their subject would from time to time turn his head to investigate the proceedings taking place behind him. He listened to the tune the hammers sang as the smith removed glowing orange steel from the gas forge and began to work. Using first the horn of the anvil, then the base, the smith and the strikers shaped and fashioned the steel bar into graceful curves that matched the measurements of the draft horse’s foot.

You had the feeling that somewhere on Mount Olympus, Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and metal working, probably smiled as he looked down on the farrier demonstration by the French Garde Republicaine. While some of the elements of the process might have changed over the centuries, the art remains the same—the blending of fire, metal, and human strength to forge a horseshoe.

About the Author

Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a former English professor with a BA from Georgetown College, a JD from the University of Kentucky School of Law, and an MA in English from Western Kentucky University. He is an assistant editor for Eclipse Press.

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