Providing Hoof Care in Developing Countries

On his equitarian trips, O’Grady said he teaches the locals a very basic trim technique using whatever tools are available to them.

Photo: Courtesy Stephen E. O'Grady, DVM, MRCVS

What does the three-day eventer leaping over car-sized hurdles in Virginia have in common with the donkey hauling goods to market in Ethiopia? They both need hoof care to stay sound and productive in their respective jobs.

The donkey’s cargo, however, might be his owner’s sole source of income, so soundness becomes especially crucial to a family’s livelihood. But owners of working equids in poor communities don’t have access to the quality farriery (if they can find any at all) that owners of horses in developed countries do. And the challenges in trying to provide them with hoof care and education are many.

“The approach to improving hoof care is difficult, as it not only involves care for the animals while there, but instruction of the local populace in the importance of good farriery, and also how to implement it in a very basic manner,” explained Stephen O’Grady, DVM, MRCVS, of Virginia Therapeutic Farriery, in Keswick.

O’Grady, who has been involved with equitarian projects all over the world, described ways to teach proper hoof trimming and shoeing to owners of working equids in a presentation at the 2015 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas.

First, he listed some of the inherent challenges associated with these efforts:

  • The language barrier Even with the help of an interpreter, many of these owners must learn by observation.
  • Limited supplies Farrier tools typically aren’t available in these rural communities. So visiting farriers must teach hoof care in a very basic manner, said O’Grady. “We have addressed this in many instances by having farrier supply companies donate shoes, nails, and tools,” he said. “Lately, we have even asked farriers to donate used tools that could be used by the local farriers while we are there and then left for them to continue what they have been taught.”
  • Limited time Visiting farriers and equitarians have only a day or two to teach these trimming and shoeing techniques.
  • Noncompliant animals Many of the equids simply won’t allow their feet to be worked on without sedation.
  • Environment Farriers must work on these animals in less-than-ideal conditions. In Ethiopia, for instance, it’s so dry that they can’t even cut through the toughened, brittle feet to trim them, said O’Grady.

Nevertheless, hoof protection is important for these animals because most are working on hard surfaces. Excessive hoof growth and distortion can lead to abscesses, cracks, and abnormal forces on the foot—all issues that can put an equid temporarily out of work.

On his equitarian trips, O’Grady said he teaches the locals a very basic trim technique using whatever tools are available to them: Find the frog and the widest part of the foot, trim the heels to the base of the frog, and remove excess toe until the hoof is fairly proportional.

“Remember at all times that you are generally teaching an owner or caregiver with perhaps little interest and no farrier skills,” he added.

O’Grady then described his experience working for a week with owners in Ethiopia, a poor country with rampant animal welfare issues.

He explained that this farriery project was particularly challenging because they had to use the only materials and tools available to these people: rubber tire scraps, round carpenter nails, hammers, and hoof knives. When O’Grady and his team arrived, they noted that abscesses were rampant in these horses because the local farriers placed the nails inside the hoof’s white line and drove them through the sole and out the hoof wall. O’Grady said his group taught the farriers the bare basics of trimming and how to remove flares from the outer hoof wall using the toeing knife.

“By the second day we started to see results,” he said. “The farriers would look at the foot, start to trim the heels/remove the flares, and cut out (rubber) shoes that actually fit the foot.”

With the proper education, equid owners in developing countries can sustainably improve their animals’ hoof health. Beyond improving standard of welfare for these horses and donkeys, keeping them sound can mean preserving owners’ sole source of income.

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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