The Practice Act laws state that only veterinarians can diagnose and treat health problems. The veterinarian has to keep records related to each visit and also must protect the confidentiality of your horse’s records, and is the steward of that information for you. Veterinarians are required to have a great deal of education, but often not a great deal of education related to foot problems.
In contrast, farriers work with feet every day. The farrier does not have a legal license, but sees and shoes your horse every four to six weeks. He/she knows your horse’s feet, knows metal working, and hopefully keeps up with various shoeing applications.
Experience and willingness to work together to solve a particular problem are important for both veterinary and farriery professions. Most of the time your veterinarian and farrier will be working separately on your horse, but having them work together can save his life.
You own the horse and pay the bills, so you need to know if your veterinarian and farrier are willing to work together. Ask who your veterinarian and farrier refer to when they have questions about a foot or lameness case. These are two simple questions that many owners are not willing to ask, but getting the best veterinarian and farrier you can find organized before a problem occurs is critical. Once you get your “team” in place, be loyal to it–changing veterinarians and farriers can set your horse’s normal care backward and worsen a lameness (because a new team won’t be familiar with the horse’s history). If a problem occurs within your team, consult the regional professionals whom your veterinarian and farrier identified as their mentors.
How can you use this team to the benefit of the current and future health of your horse? First, they can help determine when your horse should be shod or trimmed. Is it every four, five, or six weeks? If your horse has a problem or mismatched feet, then a shorter shoeing interval may be suggested. Insist on regularity with your farrier; set the appointment at the current shoeing for the next shoeing. Make sure your team has a decent place to work with the minimum of a flat surface under a roof and a reasonable place to watch your horse move.
How else can this team prevent lameness or improve lameness recovery? Talk to your team about a preventive foot care program for your horse that would be done every six to 12 months. They should take a group of measurements in a consistent way so either your veterinarian or farrier can look back and see if there are positive or negative changes. These measurements might include recording the hoof angle, toe length, and the widest part of the foot (your veterinarian and farrier might want other measurements for your particular horse). Consider having proper lateral (side view) and dorso-palmar (front view) radiographs taken of each front foot with the shoe kept on; these films would show the position of the bones in relationship to the shoe. Again, the common denominator is consistent views with standardized measurements.
If your horse has mismatched feet, a club foot, thin walls, thin soles, a stretched white line or white line disease, laminitis, sore soles, or is overweight or elderly, you should have at least a lateral radiograph and measurements on file. When serious problems such as laminitis occur, you’ll then have a baseline of information that tells you what has changed. If your horse shows a potentially problematic change on periodic photos or X rays but isn’t lame, you can be proactive to keep him from becoming lame. If your horse becomes lame and your veterinarian has to see him multiple times, get both professionals together to look at the horse no later than visit three so they can discuss what is happening.
Another area where the team approach works is in the rehabilitation of non-hoof lamenesses. Any hock, tendon, ligament, or fetlock problem will benefit from supportive shoeing. This is an area where the veterinarian and farrier working together can shorten the rehabilitation time and obtain better healing.
One final comment about the veterinarian/farrier team approach: If you are buying a horse, you should have your veterinarian do a thorough purchase exam. You also should have your farrier examine the horse’s feet and give you an opinion on how difficult it will be to keep that horse’s feet in good shape. If your farrier removes the shoes for the veterinarian to take front feet radiographs (that will become part of your preventive foot care program), it is easy to have your farrier examine the feet when he/she is reapplying the shoes.