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Sunday, August 03, 2003


What is a Farrier?

Richard is the local Farrier, that is he is a specialist in shoeing horses. The English word 'Farrier', distinguishes him from the traditional blacksmith who might have shoed horses but more often, many 'smiths' ( Jack-of-Iron-Trades )were engaged in general light engineering tasks , hand fashioning a range of items in iron and steel in a 'smithy' forge and never shoed horses. (Farriers need to learn blacksmith skills to be able to fashion horse shoes, but Blacksmith's can only shoe horses these days if they are a registered farrier.)

The word farrier orignates from the Latin for a horseshoe, ferrum ( properly iron) and comes down to us from the Old French ferrier. In the 16th century farrier was used to describe both a shoer of horses and a veterinary surgeon. [Curiously, the word veterinary derives from the latin word for cattle, veterinus] ( Today, the term farriery surgery is still sometimes used to denote veterinary surgery, but a farrier and farriery are essentially and exclusively related to the profession of shoeing horses. Farriers in Britain have to be nationally registered and their licences to practice are renewable every year. The National Farriers Registration Council has, since 1975, regulated the profession and exclusively manages all farriery training throughout Great Britain. The apprenticeship training period is long and vigorous and includes developing detailed knowledge of horses and their anatomy, since ailments to the feet and limbs, as with humans, have knock-on effects to the rest of the body. The farrier has often to compensate and remediate for anatomical hoof and limb weaknesses when selecting and fitting the correct shoes, sometimes in consultation with the animal's vet. He also is required to devise corrective measures to compensate for faulty limb action. To finally qualify, farriers have to pass the gloriously named " Diploma of the Worshipful Company of Farriers" examination. It is illegal in Britain to shoe horses unless you are a qualified and registered farrier.

The Advent of the Mobile Farrier

In the old days when working horses were a common site on our streets, most towns and villages had at least one blacksmith's 'smithy' and, as well as working in iron and steel making gates, hinges, rings for cooper's barrels and wheel rims, et al the blacksmith would shoe working horses.

[The local Devenish Brewery 'smithy' in Weymouth was always a favourite place of mine in my childhood, listening to the 'music' of the blacksmith beating out red hot sparkling iron on the anvil or pumping a giant bellows to draw air through a bed of burning coke to raise the furnace temperature sufficiently to make the iron red hot and therefore malleable or workable. I sometimes watched him shoe the brewery's Dray horses. My Great Grandfather, on my mother's side, was originally a blacksmith before he joined the Royal Flying Corps,(RFC) during the First World War . The RFC was later to be renamed the Royal Air force , RAF ]

Nowadays, the permanent smithy is a rarity, and many of the essential jobs formerly done by blacksmiths are the domain now of small, light engineering companies. There are very few working horses nowadays but conversely, an increasing number of horses used for sport and leisure and, as all horses need horseshoes, mobile farriers are now the order of the day in the business of shoeing horses. Equestrian sport and recreation is increasingly popular in Britain and Equestrian Centres and riding schools provide much of the modern farrier's business. Because such establishments are widely scattered around the countryside, the farrier has to go to his charges, rather than, as in the old days, the horses being brought to him.

The Tools of the Farrier's Trade

The modern mobile farrier carries a range of traditional TOOLS that might have been found in any Smithy in any century. There is the curve-ended drawing knife for cleaning stones and debris out the inside of the hoof, a mixture of large, sharp, course-bladed files called rasps, used for filing hoof, long metalwork files for smoothing the actual horse shoe edges, long handled steel grips for holding and positioning hot shoes, long handled steel nippers for clipping hoof, and the farriers clawed hammer for tapping in hob nails, bending , cutting or removing them. The only noticeable concession to the twenty first century is perhaps the modern equivalent of the Smithy's FORGE, in the form of a small, gas powered twin burner kiln for heating and softening the steel horse shoe blanks to make them workable. Here is a shoe being HEATED in the mobile forge till it is red hot and therefore workable . The mobile farrier also uses the traditional horn-ended ANVIL, but a scaled down version, here on a retractable double bracket mounted, for convenience, to the tailgate of his mobile workshop. This farrier carries a range of pre-forged steel horseshoes. There are several types of shoe, and the majority of this stock seem to be 'Fullered' shoes ( that is they have a shallow groove along the under-edge whereas 'plain stamped' shoes are flat underneath and I presume the grooving extends the life of the nail head and offers the horse more grip.) As a concession to the farrier's comfort and back health, instead of being bent double and having to grip the horses leg throughout the hoof trimming part of the process, he carries an adjustable HOOF STOOL that takes the weight of the horse's leg at a convenient height, thus protecting the farrier's back and enabling him to exert more downward pressure when filing either hoof or steel.

Like so many craftsmen, working with hand tools, Richard has made himself a simple but ergonomically designed wooden open TOOL BOX that it easy to carry and holds the essential tools and nails he immediately needs to hand when working close to the horse and helping reduce unnecessary journeys back to his mobile workshop or back strain due to otherwise having to reach constantly around on the ground for his tools. He also wears either a heavy leather apron or, like Richard, leg chaps which protect his clothes and skin from injury and the heat of the hot shoes and also improves his hold on the horse's leg.

Many people have in their homes a worn and discarded horse shoe in keeping with superstition that they bring good fortune, and most people are thus under the mistaken impression that, while horse shoe sizes may vary in weight and size, they are all the same conventional shape and design. In fact there are a wide range of designs to fit the individual needs of horses and choice of shoe depends on, for example whether the horse is used for pulling, jumping, road riding or has any anatomical problems that need compensating for. The farrier's training and apprenticeship period is considerable, ( Richard's training took, he told me, four years and two months.) Apart from developing the basic skills of shoeing and hoof care, he has to have an empathy and understanding of horses and basic horse anatomy and pathology and be able to meet the individual requirements of each horse. Whilst, for example, the traditional u shaped shoe might be suitable for most hooves, it may be necessary to fashion a CIRCULAR SHOE for a horse that needs extra support at the rear (heel) of the hoof.

Most people are surprised that a set of iron horse shoes don't actually last all that long, and shoeing is a recurring expense with the need to have the horse re-shoed regularly at perhaps six week intervals. A set of tailored horse shoes, fitted costs up to £60 United Kingdom Pounds ($96 US Dolalrs or 86 Euros)

The Hot Shoeing Process

The actual process of shoeing a horse hasn't changed much for centuries and neither have the basic materials and tools. Firstly the worn shoe is REMOVED using a special pair of grips called "pulloffs" and levering upwards with them, both sides , working from the heel to the front of the hoof. The farrier then scrapes clean the underside of the hoof and rasps it evenly using his eye to get a FLAT REGULAR SURFACE He will carry a range of different sized pre-formed shoe blanks in his mobile workshop and use his judgment to select a near fit. The shoe will then be heated to red hot and beaten on the anvil, using the ANVIL HORN to make adjustments to the curve of the shoe, and the ANVIL TOP to flatten it. Several visits back to the horse may be needed, to ensure , by eye, that the shoe is an accurate fit. When the farrier is satisfied that is a perfect fit , the shoe is reheated and he will use extended pliers or grips to carefully position and then force the hot shoe onto the hoof to EMBED it. At this point, as he continues to press firmly down, the farrier is engulfed in SMOKE as the metal burns the hoof and seats into it to form an exact concave mould for the shoe. Then the farrier will reheat the shoe and immerse it in cold water to harden or 'quench' it ready for nailing. The quenched shoe is cool enough to hold in place by hand and the shoe can then be carefully POSITIONED , and secured to the hoof by a number of square headed hob nails. This 'Fullered' shoe is grooved and pre-slotted with nail holes so that when the NAILS are driven in they are flush with the horseshoe surface on which the horse will walk. The hob nails are driven through the hoof and out the sides, and the protruding nail is bent over ( clenched ) to secure the shoe and any excess nail is CUT using an adept twist of the claw on the farrier's hammer. The farrier then files in downward strokes using a large hoof RASP to reduce any excess hoof front growth. A long METAL FILE is also used to smoothe the shoe edges. ( If excessive hoof was left proud of the shoe, it would be prone to pick up dirt and stones between hoof and shoe and cause damage or an infection which would make the horse lame. Whereas a horse with regular hoof wouldn't take long to re-shoe, larger horses like the magnificent Shire horse with their huge hoofs can take up to four hours to re-shoe, Richard explained.


Few people have ever, I guess seen the UNDERSIDE of a horse hoof. This is the front left foot of a dappled grey mare called Clare whose owner very kindly let me take some close-ups of her horse's feet for my research. You see that Clare is wearing a fairly new steel , grooved "fullered " shoe and the square headed hobnails firmly in place. The black triangular shape is the part of the hoof called the Frog. It is , according to Richard, an old wive's tale , that immense care has to be taken when digging out stones and debris from the inner hoof not to damage the frog tissue and that it doesn't heal. That , according to Richard is nonsense. The frog is tough as old boots and can be cut and pared without jeopardy. The frog's function is to act as a shock aborber when the horse is walking or running. (He told me that Clare is prone to faster hoof growth at the front than at the heel. He clearly knows his customers well.

This shot of Clare's FRONT LEFT HOOF shows the positioning of the shoe nails in the bottom-most third of the hoof wall. You can clearly see how the narrow nails have been clenched over, making them appear thicker than they actually are. This photograph of Clare's REAR LEFT HOOF shows what is minor 'wear and tear' damage to the hoof but nothing too serious, although the small upward linear crack in the hoof may need attention if it worsens significantly.

All Photographs and text are ©johncoxon, UK2003

Further References:-

For a daigram of the anatomy of the lower leg and hoof of a horse , from the UK's " Clees Saddlery" website click on Anatomy

To see an small, independent craftsman's website (USA based ) who specialises in making high quality farrier's grips, nippers and pinchers click on Cloverleaf Farrier Tools

johncoxon 10:18 PM - [Link] - Comments ()

john/Male/51-55. Lives in United Kingdom/Engalnd/Salford, speaks English and French. Eye color is brown. I am what my mother calls unique. I am also creative. My interests are photgraphy/local history.
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