The full impact of a German court ruling announced yesterday is difficult to understand but I will tell you what little I know. As I announced in my presentation at the laminitis conference in Palm Beach two weeks ago, a major governmental change has been planned for the farrier profession in Germany, a country where regulations are part of professional life.
Until now, farriers have been educated like blacksmiths, under the metal trades division of the labor force in Germany. After completing blacksmithing training, farrier candidates then go on to horseshoeing school.
Current German law defines farriery as the application of steel (metal) shoes with nails.
As I understand it, when barefoot hoof trimming began to gain popularity in Germany, trimmers could practice without any standards or regulations because they were technically not covered by any law; i.e., they didn't use shoes or nails. A second group of professionals, called "soft shoers" also sprang up. These people were sympathetic to barefoot principles but saw the need for shoes in some cases; these semi-farriers also worked outside the law and the requirements of formal farrier education by applying only hoof boots, plastic or aluminum shoes or by glueing shoes.
All that was to end now. Under a new law, anyone engaged in the care of hooves would be grouped together under an agricultural profession and all would be educated under one system. In addition to anatomy, horse physiology, hoof function, etc. all would demonstrate proficiency in traditional shoeing, soft shoeing and barefoot trimming. Everyone would be technically capable of shoeing a horse, even if he or she chose not to.
The government approved the new professional structure, but the barefoot trimmers and soft shoers sued the government, claiming the law was unconstitutional because it forced them to learn forging skills, which they would not use.
Martin Schenk of the Erster Deutscher Hufbeschlagschmiede Verband e. V. (EDHV or "German Farriers Association") has been very helpful to Hoofcare and Lameness for the past two years with translations and interpretations of the law through the government system. Formation of the law began with open meetings with all three professions invited; from what I was told when I was in Germany a year ago, very little input was received from the shadow professions, yet a curriculum evolved that included and respected their skill sets.
Martin writes in an email today, "One of the arguments of the German Constitutional Court judgment is: If the person is only trimming hoofs it would be an 'over-qualification' to ask the person to learn shoeing. We just got the statement from the court yesterday, but we will have it checked with our lawyers first before we can give any statements. The German Federal Ministry for Agriculture is responsible to take further actions. They also just got the judgement yesterday. They now check if the law will just be altered or if we get a new law. But now it is definitely too early to give any statements."
Well-known dressage farrier Uwe Lukas, who is director (head officer) of EDHV, concurred with Martin's evaluation of the situation in a separate email.
In Great Britain, hoof trimmers are also allowed to work because of a technical loophole in the farrier law, which makes it illegal only to apply a shoe. Trimming and applying alternative shoes are not covered by the law. Only a registered farrier can nail on shoes, in most legal situations. However, in Great Britain hoof trimmers have been prosecuted for animal cruelty in the way that some cases of laminitis were handled.
Where farriers are regulated, they are protected by law in some instances, and have their arms tied by law in some other instances. What may be most important to consider is how legal and educational standards may affect the decision of young people to enter the hoofcare professions at all. Why go to the effort of a long apprenticeship to learn traditional shoeing? On the other hand, why go the shorter route and learn softshoeing or barefoot trimming if the government may declare that an illegal profession?
Stay tuned for updates from Germany.