Sunday, March 30, 2008

Great Britain Publishes Proposed Welfare Guidelines for Hoof Trimming; Distinctions Held Between Farrier, Trimmer and Veterinarian Roles

The National Equine Welfare Council of Great Britain has taken a very big bull by the horns with the publication of welfare guidelines in the trimming of horses by persons other than registered farriers and veterinarians. The first-ever guidelines were published this week, and herald the opening of a 30-day period during which time trimmers and others may comment on the proposed regulations.

The two-page document speaks firmly to the need for painfree trimming of barefoot horses, while adding a proviso that newly-barefoot horses may be painful during transition. According to the guidelines, sore barefoot horses need to be aided with oversight "including the use of protective boots and limited workload to ensure there is no pain or suffering."

The provisional text adds that "Care should be taken to ensure that any protective boots are fitted properly to avoid significant injury from straps and fixings."

In what appears to be a victory for those making a living as hoof trimmers, the regulations stop short of specifying any sort of minimum training standards, examinations or registration for trimmers. Farriers, on the other hand, will still be required to complete college training and a four-year formal apprenticeship before being allowed to shoe a horse for pay.

Under British law, only a registered (graduate) farrier may apply a horseshoe. Under the Farriers (Registration) Act of 1975 horse owners have the legal right to trim their own horses' feet, but may not put on shoes or attempt to change the shape of the horse's feet.

The new regulations specify the involvement of a veterinarian in the treatment and management of horses with hoof disease or lameness, but the language is quite vague as to when a horse's hoof problems are considered lameness vs. superficial or mechanical defects or hoof capsule deformation that may cause pain or gait abnormality.

In 2006, two British horse owners were convicted for following what were deemed to be "radical" methods advocated by German veterinarian Dr Hiltrud Strasser; the court held that the practices used lead to the unnecessary suffering of the horses in their care. No veterinary supervision was provided in that case, which involved laminitis. (See Hoof Blog posts for 17 July 2006, 31 August 2006 and 7 September 2006.)

The true acid test of the new guidelines will no doubt be the treatment of laminitis by hoof trimmers without veterinary supervision. Many claim to obtain excellent results on laminitic horses with changes in lifestyle, diet and judicious hoof trimming and dismiss the need for pain medication, radiographs and veterinary supervision. The new guidelines would suggest that trimmers should obtain precise interpretation of the new equine welfare violations if working without veterinary supervision.

"Having a code of practice will allow the (equine welfare) charities to intervene at an earlier point when they see someone is doing work that should be undertaken by a vet or farrier," commented the British Equine Veterinary Association's Chris House, who is chairman of the NEWC's equine hoofcare sub-committee.

Attached to this post are two jpeg files (below), each representing one page of the proposed British guidelines. If I have created these documents correctly, you should be able to click or double click on them (depending on your web browser setup) and they should enlarge to full page size for you to read on the screen or print out on letter-size paper. (Sorry, if it doesn't work on your system. They are large high-resolution files that may take some time to open or download.)

These documents are part of a legal process and should not be altered. Please respect the posting of these documents for your personal information. Remember that these are "in process" documents provided for comment and these regulations only affect hoof trimmers in the United Kingdom.

Blogger's Commentary: It's not likely that any proposed regulations could please all parties. I'd interpret these rules as a victory for hoof trimming as an unregulated profession in a country where almost everything else seems to be regulated. As I read this document, it is also an endorsement of the value of hoof boots when fitted properly and a warning that improper use of hoof boots would be contrary to horse welfare regulations.

Hoof Blog readers from Great Britain may comment to the NEWC using forms available on their website. Deadline for response is midnight, April 30, 2008.