Friday, October 10, 2008

Vet School Farriers: Change on the Hoof

An article caught my eye today on the web site of the University of California at Davis College of Veterinary Medicine. One of the largest and most horse-specialist vet schools in the country has two farriers on staff now, Marc Gleeson (in the UC Davis photo above) and Bill Merfy. And former farrier Kirk Adkins is still around, teaching a hoof science course for undergrads. The article started me thinking about how hooves are being served at vet schools.

Vet school farriers do not have an easy job. Each has a unique situation--some are on staff, some are contract employees, some are freelancers prancing through--or caught in--a revolving door. All have to take on a horse without knowing anything at all about its behavior. They have to work on horses that may be horizontal on operating tables or in recovery stalls. Some horses need work only on an injured foot, while others need trimming or shoeing all around, and an injury may make it difficult or painful for the horse to stand on three legs.

They usually don't know anything about the horse's shoeing or hoof history, and they are not likely to have a chance to make good on any adjustments that need to be made, because they are also not likely to see the horse again.

So they never know if their shoes or boots or braces were really successful, unless the horse comes back or an owner or trainer gets in touch. That's tough. All they know is how the horse looked when it went out the door.

Vet school farriers may or may not have access to case records, may or may not be allowed to photograph their work, and always have to keep client confidentiality in mind. And be nice to students.

If they can take orders and suggestions cheerfully from multiple sources, I think that would be the #1 quality in the job description.

But things do seem to be improving. The promotion of Michael Wildenstein to adjunct professor at Cornell is certainly a milestone. I have heard lately about farriers being invited to vet schools to actually do the work on a client's horse after surgery or treatment. The University of Pennsylvania hosted a conference for local farriers in May, inviting them in for lectures and a look around the hospital; Penn's Pat Reilly will speak at the Laminitis West Conference in Monterey, California next month.

Paul Goodness, Amy Sidwar, and the Forging Ahead fariers have been enthusiastic about the new gait analysis equipment at Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center. Virginia Tech vet students have a horseshoeing immersion course wiht Danny Ward at his shoeing school in Martinsville, Virginia. The University of Florida's Adam Whitehead is settling in after taking over for Jim Ferguson. The University of Illinois recently published a nice article about the farrier there, Travis Finn.

Further afield, Mikael Berg at the vet school at Uppsaala in Sweden is working on research projects that you will read about soon. At the University of Glasgow in Scotland, farrier brothers Allan and Jim Ferrie (both Fellows of the Worshipful Company of Farriers) recently hosted a vet/farrier short course. And the University of Liverpool's resident farrier Ian Hughes is finally back on British soil after serving as the official farrier in charge of the forge and farrier services for both the Olympics and Paralympics in Hong Kong.

And who could forget the role that farrier Dick Fanguy played for the Louisiana State University vet school in the weeks after Katrina, when displaced and injured and just plain lost horses needed vet and hoof care? Or the efforts of Penn's Rob Sigafoos to prevent Barbaro's laminitis?

Ten years ago, with the exception of Rob Sigafoos at Penn and Michael Wildenstein at Cornell, vet school farriers were an anonymous entity. If I called a vet school and asked who the farrier at the hospital was, the person who answered the phone rarely knew the answer. To be fair, there might not have been one.

I don't know how long this will be the case, but any farrier in America could be a vet school farrier, since there are few, if any, schools that require minimal academic or professional qualifications. Some are impeccably and formally qualified, like Cornell's Wildenstein, who earned a fellowship of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, with honors. Others hold no farrier certification credentials.

Farrier services may be expanding, too. Dr. James Orsini at Penn and others champion the concept of lameness-related nursing services for released patients; a nurse or farrier visits the horse in its home setting to do soaks, bandage changes, irrigate wounds, remove hospital plates, check drains, or adjust shoes and boots. Frequent checking, especially of laminitis cases, can prevent return trips to the hospital.

And at North Carolina State University, we have what I think is the first of a new breed, the "equine podiatry technician". Andrew Cope does everything but shoe horses in his work assisting the senior clinician. His job sounds like a combination of a vet tech and a farrier apprentice. This is an interesting development; some people have suggested that farriers and other "adjunct" veterinary professionals should be considered specialized technicians under the new veterinary practice acts in place in some states. So far, Andrew is the only person I know of in that position or with that title.

Which farrier school will be the first to add the services of a natural hoof trimmer? Will more universities follow the lead of Colorado State and Cornell and add a farrier training program or give students more options like Danny Ward's program?

One thing--one big thing--is wrong with this picture of vet school farriers: most of these people have never met each other. A great way to advance the quality and level of care given hooves at veterinary teaching hospitals would be if one school would take the initiative to host a meeting of the minds where all the farriers from all the vet schools can get together and share their expertise each year.

They deserve it, and so do the horses who are and will be in their care.

If anyone has information about the farriers at some of the other universities, including the Canadian schools, please let me know. I'd like to publish more news about what goes on in those ivory tower forges.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use or re-use or re-publication without permission. This post originally appeared on October 10, 2008 at