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Saturday, October 20, 2012

British Barefoot Hoof Tape Controversy Escalates: Advocate Pledges Legal Assault on Farriers Registration Act, Council, and Illegal Farriery Charges

A hoof trimmer at work on a horse. Both hoof trimmers and farriers wear aprons, use hoof stands, and  carry knives, nippers and rasps. How much of the similarity ends there may be determined in court. (Photo by Jean-Pierre)

It’s just part of the horse. A few cubic inches at the end of a leg. But who’s in charge of it, anyway?

In Great Britain, the furor surrounding sovereignty over the hoof just won’t go away. In other parts of the world, including the United States, it may seem like it’s much ado about nothing. But when decisions and news about the definition of a profession are made half a world away, it potentially makes a difference everywhere.

In September, the Hoof Blog reported on a court case in Great Britain in which a hoof trimmer pleaded guilty to illegal farriery because he applied what is commonly called “hoof casting tape” to a client’s lame horse.

Hoof injuries are often treated with hoof
casting tape. (Extension.org photo)
Information for that article was provided in the form of a press release from the Farriers Registration Council, a statutory body in Great Britain with powers to inititiate legal processes against non-farriers; the agency is charged with enforcing the Farriers Registration Act, an Act of Parliament passed in 1975 which defines farriery for that nation and prohibits anyone but a registered farrier or veterinarian from shoeing a horse.

Read the previous Hoof Blog article about the barefoot trimmer's hoof tape prosecution.

How do you get to be a farrier in Great Britain? It's not easy. A four-year-and-two-months apprenticeship and examination are required; farrier education and training are the province of a separate body, the Worshipful Company of Farriers (WCF). Only "Approved Training Farriers" are allowed to have apprentices.

For a long time, the FRC’s dominion over the hoof was more or less unchallenged, except by the occasional unregistered farrier plying the trade on the sly. When barefoot trimming came along, the new professionals were tolerated outside the dominion of both the FRC and WCF because farriery's definition in the UK describes it as  ‘any work in connection with the preparation or treatment of the foot of a horse for the immediate reception of a shoe thereon, the fitting by nailing or otherwise of a shoe to the foot or the finishing off of such work to the foot’.

Hoof tape is a popular hoofcare product in the United States and is sold in different forms by different manufactures. The  British campaign does not specify particular brands or applications but rather cites the use of the product on hooves. (Hoof Blog archives graphic from first report on hoof tape prosecution)

No shoe? No problem. At least that is how the barefoot trimmers viewed the law. They were free to conduct business. In a move that most freethinking Americans would consider evidence of a nanny state, the British government agency LANTRA set up a government body to develop training and testing systems to manage the new trade.

But perhaps everything wasn’t spelled out as clearly as it needed to be. The professional standards for barefoot hoof trimming don't mention the use of shoes or the application of support materials.

Is hoof tape a shoe? The FRC seemed to think so, and in the recent court case, the legal judgment concurred. But the tempest in the British hoof tape teapot might be a bellwether for legal tests of farriery around the world.

The hoof trimmer pleaded guilty to illegal farriery and was charged a fine and court costs. But he wasn’t the first: Less than a month before, another hoof trimmer was charged for using hoof tape. Her charges were dropped.

Horse owner and hoof tape
advocate, Annette Mercer
But one of her clients doesn’t want to let it drop. A horse owner named Annette Mercer from Bath, England has established a legal defense fund for barefoot trimmers who run foul of the definition of farriery; she has published a manifesto to topple the power of the Farrier Registration Council and re-write the Farriers Registration Act.

Annette Mercer credits the work of her hoof trimmer and the effects of wearing hoof tape for the remarkable recovery of her horses from a variety of hoof-related complaints.

The website "Fighting for the Barefoot Horse" is Mercer's call to arms with three aims. Her web site tells us: (quoted from web site)

  • The immediate aim is to put a stop to the FRC (Farriers’ Registration Council)’s prosecution/persecution of barefoot/podiatry practitioners, such as Lindsay Cotterell and Tom Bowyer;
  • The medium term aim is for the community of barefoot owners and practitioners to take up the LANTRA challenge to put in place a nationally recognised program of training and qualifications for barefoot care.
  • And finally, we would like the current legislation that governs the definition of what is a shoe – The Farriers (Registration) (Amendment) Act 1977-- to be repealed and replaced with something that recognizes both our growing understanding of the miracle of horses’ hooves, and also the technological advances in products to support the barefoot horse. The flexible hoof wrap, featured in current FRC prosecutions, is just one example of such products.
"We don’t believe in telling anyone they must take their horses’ shoes off and allow them to go barefoot, although it’s clearly worked for us. But nor do we accept the right of the FRC, a trade body that represents the interests of farriers who shoe horses, to tell us that we can’t use a barefoot hoof care provider to care for our horses and to threaten us with prosecution if we do," Mercer writes on her new website.

Attorney Lawrie has pledged to
defend the next hoof trimmer
charged with illegal farriery.
(web site photo)
The “Fighting for the Barefoot Horse” campaign has pledged 15,000 British pounds (US $24,000 ) to defend the next trimmer who is accused of performing illegal farriery by applying hoof tape. The money is pledged to the research expenses of Ian Lawrie QC, described as a “top UK lawyer”, who has agreed to represent the barefoot faction on a pro bono basis, minus those research fees, apparently.

Mercer writes that the privileges of the Farriers Registration Act "prevent the progression of the barefoot movement in the UK and mean that owners like us are forced to employ farriers to look after our horses' hooves. It is a blatant case of bullying by the FRC; the big boys thinking that because they have money behind them they can abuse their statutory powers and push people into doing whatever they want."

In reality the FRC is not in business just to ruin a barefoot trimmer's day. The most recent case before the FRC’s Disciplinary Committee was to chastise one of its own. A farrier performed what sounds like excavation of an abscess in a horse's sole, but the horse became more lame. When the vet was finally called, the horse was diagnosed with quittor on its pastern, and the farrier was prosecuted for failing to recognize that condition, as well as failure to seek veterinary treatment of the lameness. Judgment will be forthcoming.

In another case, a farrier convicted in a court of law for drug possession had his professional status reviewed by the FRC. He was not "struck off the register"--banned from working as a farrier--but his judgment will also be announced at a later date.

It sounds like the British governing bodies need to define one of two things--or more: What's the definition of a barefoot horse? Or, what's the definition of a shoe? Must a barefoot horse be literally bare? Is alternative hoof support--whether removable or fixed--a shoe by another name?

In Germany, the situation was even worse, since farriery there was defined with the inclusion of applying steel shoes. Alternative farriers started businesses using plastic shoes, glue-on shoes and hoof boots, as well as barefoot hoofcare, and were not required to go through long apprenticeships the way that farriers did as long as they didn't use steel. An effort to reform farriery there failed to combine the two professions, after proposing that everyone learn to both shoe with steel and use alternate materials. The barefoot faction simply refused, saying that they should not be forced to learn a skill they wouldn't use.

Barefoot hoof trimming worldwide has evolved so that a percentage of horses are being "equipped" with alternative materials like hoof tape, or wearing hoof boots, which are removable hoof protection and could be technically argued to be a type of shoe in a courtroom context.

From far across the Atlantic, it looks like the British missed an opportunity to define barefoot trimming as an adjunct form of farriery so the trimmers would be protected by law instead of being victims of it.

The word "barefoot" may come back to haunt the new profession, just as the word "shoe" pigeon-holes the farriers. Unfortunately for horses and the advancement of hoof science, the British problem continues to divide people into camps and hold back progress, rather than carry hoofcare forward.

If you asked anyone from either camp, they would say that that is what they want: progress in understanding the foot and improving the care they can offer. But, the way things are set up, each camp wants it on their terms.

And if you ask anyone who's been there, decisions made in court rarely clear the air and usually benefit the lawyers involved more than the people on either side who will be affected by even the most well-intentioned efforts to interpret, reform or create a law.


To learn more:
Original article: Hoof Casting Tape: A Shoe By Another Name? Non-Farrier Hoofcare Practitioner Pleads Guilty to Illegal Farriery in Great Britain
Read the National Occupational Standards for Farriery in Great Britain
Click here for full ordering details for Professor Denoix's indispensable reference book.

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