Thursday, December 04, 2014

Barefoot Hoofcare Practices Subject of British Government Survey to Veterinarians

A government survey of British veterinarians is taking no prisoners and leaving no stones unturned. While the clear goal of the newly-launched Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ("Defra") online survey is to collect veterinarians' comments on what they have seen and thought about barefoot hoofcare practices in the field, it's obvious that farriers are under this microscope as well.

No one has ever said it in quite such succinct words, or asked from so many angles, however.

The survey declares its purpose is "to find out more about the work that is being done on unshod horses (an activity carried out by farriers and those commonly referred to as 'equine barefoot trimmers')".

Alternating between soft-suggesting language and hard-hitting questions, the government asks veterinarians to judge when and if hoof trimmers cross the line into farriery and/or veterinary medicine, in one section, and in another, turns the tables and asks if there are situations or cases in which hoof trimmers are more preferable for recommendation to horse owners than farriers.

The question that might raise the most hackles for hoof trimmers is simply, "Do you agree with the statement: 'Greater regulation of barefoot trimming would be beneficial for equine welfare in this country'?"

Is the British government picking on hoof trimmers? Not really. According to Defra, "The results of this survey will form part of the evidence base that is being collected and analyzed as part of the first stage of the Review of the Minor Procedures Regime (RMPR) project."

To that end, the questions require careful reading before answering. Two questions appear almost identical in their introductions, but have very different implications. One asks if standalone horse hoof trimming should be subject to more regulations than it currently has. Several questions later, one might think that the same question was asked again, but instead it asks, "Do you believe that there should be greater control around standalone trimming of equine hooves than for other equine or hooved animals?"

Can you tell a hoof trimmer from a farrier without looking at the hoof or the toolbox? Probably not. (Angela Huxham photo)

The compiled evidence from this survey may become reference material to refine or re-define working relationships between veterinarians and farriers as well as between veterinarians and barefoot trimmers. The survey does pose some provocative "what if" questions to the veterinarians, hinting that the perceived welfare value of horses may eclipse that of other hooved animals. The unasked question of that part of the survey: Should that playing field be leveled?

About the RMPR

The RMPR is a major examination of animal-related professions in the UK, aimed at considerations of who may or may not be allied with veterinary medicine and in what way they should be regulated in the future. Down the road, RMPR could have a huge impact on how--and perhaps even if--many horse professionals will earn their livings and interact with veterinarians.

Defra explains RMPR this way: "The RMPR project is a long term project. The intention is to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the current regime for the exercise of suitable controls on certain minor veterinary procedures that may be carried out by non-veterinarians. The long term aim of the project is to create a modern, effective, sustainable and easily understood regime which is fit for purpose, adaptable and take account of future developments."

In November 2013, Defra surveyed horse owners about their experiences with farriers for possible edits to the Farriers Registration Act, as part of the RMPR.

British government surveys on barefoot hoof trimming go back to 2008, when the need for regulation was deemed "urgent".

This survey could break new ground by speaking of farriers and hoof trimmers in the same breath and not completely separating them with a wall of interjections. If there is one thing that is missing from the survey it is whether or not veterinarians notice a disconnect between the way that hoof anatomy and conditions are perceived and described by the two groups, since this affects how the owner, in turn, perceives the horse's condition; such differences may ultimately affect the outcome of treatments or the overall welfare of the horse. Owners can be confused if a part of the hoof is called one name by one provider and a different name by another, or is told that radiographs are expensive but crucial for diagnosis by one and useless by another.

The polarized political world we live in shouldn't extend to a horse's stable; finding what farriers and trimmers have in common, even if it is what they both have to fear in the future, might actually be good for the horses in everyone's care, and this survey wasn't consciously designed to do that, but it might be a first step in that direction.

The Defra survey opened on November 26 and will close on December 14. Only British veterinarians should answer the survey.

To learn more:

British Government Opens Consultation Period for Reforms to Farriers Registration Act (2013)
British Government: "Barefoot Trimmer" Doesn't Describe the Job (2008)

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