The Setup

Society has always known those that can and those that cannot. And among those that cannot, are also those that think they can! Because of this, “trades” were developed with training and official recognition as a way of guaranteeing a level of competence and to protect practitioners from unscrupulous amateurs. Many trades gained legal recognition too; this became a protection for the customers or, in the case of medical disciplines, patients, although protection by law is not necessarily a guarantee that something is correct.

diplomaThe Document

And alongside all this official and legal recognition has come an army of certificates, diplomas and titles. Legal titles, such as doctor, veterinary surgeon, farrier and even MOT tester are recognised nationally, or even internationally, and universally. A veterinary surgeon can practice on dogs, cats, horses, birds, reptiles etc., an MOT* tester can inspect Fords, Audis, Hondas or any other make or model…

But we also have ‘make specific’ titles: CNE – Certified Novell Engineer, accredited by Novell; MCSE – Microsoft Certified Software Engineer; titles neither interchangeable nor with a legal status outside the software specific spheres of respectively Novell and Microsoft, although there may be some overlap in knowledge.

This provides us with an interesting analogy. The actual knowledge required to pass exams is not always applicable or even possible in practice but the rule is ‘no matter how wrong it might be, if it’s in the book, it is the correct answer for the exam’.

The Twist

vitruvian man superimposed on hoofNowadays, we seem to have a course, a certificate, a diploma for just about everything we do. From heart surgeon to dog groomer. Many of these courses are run by nationally recognised educational establishments — from universities to night schools, others – usually manufacturer specific — by private organisations affiliated with the manufacturer.

But there are also the less credible but still very lucrative studies with their associated ‘diplomas’.  These are the organizations that profile themselves as being authoritative and run courses costing many hours of study and internship and often thousands of (fill in your own currency).

This sort of practice is prevalent in the world of barefoot horses. Without naming names — you can fill those in easily — there are organizations offering courses and internships lasting two to three years, peddling at best outdated or incorrect information, at worst claiming results only achievable through surgical intervention. The majority were created by (former) farriers and their first default is that they perpetuate the farrier’s myth of the ‘suspended limb’, the hoof wall that carries the weight of the horse. These courses cost upward of $8,000 (± €7500 / ± £6500) and provide the happy candidate with a piece of paper he can wave at all his or her clients. The clients are happy too because the trimmer is touting a ‘diploma’ which associates him with an apparently bona fide organization or appears to give him a title like ‘podiatrist’ – little realising that this diploma is worth no more than the paper it is printed upon.

The Sting

Talking to the owner of two foals recently, I was related ‘A Tale of Two Trimmers’:hoof of foal 5 days old

The foals were around 10 months old and had been living on predominantly soft ground and their hoofs were beginning to become rather long. The first trimmer was not too keen on the idea of trimming the hoofs of 10 month olds but did quote a price – €180 (± £155, ± $195) ! This price – even taking into account possible travel expenses – was extortionate. Clearly either a con or a way of ensuring there was no chance of being employed.

The second trimmer was so-called Diploma Accredited. This trimmer would not do anything with the hoofs since trimming them at this age would alter the conformation of the legs possibly causing damage. This is the ‘professional’ showing the ignorance of his trade. Firstly, with the foals 24/7 in a field, they are rarely on level ground therefore, trimmed or not, the feet will never be placed ‘optimally’. Secondly, with the ground being predominantly soft, the hoofs will sink into the mud leaving the frogs and soles to carry the weight of the foal and to define the carriage of the legs.

Trimming hoofs sufficiently does not alter the locomotion of the horse – the hoofs are meant to be as short as possible. Not trimming the hoofs sufficiently leaves the horse open to a myriad of pathologies:

  • splitting of overlong hoof walls allowing ingress of bacteria
  • separation at white line causing same
  • excessive length in caudal (rear ‘heel’) area causing insufficient tension in the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT); this leads to possible:
    • damage in the navicular region
    • damage at the connection with the deep digital flexor muscle
    • excessive flexing of the deep digital flexor muscle to maintain tension in the DDFT
    • excessive flexing of the dorsal muscles to compensate for the flexing of the deep digital flexor muscle



*obligatory annual vehicle inspection in the UK