Farriers specialize in equine hoof care—caring for animals such as horses and donkeys, but mostly horses. The profession is an old one that stretches back hundreds of years, paralleling the increasing domestication of horses.
A look at the history of the word “farrier” explains something about the profession. “Ferrarius” is a Latin word meaning “of iron” or “blacksmith,” which explains why farriers are so often confused for being blacksmiths. Years ago when workers weren’t as specialized as today, blacksmiths would be called on to make horseshoes since they knew how to work with iron, and with that job already done they would also be the ones to put the shoes on the horses. (see Blacksmith school or farrier school? for a more detailed distinction between the two occupations).
Being a farrier involves some skills of a veterinarian in caring for the horses’ feet and some of a blacksmith in making, applying and adjusting horseshoes. So now that the “what’s a farrier” question is out of the way, specifically, what does a farrier do? Here’s a list of the skills that farriers specialize in:
Acting as veterinarians, farriers care for hooves by watching for signs of disease or other ill-health. They also watch for potential lameness issues, intervening before a problem occurs.
Farriers maintain hooves by keeping them trimmed. Using tools such as rasps and nippers they cut away the hoof material. It’s an important part of hoof care because it helps maintain foot balance by keeping the feet at the proper shape and length.
“Hygiene is extremely important, especially when animals are somewhat confined and continually walking over the same ground where they urinate and defecate,” says Walter Fuermann, a Certified Farrier with the American Farrier’s Association. Another important job for the farrier, therefore, is to clean the feet and cut out excess hoof walls, dead sole and dead frog.
Domesticated horses need horseshoes for a variety of reasons: their hooves harden less than in the wild, they’re not walking on hard surfaces as often and their hooves don’t naturally wear themselves down as much.
Farriers apply horseshoes to horses for some of the above reasons, but they also apply hooves as a corrective measure to improve a horse’s gait and to help an animal gain traction when walking in slippery conditions such as ice. Horseshoes are als0 used for race horses and performance horses.
The farrier, acting as blacksmith, removes old shoes, trims the hooves, measures shoes to the feet, bends the shoes to the proper shape and applies them. They typically use either the cold shoe (bent when cold) or hot shoe (heated in a forge) methods.
Watch this video to see a farrier at work: