It is vital for a veterinarian to have a support group. By support group, I mean a team of other medical professionals that the vet can call on for advice or consultation since no one person, especially when it comes to the medical field, is an expert on everything.
My support group consists of a handful of various internal medicine and surgical experts at local university vet schools. These folks are worth their weight in gold for their willingness to patiently answer my questions when it comes to managing a convoluted medical case or how to approach a complicated surgery. The other vital member of my support group is a farrier my clinic works with frequently. Anyone doing anything with horses knows the importance of a good farrier.
I am in awe of farriers because I know how difficult their job is and how skilled you have to be to succeed at it. I know a horse’s hoof from the inside out. I know the bone structure, the nerves, and all the different things that can happen inside of it. But when it comes to physically manipulating this physiologic structure from the outside, I need help.
In vet school, we were given one class on how to take off a horse’s shoe. This is a skill an equine veterinarian should know, since there will be times when a lame horse has a shoe on and in order to perform further diagnostics or institute therapy, the shoe must come off. And we quickly learned during this class just how easy farriers make things look.
Dr. Anna Taking-off-a-Horse’s-Shoe O'Brien often looks like this: red-faced, sweat pouring into my eyes, back breaking, thighs bruised, curse words streaming out of my mouth. And the entire process takes fifteen minutes. A farrier can do it in less than five and with much less drama.
Although I am able to wield a hoof knife quite adeptly along the soft sole of a hoof’s foot when looking for a draining tract of a hoof abscess, that’s about my extent of skills when it comes to using tools on a horse’s foot. I can wrap and I can medicate, but when it comes to files and nails and pliers, I am out of my area of expertise.
There are some equine veterinarians who are also farriers. Usually, these extremely skilled individuals work in equine-specific clinics and normally specialize in athletic, highly competitive patients that require high-tech hoof care, just as reiners and other cattle horses, racehorses, and jumpers and dressage horses. For those veterinarians who lack farrier skills, like myself, it is the best service to my clients for me to know a good farrier instead.
The most common situation in which I require a farrier’s expertise is when I’m working with a case of laminitis, an extremely painful and potentially very damaging inflammation of the sensitive structures inside a horse’s hoof. To help offset the pain, a horse with laminitis should sometimes have his hooves trimmed in such a way to take off some of the pressure on the toe and allow him to bear weight on his heels. When working with clients in these cases, I always explain that for their horse to make it through this, we need to be a team of three: The owner needs to do the daily care, the veterinarian needs to evaluate pain and X-rays and manage the pain, and the farrier needs to trim the hooves according to what the X-rays show. Without the farrier, I would be unable to help these, and many other horses.
Dr. Anna O’Brien