Building a Veterinarian-Farrier Relationship (AAEP 2012)

Veterinarians and farriers must work as a team to manage a horse's athletic soundness and performance. The collaborative dynamic between veterinarian and farrier is important to ensuring a horse remains sound and receives the best possible hoof care. William Moyer, DVM, of Texas A&M University's School of Veterinary Medicine, and Harry Werner, VMD, of Werner Equine in Connecticut, explored this topic during the in-depth Foot from Every Angle seminar at the 2012American Association of Equine Practitioners' (AAEP) Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif.

Moyer brought to the discussion nearly 40 years of practical veterinary experience along with a background in shoeing prior to veterinary school; similarly, Werner has decades of practical experience in caring for horse feet. Werner suggested, "A partnership with a farrier is important to the health and welfare of the horse, particularly if a veterinarian doesn't possess the necessary skill set to deliver competent hoof care." In addition, he remarked that the high incidence of human orthopedic injuries associated with farrier work underscores the importance of hiring a farrier who is also well-versed in this skill set.

Moyer noted that farriers can work on horses in the United States without certification, whereas in the U.K. they must complete a four-year apprenticeship. Also in America shoeing schools are not regulated, he explained, and many farriers are self-taught. "One organization, the American Association of Professional Farriers, has made a positive contribution by requiring continuing education credits of its members," he said.

Both practitioners urged veterinarians to share complete case information and comprehensive instructions with the farrier in clear, nontechnical language; some farriers have more of a medical background than others. They also recommended including the client in this discussion, actively encouraging him or her to participate as an integral part of the decision-making process. If the farrier isn't available during the farm visit, they said, the veterinarian should leave written instructions for the farrier and follow up with a phone conversation later.

To avoid conflict, Moyer emphasized, "vet, farrier, and horse owner should resist making misspoken comments or incriminating criticisms. Not only is it important to be aware of what is said, but also be aware of who may be listening. Comments taken out of context may end up with bad news traveling far and fast in the horse community."

Assistants and technicians should be bound by the same ethical considerations. "It is always better to praise publically and criticize privately," stressed Moyer.

Both presenters also urged farriers to appreciate veterinarians' expertise and scientific knowledge, along with practitioners' ability to pursue diagnostic techniques and imaging. Similarly, veterinarians should recognize that many farriers have valuable knowledge and practical experience. No matter a farrier's breadth of experience, always keep in mind what the law permits: As Moyer stated, "It is illegal to operate technology that produces radiation without a license or licensed supervision because of public health hazards. With this in mind, farriers should not be taking radiographic images or making diagnoses."

Above all, clear communication is key and "problems with a horse's care are best conveyed to all parties so there are no surprises for the owner, trainer, vet, or farrier," said Werner. This approach ensures all parties are seeking the best welfare outcome for the horse. Moyer advised veterinarians to clearly articulate instructions for how aggressive the farrier should be in his or her approach. It's also important to making sure the farrier is comfortable with executing these treatment plans.

Finally, Moyer instructed the veterinarians on outcomes: "Don't blame an adverse result on a farrier, but instead ... look critically at the disease process as a significant reason for treatment failure."

Bottom line, both Moyer and Werner prescribed communication and cooperative planning when approaching a horse's feet as a veterinarian-farrier team. In short, Moyer said, "Conflict prevention is far better than conflict resolution."

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.