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Horse shoeing: The age old art of farriering
06:07 - Source: CNN

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Farriers have tended horses hooves for centuries

Play key role in horse racing industry

CNN  — 

Ancient Asian communities were said to have used leather and plants; the Romans invented “hipposandals” made from leather and metal.

Be it on farms or battlefields, humans have been protecting horses’ hooves for centuries.

There was a time when making horseshoes – a practice known as farriery – formed part of a blacksmith’s everyday routine. Carrying heavy loads on hard surfaces would inevitably lead to the wear and tear of a horse’s hoof.

Although the need for blacksmiths has steadily declined, the art of farriery is very much still alive.

In the competitive world of racing, a horse’s hooves might be tended to every 10 days. A well-fitted shoe can help keep a horse injury free, as well as helping with traction across muddy surfaces.

Steel shoe

There are just under 3,000 registered farriers in Britain, many of whom work with elite race horses.

William Haggas, a trainer notable for raising two British Classic winners, employs 80 farriers who shoe 40 horses a day.

“When a horse is just in regular training they’ll wear a steel shoe,” explains Billy Mulqueen, one of Haggas’s team of farriers.

“And that’s purely for durability and wear. Aluminium is used more for running, but that doesn’t wear as well in everyday training or on the concrete.”

Read: Is titanium the future of horseshoes?

Although Mulqueen doesn’t believe a farrier can be directly responsible for making a horse run faster, he does see his job as an essential cog in a racehorse team.

“We’re the common observers. We spend a lot of time with the horses on our own, and we pick up things that we can transport back to head labs, vets, trainers.

“We’re looking after the feet and that’s very important, but we can also pick up on other stuff.

“Horses are very used to it. You’re going into the non-sensitive structure of the hoof, so if you’re accurate and get it right they shouldn’t feel it.”

Back pain

It’s not easy work. Doctoring a horse’s hoof involves being hunched over for long periods, meaning back pain is common.

For this reason, farriers tend to be of a younger generation – according to the UK’s Farriers Registration Council, almost half of all the country’s listed farriers are under the age of 40.

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Though the work may lack glamor, it is an essential part of a horse’s welfare. Haggas is quick to praise the likes of Mulqueen who help to ensure his horses are in the best condition come race day.

“It’s a fantastic job,” Haggas tells CNN Winning Post, “because I get all the glory if my horses win and I don’t do any of the work.

“Over the course of 30 years we’ve assembled a great team of people. We try and build a family spirit in the place. Our motto is if you work hard, you will be rewarded, whether it’s financially or otherwise.”