The Need for Regulation and Standards in Barefoot Trimming
A position statement by The Equine Podiatry Association (UK)
- The need for regulation
- The need for standards
- Training requirements
A number of key UK organisations have recently released reports and position statements regarding the need for regulation and standards with respect to what is generally described as “barefoot trimming” of equine hooves. While these organisations have typically consulted barefoot trimming groups unofficially, representatives of those actively involved in the profession have not been included in working groups in the drawing up of such reports and statements. The result is that, while broadly helpful to the general debate, these documents contain significant inaccuracies and misconceptions and, in many ways, misrepresent the positions of the main barefoot trimming groups in the UK.
The Equine Podiatry Association (EPA) has compiled this position statement to inject more accurate information and a better representation of the position of the EPA into the current debate. This statement refers, in particular, to two key existing documents:
- The National Equine Welfare Council Barefoot Trimming Sub-committee initial report (15th October 2006) – (the NEWC report)
- A Position Statement about “Barefoot Trimmers” jointly agreed by the Farriers Registration Council et al. – (The FRC statement)
This statement purely reflects the position of the EPA and cannot be held to represent the views of other barefoot organisations in the UK or elsewhere.
The NEWC report refers to the history of shoeing dating back at least 2000 years and claims that shoes were likely to have been developed to allow horses to be used on paved roads or similar, to increase resistance to wear. While this is an attractive argument, it ignores the existence of paved roads in the Greek and Roman empires long before the invention of horseshoes. It is clear from the work of Xenophon in around 300BC for example that Greek war horses were routinely marched long distances on roads and stone tracks without any need for shoes.
Even today, there are cultures around the world where horseshoes are not routinely used but their horses are entirely capable of travelling long distances on abrasive surfaces. Our members regularly work with horses in all disciplines from dressage to endurance riding including horses that travel large distances on aggressive surfaces without any evidence of excessive wear to the hooves.
Sadly, the debate regarding whether a horse can go barefoot or not has been portrayed by the various reports and statements as a black and white issue. The NEWC report for example states that ‘working horses, for example those used for hunting, trail riding or for pulling drays on hard surfaces are likely to require shoeing or similar… attempts to ride horses unshod where there is significant road work or similar, leads to lameness associated with excessive hoof wear’. In the words of the Chinese proverb, those of you who say it cannot be done should not get in the way of those of us who are already doing it!
The key issue here is not that shoes are always needed for road work. Each horse is different and needs to be assessed as an individual. Additionally, the environment that the horse is kept in has a significant effect on the usability of the horse’s feet. With careful control of environmental factors such as nutrition, turnout regimes, exercise levels, infection control, types of bedding and of course the style of trimming, the quality, durability and growth rate of hooves can be significantly improved. This means that a horse that cannot safely do road work without shoes today may be able to do so in 6 months time after a suitable hoof strengthening programme. That same horse may also be able to do road work today with the correct use of removable hoof boots. The horse’s foot is extremely good at adapting to environmental conditions, something which appears to be ignored in the opinions expressed by those more used to shod approaches.
Our members use well proven techniques to optimise the health of the equine foot. An important part of this process is an accurate methodology for assessment of foot health which allows our members to determine what work a horse is able to do at each stage of the transition process without risk of discomfort or harm. Our members hold equine welfare to be of the highest importance and will never countenance a horse being used at a level or type of work that the feet are not capable of achieving safely. Where appropriate, our members will advise clients to keep shoes on a horse or to re-shoe it if that is the most appropriate for the horse.
Equine Podiatrists consider themselves an evidence based profession. Members of the EPA base their work on the latest research output of veterinary researchers such as Professor Robert Bowker of the Michigan State University, USA. They are also actively involved in new scientific research aimed at improving the understanding of the equine foot and its management. We would argue strongly that there are fundamental differences between our profession and farriery (farriery being largely a craft-based profession). The techniques our members use are based far more on evidence-based, veterinary-derived models than craft-based, farriery-derived models. Best practice in management of the barefoot horse involves far more than just a trim. Barefoot approaches cannot be successful without taking an holistic approach and considering the horse’s environment (of which the trim is just one part). Again, this is a fundamental philosophical difference between our profession and farriery.
This difference in approach is being increasingly recognised by those veterinary surgeons who have worked with us. Many of our members now work routinely with veterinary surgeons on remedial cases.
Our approach includes a strong emphasis on the importance of record keeping. All our members keep detailed documentation during each visit to a horse, including taking periodic photographic records. This results in a vast database of information on the effectiveness of the methodology we use and allows us to be very confident that our approach is beneficial in terms of foot health and overall horse welfare. We are planning to publish formal studies based on this data in the future.
It is these differences between Equine Podiatry and Farriery that our members’ clients value because they demonstrate that a more holistic approach can often achieve results that farriery cannot.
3. The need for regulation
Currently anyone can set themselves up as a barefoot trimmer, potentially without holding any qualification or having any relevant experience. This is clearly a serious welfare issue. It is not appropriate for someone with insufficient training and experience to trim a horse’s hooves. There are a number of significant welfare risks ranging from laming the horse by over-trimming or poor hoof balance to advising the owner that the horse is capable of work that it is not able to do without risking harm to the feet.
For this reason, some form of regulation is necessary. One possible solution would be to create new legislation, either to create a whole new profession of barefoot trimmers in a similar fashion to the farriery legislation, or to bring barefoot trimming under the umbrella of the existing farriery legislation. In the short term, it is unlikely that sufficient parliamentary time would be found to achieve either, so, at the very least, a short term solution to regulation is required. Self-regulation can, if well designed and supported by allied professions, create a similar level of welfare protection with the added bonus of flexibility.
For self-regulation to work and provide effective welfare standards, there are a number of requirements. Practitioners must be allied to one or more professional bodies. With no element of compulsion, it is important that such professional bodies are in a position to give their members some form of competitive advantage. The professional bodies must be independent, effective and democratic. Professional bodies must also be able to enforce high standards on their members, including compulsory continuing professional development and an effective disciplinary procedure.
Where professional bodies are established that ensure their members work to high standards, there is the opportunity to publicise the role of these bodies amongst potential clients. Clients are likely to select practitioners who work to well publicised standards and regulation over those who have no such backing, with clear benefits to welfare as a result.
There are already two professional bodies operating in the UK and a number of other disparate groups using a variety barefoot trimming methodologies. The increased interest of horse owners in this area of hoofcare is resulting in new groups appearing. It will become increasingly difficult to create a unified approach to self-regulation if this trend continues without the imposition of some kind of national framework. This makes the development of standards and regulation a matter of urgency.
4. The need for standards
The process of self-regulation is highly dependent on there being a suitable standard or standards against which to measure performance. Without such standards, reputable professional bodies cannot create public confidence in their members and that leaves potential clients unsure as to which practitioners are sufficiently skilled. It is of course entirely possible for each professional body to develop it’s own standard, but in the absence of some form of endorsement from external respected organisations, this does not help to differentiate the good from the bad.
Clearly the ideal situation would be the development of a National Occupational Standard for barefoot trimming that is recognised by both barefoot trimmers and the allied professions.
It is likely that a new barefoot trimming NOS would have some commonality with the existing farriery NOS. However, given the differences in the two professions outlined previously, this commonality may not be as large as first expected. It is entirely appropriate that any new NOS should be developed with a mind to reusing relevant sections from other related NOS, but this should not be undertaken at the expense of creating a lowest-common-denominator standard.
It is vitally important that the barefoot trimming community commits to working within any standard that is produced. This will only happen if the community feels that the standard accurately reflects both the needs of the profession and the reality of what trimmers do on the ground. It is important that any new standard is not imposed on the barefoot trimming community but rather is developed in partnership with the allied professions, with the barefoot community taking the lead. The documents already produced by NEWC and the FRC demonstrate that there is a poor understanding of what barefoot trimmers do which clearly highlights the need for any standard development to be led by the barefoot community. The EPA also feels that those from allied professions who seek to have involvement in the development of any standard should first make the effort to understand what we do as a profession. We also recognise the importance of the input available from the allied professions and would be happy to work more closely with them both to understand their viewpoint and in the ongoing development of professional standards for barefoot trimming.
5. Training requirements
Both the FRC statement and the NEWC report highlight the significant amount of training that farriers undertake. The FRC statement hints that this represents a significantly higher level of training than that provided by barefoot trimmers. The NEWC report is more specific suggesting that the most popular training consists of only 5 days of taught material. This does not reflect the standard of education required of members of the EPA.
The current entry requirement for the EPA is the Diploma in Equine Podiatry run by Equine Podiatry Training Ltd. This is a two year part time qualification that includes 7 weeks of classroom work, 200 hours of guided self study, time spent shadowing a qualified practitioner and a set of mentored case studies. The combination of the classroom work and self study alone provides more than 12 weeks of study. This should be compared with the equivalent section of the farriery training – that which relates to anatomy, physiology, pathology, trimming, etc. The NEWC report estimates this at 9 weeks of training. As such, we would maintain that, in terms of classroom time, our existing qualification levels already compare very favourably with the current farriery qualification. The entry requirements for the course are set higher than for the DipWCF, with our students requiring A level education or equivalent and significant experience of working with horses.
We believe that our training standard is set significantly above the NVQ level 1 or 2 suggested as being acceptable by the FRC. The standard of teaching is high, and includes contributions from leading experts in their fields. This curriculum was developed with reference to the farriery NOS and meets or exceeds all the relevant sections of that document. It also covers a number of important subject areas that are not covered in the farriery NOS such as: the role of nutrition in hoof health and the importance of welfare in horse handling and restraint.
We are concerned at the implied suggestion in the FRC statement that a barefoot qualification could be built by stripping the metalwork modules out of the existing DipWCF. We believe that this would present a significant risk to equine welfare in creating a class of trimmer targeted at owners wanting barefoot trimming but without the breadth of training required to keep a performance horse sound without shoes.
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