Sean Elliott began his journey at Olds College in Alberta, which is part of the Agricultural College of Alberta. He earned his certificate there, which entailed, in part, making his own tools in a forge. And his own horse shoes.
By 1998, he had his first American Farriers Association (AFA) Certification.
Elliott spends his time balancing a full slate of clients with work at an equine hospital in Ontario, Canada.
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Early on in his career, he began caring for laminitic horses and, since then, has worked with veterinarian clinics that deal in equine ailments, consulting on problems with feet.
Once he moved to Ontario, Elliott began working with the Caledon Equine Hospital and has appreciated the opportunity this work gives him to “do therapeutic work in a hospital environment with the added facilities of radiology and pharmaceuticals – when needed.”
He hired an associate, Darren Lacey, and said working in the hospital while keeping a full-time practice wouldn’t be possible without him.
“With the two of us, we’re able to maintain a full roster,” Elliott says. “When the hospital calls, one of us can drop everything and go and be there within an hour.”
Elliott plans to offer a Horse Owners Hoof Care Clinic this fall, which will focus on in-depth horse foot health care.
He says the clinic won’t be limited to just horse owners.
“Most of the issues we deal with in these situations [while working with the vets] relates to improper balance in the hoof capsule. Thus, the reason for the course we are holding,” he says.
Elliott says the most important thing to keep in mind while maintaining his practice to is keep things simple.
“You have to learn the trade before you learn the tricks,” he says. “If the foot isn’t balanced, it doesn’t matter what we put on the bottom of the horse, it’s not going to be right.”
Horses tend to lean, usually favoring one side over the other, because of their anatomy, Bennett says. And chronic leaning can help explain hoof wear and growth patterns, including steep walls or differences between right and left hooves on a particular horse, she adds.
Furthermore, farriers who see these effects on the hoof but don't understand the root cause could end up incorrectly compensating and, in a worst case scenario, harm the horse, she says.
Bennett heads up the Equine Studies Institute in Livingston, Calif. She also is a horse owner and trainer, gives horsemanship clinics and speaks on the equine lecture circuit. She is not a farrier, but has earned a doctoral degree and describes herself as a biomechanic trained in analyzing the structure and movement of horses.
Bennett believes so strongly in the ties between form and function that she told attendees at last winter's International Hoof-Care Summit that biomechanics could form the basis of a new paradigm for farriery. She describes a paradigm as a set of guiding rules or protocols that pulls together the pieces of farrier knowledge into a system that allows for projections of what will happen as a result of any specific action by a farrier.
"Once you learn how the paradigm works, it becomes a powerful intellectual tool, a brain tool," she says, adding that the greatest need in the farrier industry is a governing paradigm. She cautions against being stuck in "authority thinking," essentially doing something the way it's always been done simply because it's always been done that way. "You will be left behind," she warns, because that kind of thinking blocks communication and progress.
She refers to farriers as paramedical professionals, not tradesmen, and she notes that other fields in the medical professions have governing paradigms that allow them to diagnose and treat health issues with a degree of confidence.
Bennett builds her suggested paradigm on the horse's anatomy, which differs dramatically from that of humans in the way the limbs are attached to the torso. She says understanding a horse's musculoskeletal system — the muscle and bones — gives farriers insights into why a horse moves the way it does and what that means for the hooves.
She notes that the horse's front legs are connected to its body by a number of muscle groups. They include the serratus complex, with four muscles in two layers on each side; the pectoral complex, with four branches on each side; and the trapezius rhomboid complex, a comparatively minor group that helps stabilize the chest and forelegs. The combined muscle groups form a sling that is suspended from the inner aspects of the front legs and which holds up the chest, Bennett says.
The bones supporting the area include the vertebrae, scapula, humerus and ribs. In humans, collarbones hold the shoulder away from the chest and force the sternum to stay in the middle of the body, but horses have nothing that compares to the collarbones. "The implications are enormous," according to Bennett.
"There is no bony socket connection between any portion of the horse's front legs and his body. It's loose," she says. "This gives the horse potentials that we do not have because our forearms are not entirely loose between the forearms and the thorax."
Bennet notes that horses also don't have bony socket hip joints for their back legs. The horse's leg structure starts with the pelvis.
"The pelvis with all its associated muscles is a huge part of their body, and it's attached to their back by less than 4 square inches of ligaments. It's not socketed on there. Their whole hind leg is basically Velcroed onto their spine," Bennett says. "So the front legs are attached by muscles, and the back legs are attached by Velcro. The bottom line is that the whole system is wobbly and flexible."
She adds, "It amounts to a cylinder (the chest) mounted on a system that can lean. As the upper part leans, the feet compensate. If the horse leans to the left, the toes will face right. If it leans to the right, the toes point to the left. It works the same for the back legs as well as the front. If the horse leans to the left in front, the hind toes will also go off to the right."
Bennett defines leaning as standing off plumb. The horse's head will go to the side opposite the lean, acting as a counter-balance. She says the horse becomes "crooked" when it moves its sternum closer to one of its front legs. When horses aren't in plumb, they can't collect and can't move properly, she adds.
Both legs under the leaning side will bear more weight, she says. "There is a natural inclination to believe that if the horse leans to the left, there will be a diagonal effect and the horse will put more weight on the right hind. But that isn't true; 99 times out of 100, the horse that leans to the left will overweight the left hind limb as well as the left fore limb. What they do in front, they will almost always do in back," she says.
The diagonal weight distribution is found occasionally, she says, "But there has to be a hugely overriding reason for it. Some horses do that, but they are twice as lame as the other ones. They are already lame in some other way, and that's what make them do this."
A horse that chronically leans to one side tends to become weaker on the opposite side. "The law of physics is that wherever the weight is, is where the effort will be. It's the leg that's anchored that does the work, the pushing off," Bennett says.
She notes that it is impossible to lean a square, three-dimensional system without raising it on the side toward which you leaned it. "The same thing happens in the walls of the hooves," she says. "If the horse chronically leans to the right, the steep walls will be on the right hooves. They typically will be more obviously steep in the front because the front bears more weight and concussion, so anything the horse does shows up more strongly and sooner in the front feet.
"That's another side effect. Feet that start out cone-shaped become asymmetrical. The axis of that cone will no longer go down the middle of the cone as seen from the front view. The feet and every other body part will reflect the chronic lean," she says.
She compares a chronically leaning horse to an old car that drives down the road crooked because it needs a front-end tire alignment. "What's that doing to the tires," she asks. "They'll be cupped and bald on one quarter of the tire. It's the same with horses. If they don't move plumb to themselves, they damage their limbs. But the out-of-plumbness does not start with the limbs, it starts in the body because the horse is leaning.
"If you don't address the cause, it will keep happening. If you prevent the upper body from functioning normally, you must expect the feet to function abnormally, too," she says.