Equine podiatry is a relatively new field that does more than bridge the gap between farriers and veterinarians; equine podiatrists must be both farriers and veterinarians - focusing on the equine foot and how to address its various ailments.
Scott Morrison, DVM, is head of the podiatry department at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. He grew up riding horses and was always fascinated by the work done by farriers.
"In 1989 I went to horseshoeing school at Danny Ward's Eastern School of Farriery in Virginia. I started my own farriery business while attending college at Virginia Tech. I shod horses for five years before getting into vet school," says Morrison.
He did an internship at Rood & Riddle after finishing vet school.
"At the completion of my internship, Rood & Riddle hired me to start a podiatry clinic," he says. "Before that, they'd just have a farrier come in to work on certain foot cases under the instruction of a veterinarian."
A growing number of podiatry cases from the large horse population in the Lexington area created a need for specialization, according to Morrison.
"This was an area that I thought had a huge need; there was never enough attention paid to it, for the number of foot issues we face," he says.
"As I began my work with horses' feet, it amazed me how clinics and veterinary schools never put much emphasis on veterinary care for the foot," he says. "When you look back in history, veterinary schools had a full-time farrier, and vet students were required to take farriery classes. Sometime during the past century, this was abandoned in the curriculum of (most) vet schools. There were only two or three vet schools that had a full-time farrier on staff. There are so many other things the students have to learn, but it was amazing to me that something as important as the horse's foot was dropped from the curriculum."
Morrison believes Rood & Riddle was the first practice to take on podiatry interns and incorporate a curriculum in to the practice.
"What we do here is rehabilitate feet or resolve foot problems. We also work on normal and preventative foot care, which often involves how horses are shod. By far the majority of our work is with lame feet and serious foot problems that may have limited the horse's career, or problems that might be life threatening," explains Morrison.
"We have rehabilitated feet that horse owners thought were hopeless. We try to get these feet back to where they have use of the horse again. Much of our work deals with chronic foot problems in athletes and riding horses, or traumatic injuries to the foot. Our cases vary from mild performance-related problems to serious, critical-care situations."
Redefining A Gray Zone
There has always been a gray zone between farriery and veterinary medicine.
"A lot of times farriers and veterinarians try to work together to resolve foot problems, but sometimes it takes a specialist, someone who works on those types of problems all the time, to do it proficiently and effectively," explains Morrison.
"We keep the farrier in the loop when we can, especially if it will be a long-term problem where the farrier will eventually be taking care of the foot again at some point." He says a farrier may have to shoe a horse in a certain way for a while, or maybe for the rest of the horse's life, depending on the situation.
"Some of the chronic problems require constant care from then on, so you definitely want the farrier in the loop on those situations when he or she takes over the care of the feet. In really critical cases, we just take the case over for a period of time until we get the horse straightened out," says Morrison.
Podiatry as a specialty is now recognized around the world. Morrison and his staff have developed and tested several innovative ways to shoe problem feet, and have created new types of shoes that have helped a lot of horses. Farriers and veterinarians come to Rood & Riddle to learn more about podiatry.
"We usually take one intern each year, and we always have visiting veterinarians and farriers who spend time with us," he says. "It's an ongoing educational program."
Today there are more veterinarians becoming interested in farriery, and more farriers going to vet school.
"An increasing number of vet students visit us," he says. "There is a huge interest in seeing what we do here."
Morrison says the learning involves the Rood & Riddle staff as well as visitors.
"The way we do things now is a lot different from the way we did them 5 or 6 years ago," he says. "We are constantly improving and getting better at various things. It's a new field, always in flux, finding new ways to treat problems.
"We are also rediscovering some of the old techniques that can still be useful. Some of those methods had validity. It's a combination of rediscovering old techniques and coming up with new ones - finding what works best for the horse."
Morrison hopes to see the field continue to grow, with a worldwide network developing, eventually leading to board certification in podiatry.
Mike Wildenstein, CJF, FWCF (hons.), who recently retired from his position asassociate professor of farriery at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, says other equine veterinary practices have followed in Rood & Riddle's footsteps.
"There are many podiatry clinics around the world that have come into existence in the last 10 years, mostly thanks to the lead of Rood & Riddle," says Wildenstein. "They probably have the foremost podiatry clinic in the world - veterinarians working with farriers and helping horses."
Wildenstein believes the sharing of knowledge and expertise at such clinics benefits farriers, veterinarians and horses.
"There's acknowledgement by veterinarians that the farrier has the potential to help an animal a great deal. The farrier also has the potential for devastation, or creating pain or injury, so farrier education is crucial," he says. "When veterinarians are working side-by-side with farriers and there is good communication and ability to work together, it's amazing how well the animals respond."
Blending Science And Art
Wildenstein sees farriery as a delicate blending of science, art and equine knowledge.
"We have the science of knowing the materials to use, knowing the diseases, the pathologies, and anatomy of the foot. We also have to know the discipline - what is expected of each horse," he says. "We need to be aware of conformational deviations that may lead to problems in the future, the environment the animal is in, and management of that animal We need to know what's available to help this animal regarding shoes, prosthetics, boots, wraps, or topical applications of medications or hoof oil."
He sees great potential for the future. "We not only have terrific diagnostics and educational opportunities, with seminars and fantastic educational events. There's also great potential for the future regarding podiatry as an occupation and an opportunity to earn an income - being able to work with horses and help them with shoes and other products," says Wildenstein.