If you want new soccer boots, the choice - and cost - can be dizzying.

Forget trawling through hundreds of new models from dozens of stores and websites. How about if someone armed with all of that knowledge turned up at your house to help you out?

Not only that, what if they took a look at your feet, picked out the best boot for you, then carefully shaped your ideal boot into an exact anatomical match?

That would be nice. But you probably won't get that luxury treatment unless you either become a world-leading soccer player ... or a horse.

For horses, it is standard procedure for a "farrier" to shape their perfect shoe.

"Think about an old-fashioned blacksmith," says Haydn Price, farrier to Britain's Olympic champion showjumping and dressage teams.

"Everybody knows what a blacksmith does, but not many people know what a farrier does. First and foremost, you're a blacksmith who specializes in shoeing horses."

Learning the trade

To become a top farrier, you have to master a wide variety of disciplines. For example, young farriers must pass a forging examination, to demonstrate they know how to safely and precisely shape metal in a fire - exactly as a blacksmith would do.

But farriers must also spend years learning the intricacies of horses' feet and the precise demands of the work each animal does, from a working carthorse to a thoroughbred racehorse and everything in between.

"It's a rigorous four-year training system," says Claire Brown, who launched the Forge and Farrier website seven years ago and whose husband Nigel has been in the business for almost two decades.

"There is a lot of competition for apprenticeships - there are far more applicants than there are places. We receive applications every week, but we only take on one new apprentice every two years."

Shoe selector

A farrier's main aim is to select exactly the right horseshoe from the thousands of varieties available, then ensure each shoe perfectly matches the horse, often by custom-fitting each shoe.

Switching all four shoes on a horse usually takes around an hour if it's a simple job. Under pressure - for example, at a big competition - a farrier could change one shoe in 5 minutes if everything went to plan.

Price says the vast number of designs available in the 21st century, just like the proliferation in soccer boot designs, has changed the nature of a farrier's work.

"As little as 15 years ago, there were probably only six types of shoe to cover a range of common conditions and injuries," he explains.

"Now, 99.9% of the time you are making a bespoke shoe. Every time you pick up a horse's foot, you should be creating a specialist shoe - even if, on the face of it, you are using what appears to be a normal shoe. It's the application of it, not the product."

>>Read Full Article