Although there’s no one reason the question of standards and regulation within the United States farrier trade has been raised, the development of the Veterinary Equine Podiatry Group has no doubt played a role.
The Veterinary Equine Podiatry Group (VEPG) is made up of more than 30 equine veterinarians who aim to establish a college of specialty in veterinary equine podiatry.
“Our intent,” Mark Silverman explains, “is to set up regulations, testing and verification of veterinary skill set and a knowledge base for equine veterinarians.”
While Silverman, who is spearheading the efforts, has repeated this explanation many times, there is a healthy dose of skepticism among farriers.
According to a survey conducted by the American Farriers Journal, 55% of farriers believe that further development of the group will lead to potential licensing and more veterinary control over farriers.
“I think farriers are assuming that we are looking to make legislative changes and we’re not,” says Silverman, who’s an equine veterinarian and farrier who partners with farrier Ernest Woodward at the Southern California Equine Podiatry Center in San Marcos, Calif. “We’re just looking to improve ourselves and make vets who claim to be foot experts to put up and actually say, ‘Yeah, I’m credentialed. I’ve been through this program and been accepted to this college, and I’m certified in this.’”
Currently, veterinarians can participate in 22 specialty organizations with 40 distinct specialties including surgery, toxicology and pathology. If the specialty is formed, it will require rigorous training and education for an equine podiatrist to proclaim that he or she is a specialist.
To become a diplomate of a veterinary college of podiatry, the candidate must successfully complete 4 years of vet school training, an internship and a couple of years of residency. Once that is completed, meticulous testing is administered for general veterinary knowledge, as well as for the specialty.
“When we do our testing down the road for podiatry, it won’t just be foot questions,” Silverman explains. “It’ll have to incorporate general function and make sure the candidates are going to be really good practitioners in addition to being experts of podiatry. They’ll have a great background in anatomy, foot surgery and conceptual shoeing background.”
Although more than half believe VEPG will lead to licensing and more veterinary control over farriers, another 18% said no, while 27% aren’t sure.
“I would hope that it would lead to better overall, quality hoof care and not what I still tend to see at present,” says Oda Barhuf of Liberty, Wash.
That’s definitely one of the goals, Silverman says.
“We want to improve both the availability of current research and the development of future research that’s focused on podiatry so we can be a resource for the area of farriery,” he says. “This group is not looking to take over the shoeing of horses on a day-to-day basis.”
Once the primary goal of VEPG is accomplished, there’s a possibility that the organization will branch outside of the veterinary realm.
“If we do get the college formed, it will be a separate entity,” Silverman explains. “Then VEPG becomes freed up. The VEPG name could go on and possibly be an organization for vets, farriers and others involved in footcare.”
Bethlehem, Pa., farrier John Hopwood sees farriery and podiatry on two distinct planes.
“Maybe licensing is coming, but farriers have a very distinct skill set compared to veterinarians in standard shoeing,” he says. “Therapeutic shoeing may be the exception, but will probably be different state by state.”
“I don’t think you’re going to see many veterinary podiatrists doing primary shoeing,” he says. “Although I can’t totally rule out some competition, I think the expense involved might be unreasonable for day-to-day shoeing issues.”
Cheney, Wash., farrier James Schuler sees the future of farriery in a different lens.
“Maybe not right away,” he says, “but in the future, clients will have a veterinary equine podiatrist and a farrier would go along to pull and finish.”
It’s a scenario that’s not inappropriate, Silverman says.
“You have a doctor who goes in and does diagnostics, sets up a prescription for a therapeutic case — not a routine, day-to-day case — and then is left for other people to implement.”
Silverman is adamant that the day-to-day well being of the equine foot is in the realm of the farrier, not the veterinarian.
“That should be something the farrier does every 5 weeks, or whatever the protocol is,” he says. “That’s something that should be able to go on unaltered by the vet as long as things are working well.”
The line is when diagnostics are necessary to determine what has gone wrong, Silverman says.
“It’s for the vet to come in and figure out what has gone wrong and help set a direction for what we need to change,” he says. “Your mechanic, or farrier, then comes in and says, ‘The foot can handle this or it can’t handle this approach. But, it can handle this approach and gain the same effect. I set goals in context and have the farrier there to tell me what is doable and practical for that horse.”