Just what is it that separates the truly exceptional farrier from the very competent one?

A big factor might be developing your “farrier vision.” That’s the ability to “see” inside the foot, as well as to visualize not just the hoof, but also the hoof as part of the entire horse.

Mitch Taylor summed it up during a talk at the New England Association of Equine Professionals in Pittsburgh last month.

While discussing the position of the coffin bone and its relationship to the plane of the coronary band, the owner of the Kentucky Horseshoeing School stressed the importance of understanding anatomy and the forces that affect horses hooves and limbs.

“At some point, you’re going to have to stop doing this monkey-see, monkey-do, following-the-recipe, cookbook horseshoeing and learn to see what’s happening and make some educated decisions on what to do,” he said.

Taylor believes that many farriers look at a foot and only see two dimensions. But seeing and understanding the third dimension — what’s going on inside the foot and the forces that affect it — are even more important

“A Bit Of Physics”

During his talk, Taylor discussed some of those forces and factors, including obvious ones such as conformation and environment, as well as less obvious ones, including torque, compression, shock and ground-reaction forces. He also stressed the importance of developing an understanding of how the effects of these forces vary based on factors such as a horse’s conformation and environment.

“It is a bit of physics,” he said. “So you have to understand a little about levers, pulleys and fulcrums if you’re going to be a good horseshoer.”

When all of these factors are in balance, a horse will have a healthy foot that functions as it should — the kind of a foot that a good, competent farrier can maintain.

But it’s when things go south that being competent may not be good enough.

“Healthy feet are easier to deal with,” he says. “A two-dimensional approach works then.”

But when something in the system gets overloaded and fails, a two-dimensional approach will fail as well.

“That’s kind of how I see it,” said Taylor. “How are you going to manipulate and manage hoof shape if you don’t understand the forces that are going to control it?”

Improving Your Vision

I’ve always felt that the best farriers have minds similar to those of engineers. They have an innate curiosity about systems, cause and effect, action and reaction.

But that innate ability also has to be honed and developed through years of experience and study.

Taylor, for instance, routinely dissects horse’s feet and legs, to better understand the anatomy. (He’ll perform another dissection during the 2013 International Hoof-Care Summit.) Other farriers work with veterinarians to learn how to read radiographs and other imaging modalities. You may be able to audit anatomy classes at veterinary schools in your area, and there are always anatomy textbooks.

Above all, keep your eyes open and really look at that horse you’re shoeing and that hoof your holding.

Farrier vision — unlike regular vision — gets better with time.