It is often said “No Foot, No Horse” and despite the majesty and strength of our equine companions, it is true that many are brought down by foot injuries and disease, with lameness attributable to the foot being the cause of lameness in over 80% of horses presented to a vet.

Farriery is an ancient art. Horseshoes of various types were used throughout history and the earliest forms date from around 400 BC. Materials used ranged from plants, animal hide, and leather straps which were referred to as “hipposandals” by the Romans. In Asia, horses were shod with shoes made from woven plants. It seems that the Celtic peoples, who were the foremost ironworkers of the ancient world, were the first group on these islands to protect the feet of their horses with nailed-on shoes, and the horseshoes found in ancient graves give us an idea of the skills that existed here in Scotland even before the Romans arrived in 55BC.

In more recent times, Scotland's farriers have blazed a trail in terms of winning competitions, developing the art and science of farriery, and of course, keeping Scotland's horses sound.

The International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame was established in 1992 to honour farriers around the world who have made significant contributions to the profession and who have left a permanent, positive impression on their peers and clients. Scotland has contributed five farriers to this esteemed list including Sandy Beveridge FWCF, Allan Ferrie FWCF, Jim Ferrie FWCF, the late Edward Martin FWCF, and David Wilson FWCF. This is nothing short of remarkable for a country of Scotland's size.

Jim Ferrie began shoeing horses in 1969 and has provided specialist shoeing services to The University of Glasgow’s vet School for 49 years, and to the Royal(Dick) School of Veterinary Studies more recently. Jim and his brother Allan shoe all types of horses and both have lectured and given forging demonstrations the world over. Between them, they have trained 32 apprentices, and if you have had a horse shod in Scotland in recent years, there is a good chance Jim and Allan may have had a hand in training the farrier who did the shoeing. Scotland’s farriers regularly come together for continuing education events and the community is committed and dedicated to equine welfare. Jim was recently honoured with a Fellowship from the University of Glasgow (the first farrier to become a fellow in the 572 years since the University was established) and is actively involved in shoeing clinical cases and with research into equine foot problems on a weekly basis at The Glasgow Equine Hospital.

As a specialist equine vet, working on some of the top-performance horses in the world, I simply could not achieve success without the help and guidance of farriers like Jim and Allan.

However, the story doesn’t end there and if steps are not taken soon, it will become harder, if not impossible to find a farrier in many parts of Scotland within the next few years.

All budding farriers undertake an apprenticeship which takes at least 4 years, only Associates and Fellows of the Worshipful Company of Farriers (AWCF/FWCF) are allowed to take on and train apprentices. There is a cost for farriers to undertake a training course in order to be allowed to recruit and train an apprentice and the course fees for the apprentice are in the region of £17,000. In other parts of the UK, these fees are subsidised by several different funding bodies widening the opportunities for young people to enter and train in this ancient craft.

Scotland has a proud tradition of supporting its rural communities and skills and funding education for all, however, unless steps are taken to support training for farrier apprentices, there is a real danger that these skills will be lost with an obvious and catastrophic effect on equine health and welfare.

SRUC (Scotlands Rural College), and the Veterinary Schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow are all well set up and equipped to help support and deliver farriery training, indeed SRUC offers a number of courses for apprentices from its Oatridge Campus. However, unless direct support is provided now, to trainers and trainees, there will be a shortfall in farriery services across Scotland in the very near future.

If you are interested in knowing more, join the British Horse Society (Scotland) at Dumfries House on the 4th of November this year where Allan Ferrie FWCF will give a presentation on common foot problems and talk more about the way forward for Scotland's farriers.