Journal of a Student Equine Podiatrist

Vikki Fear started the Diploma in Equine Podiatry course in September 2010. She has very kindly allowed us to reproduce here the blog she is keeping during the course. Vikki's own web site can be found at: www.freshhooves.co.uk

Part 1

What is Equine Podiatry? I hear you ask. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language provides the following definition for a podiatrist:

“A member of the branch of medicine that deals with the treatment and prevention of diseases of the foot”

Equine Podiatry then is concerned with the treatment and prevention of diseases of the equine foot.

My interest in Equine Podiatry began shortly after I decided to take my horse out of shoes. He had been intermittently lame in spring and autumn with Navicular Syndrome type symptoms whether in shoes or without. My first barefoot trimmer got too busy and stopped visiting the area as our yard was several hours drive from his base. After some research, a friend found an EP (Equine Podiatrist) who could visit and trim our horses. It was with her help that I discovered that the reason my horse was lame was probably because he had some occasional inflammation in his feet that coincided with the seasonal grass flushes in spring and autumn. We made some management changes to restrict grazing while increasing turnout and exercise and haven’t looked back since.

Equine Podiatry Training Ltd formed in 2008 and I considered applying for the first course, but wasn’t entirely sure about the idea. The following year, I did apply and was accepted onto the course starting September 2009. I ended up deferring my enrolment onto the course due to home commitments, but eventually enrolled onto the 2010 course.

The first module of the course arrived via email after my course fees had been received. Module One is home study only and is all about Business Skills. At first I wondered about the point of this, but the tutors have been very clever – they get you thinking very hard about trimming as a business and some of the legal and tax implications, and even ask for a business plan including profit/loss forecasts for the next 4 years to be pulled together. This results in students starting the taught phases of the course fully aware of the costs involved in being a practising EP. Whilst there is no face to face tuition in module one, there are plenty of resources provided and the tutors were perfectly happy to answer questions and give pointers where necessary.

The first classroom course was a two day introduction to Equine Podiatry and the hoof and an opportunity to meet my fellow students. There are 4 of us on the course, so we should form a tightly knit group, we will also have plenty of tutor time with so few of us.

Day two of the course included a dissection of a cadaver leg. It took a little while to get over my squeamishness of the idea, but to a hoof geek like me, seeing the inside of the leg and hoof was absolutely fascinating and I soon overcame any qualms. The tutor carried out the dissection, giving us a guided tour of the various structures, so we would have more of an understanding of the “geography” during our upcoming studies.

We finished the course by receiving our homework which needs to be completed by the next course. The idea of the homework on each course seems to be to follow up and expand on what we have just been taught, plus prepare us for the next module. This time we have also been given a scientific paper to read and review to see if we believe the research was carried out appropriately; the EPA(UK) is very interested in hoof related research because there is so little published with regards to barefoot hooves, but it is important that we are able to distinguish good from bad.

Part 2

I have just finished my second taught course on my journey to becoming an Equine Podiatrist, we have had one student drop out since the last course, but had two new students join so we are up to 5 now. The course was five days short (I won’t say long because the days flew by), focusing on Anatomy and Physiology. I left at the end of day 5 very tired, but extremely happy – my Facebook statement for that evening was simply – A-MAY-ZING!

My fellow students and I came to the conclusion during the course that someone pretty darn clever designed the horse. Complex systems interlink to make even more complex systems. During the first three days we learnt about the skeleton, the nervous, digestive, lymphatic, muscular, respiratory and circulatory systems and the major organs of the horse and how they support each other in maintaining a healthy horse. It seems that healthy hooves are not just about a good trim. We also spent some time learning about the bones, basic ligaments, tendons, blood supply and nerves within the equine distal limb (lower leg to you and me). We will be receiving more detailed anatomy training later in the diploma course from a Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Melbourne (the lecturer is from there, we don’t get to go).

Day 4 was very exciting, we were outside and carrying out our own cadaver dissections – this sounds gruesome and we had issues with the idea to start with but, believe me, it is fascinating seeing all the internal structures of the equine leg, and truly remarkable how well everything is designed and put together, and how much force it takes to get them apart. This was not the first time I have seen inside of a hoof, but the first time I have gone inside by myself – our tutor demonstrated the basics of removing the sole and hoof wall then the skin of the leg and handed out some gloves and tools and let us loose on a leg each. We have been informed that this is the first of many dissections that we will carry out during the course, so the first one was just meant to be a journey of discovery – it did not matter whether we damaged structures, we just had to see if we could find some of the major structures that we had learnt about over the previous three days.

Day five was dedicated to a mini research project. We were split into two groups, one looking at potential causes of flaring (unnatural widening) of the hoof capsule, and one looking at whether the sole was uniform in thickness either side of the frog. Whilst we didn’t manage to come to any conclusions during the project, we were apparently consistent in our inconclusiveness with previous students, so the body of research is growing.

I now have my notes to write up and some home-study to do, the home work is in two halves, one reinforcing what we have learnt on during the 5 days, with some additional learning thrown in for good measure, and the other preparing us for our upcoming gait analysis course. More on that to follow soon.

Part 3

It has been a busy month, I have had two classroom modules this month, of 3 days each with tons of information in both. We also have our first theory exam to revise for next month and have still had to do homework for each of the taught modules. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I’m just constantly amazed at the amount of information that is provided during this course.

At the beginning of the month, we looked at Diagnostics and Gait Analysis. The focus areas of the course were photographic techniques, understanding radiographs and a look at other imaging techniques, and then we moved on to body condition scoring and lameness analysis. We finally talked about the importance of record keeping.

I always thought taking photographs was easy, especially with modern digital cameras – turn it on, point, shoot right? Wrong! Or at least wrong when talking about taking good meaningful photographs of hooves for record purposes. Distance from the subject and camera angle are really important for good images, too close and the shape of the hoof capsule can appear to be distorted, likewise, if the angle is not exact, you could end up making the hoof look long-toed with under run heels, or boxy and upright – get the angles wrong on a pair of feet and you could look back and think the poor horse had very odd feet!

The section of the course looking at radiographs was very good. The tutor provided loads of samples of good and not so good radiographic images of both healthy and unhealthy feet and we spent some time looking at each one trying to decide what was wrong (with the unhealthy ones). We also spoke for a while about the different views typically used by vets for what problems and the terms used to describe those views.

This module was hosted by a horse rescue charity, so after a quick classroom introduction to condition scoring, we headed outside to look at some of the residents. They were very patient while 6 complete strangers prodded them and squeezed their crests while we learnt practical condition scoring.

Back into the classroom and we sat down to watch some lameness analysis videos. This was brilliant for me, I have often looked at a horse and thought, “ooh, you’re lame”, but have not been able to pin that lameness down to front or back, left or right, but with these videos, we were able to slow down the action a bit, and most importantly, play them over and over while trying to see what was wrong. Once we had our eye in, we went back outside to look at some real cases; once again, our “victims” were very patient with our fumbling attempts.

The final part of the course was looking at the importance of record keeping, not just to see improvements, but if anything goes wrong, good notes will help to see where things started failing. Good records also form the basis for research as EPs can compare notes between them, for example, does everyone see an increase in laminitis during the snow, or after frosty mornings?

The homework for this module was to design some case recording forms, then go out and use them on a horse, and take a complete set of photographs of that horse – I have been taking photo’s of my horse’s feet for years, but a new camera and a different horse lead to some frustratingly amusing moments until I found myself a helper and the camera instruction manual.

The second module this month was looking at the influence of nutrition and environment on hooves. We had our first visiting speaker for day one, an independent Equine Nutritionist who talked about the digestive system, the types of feed that are best for horses and in what situations and where the different components of a balanced diet are absorbed within the gut. She also talked about how to balance a diet, the importance of fibre and most importantly with the current economic climate, how to feed a good diet without spending a fortune, something I’m sure my future clients will want to know.

The second part of this course was looking at environment, not just grass or stable, concrete or gravel, but we also looked at chemicals, both ingested and external and the affect they can have on hoof horn. Surprisingly, most of the chemicals we have traditionally used to treat thrush and white-line disease in the UK are actually damaging to hoof horn and therefore predispose the hoof to more infection (the cynic in me is trying not to think this is by design!!). We also considered work loads and type and how that can affect the feet – a horse living in a stable 12 hours per day and working in a rubber surface arena for an hour or two a day is going to have completely different feet to a horse that lives out 24/7 and is training for endurance – both are going to be pretty fit, but their feet will have adapted to work load and surfaces and will look different even if both horses are perfectly sound. As part of our look at different surfaces, we talked about how feet could be conditioned for different surfaces without having to travel around the country riding on different surfaces.

We also found out that this barefoot horse keeping thing is so old it’s new again! Xenophon wrote in 300BC:

“Even naturally sound hooves get spoiled in stalls with moist, smooth floors. The floors should be sloping, to avoid moisture, and, to prevent smoothness, stones should be sunk close to one another, each about the size of the hooves. The mere standing on such floors strengthens the feet. […] the place outside the stall would be best suited to the purpose to strengthening the feet if you threw down loosely four or five cartloads of stones, each big enough to fill your hand and about a pound and a half in weight, surrounding the whole with an iron border to keep them from getting scattered. Standing on these would be as good for him as travelling a stony road for some part of every day.”

Having finished the weekend by looking at some case studies, we were issued with our homework, and some hints for exam revision. Talking of which, I really must stop writing and get back to the revision.

We start trimming next month, so yet more excitement on the way soon…

Part 4

When I wrote last time, I was in the middle of revising for my first theory exam of the course. I am very pleased to be able to say I passed this, so can now concentrate on finishing various homework modules, writing up my notes and playing with my recording forms that I have already decided need tweaking before I use them again.

We have just come back from our first hands on trimming course. Five days away from home with a bunch of great students sharing a house is not particularly conducive to study or early nights, but we survived the week and more importantly learnt to use all of our brand new tools safely and came away with minimal injuries, a few rasp marks to my fingers was all for me, where I took my gloves off before putting my rasp away and no-one needed first aid.

We were working with cadaver legs for this first trimming course, which meant that if we got a little blasé and trimmed too much frog or toe off we weren’t going to cause any discomfort to the horse in the process, in fact, a couple of times, we were actively encouraged to go as far as we dared so that we could get an idea of what close to the edge of safe looked like. Another great thing about using cadavers is that the feet are usually in a shocking state before we start and we were able to see how simply applying a good trim made the foot look so much better.

Once each hoof was trimmed, we applied the Equine Podiatry Association’s usability scoring technique to the hoof so that we could get some practice judging the quality of hooves. Initially, we found this very difficult and basically had the tutors providing the scores for us, but, by the end of the week, it was getting easier to come up with a score for each foot, and more importantly be able to justify and discuss that score with the tutors.

As well as learning to trim, we were also helping out in a research project that is being run by one of the tutors. The aim of the project was to find out what the angle between the ground and the bottom of the pedal bone would be in a horse with healthy feet in good balance. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to find healthy feet on cadavers, but, we were able to put good balance on the feet and found that where the back of the hoof was in good condition, we were getting good pedal bone angles. We also found some complete shockers, but the foot score indicated that this would be the case.

The course was held at the farm of one of the tutors, so we got to meet his horses and often had an audience while we were working as the horses looked in through the windows to see what we were up to, one horse in particular was fascinated and tried to eat ANYTHING that we put on the window sill, including hoof trimmings and kitchen knives!

I was thoroughly exhausted by the end of the week, and felt I had made real progress and in-roads into the pile of legs available to use, but when I added it all up, I discovered that I had managed to trim the grand sum of 3 ¼ horses in 4 ½ days. I’m thinking I may need to speed up a little before I go out trimming case studies, otherwise I may have some rather unhappy clients.

Part 5

Having got our exams out of the way, and knowing a little bit about trimming feet, it was time to learn about handling horses, before being let loose on real live horses with our still sharp tools.

Easy right? We all know how to handle horses, at least we think we do if we have horses in our lives, but what about the horse that doesn’t trust you to touch its leg, never mind pick the leg up and hold it between your legs while you wave a knife or rasp around? It is amazing how many owners think that it is the hoof care specialist who needs to teach this to their horse, and not their responsibility as an owner. This is why we have a Horse Behaviour and Horse Handling module as part of our course.

I must confess, I was a little sceptical about this course – I’ve been a student of natural horsemanship for a number of years now, and have a great relationship with my horses (I believe), so why would I need someone else to teach me about horse behaviour and handling?

Ben Hart (www.hartshorsemanship.com), our second guest instructor was the tutor for this course and he did a fantastic job at helping me to see things from a different point of view. Rather than teaching us how to do something – such as how to get a horse to walk past a scary object, or load into a trailer, he turned things around and made us think about our comfort zones and how much it would take to get us to cross that line. How much money would you need to be offered to go into a room with something that really scares you (I am reluctant to admit that I slightly lost the plot here because Ben started talking about me going into a room with one of those vile and very dangerous eight-legged creatures that lurk in corners catching flies!)? What about if an army drill sergeant yelled at you – would you do it then? Now think whether a mint or sugar cube is going to persuade your horse to go past that thing that really scares him, or whether you shouting at him will make him do it faster. This is what the course was about, how to convince a horse that we are not going to kill him when we take and hold on to his leg. We talked about training plans to help a horse get over its issue and how to devise a training plan to give to an owner to work on between visits.

As well as talking about the training plans and watching some videos of Ben using the plans in the real world we also got to play with this ourselves by trying to get a fellow student to do a series of tasks without speaking to them – this was very scary for the student who was “learning” the task, you suddenly realise what a horse might be going through and I for one was looking for regular reassurance from my “trainer” that I was on the right lines, I also got easily frustrated when I couldn’t find the right answer – how many times have we seen that in a horse?

Following on from the course (I’m writing this a couple of months after the event :oops:), I can say that this module has really helped me when out and about actually trimming – it has helped me to be far more patient with the horse that won’t keep its foot where I want it, and given me ideas how to help the horse to understand what I am asking for.

Part 6

We have been let loose on real live horses! Not just touching them, but actually trimming them, with real tools and everything.

The final course of the first year of the Diploma is Trim 2. By all accounts, this is always a very difficult course to find a venue for (I can’t understand why myself – there are loads of yards out there with about 20 barefoot horses living on it where the owners are happy to have a bunch of students trim the feet aren’t there?), but thanks to one of my fellow students, we found both a classroom venue – her living room, and several trim locations close to her house.

We started in the classroom with a refresher of the steps of the trim, the code of conduct for members of the EPA(UK) and what that means to us and importantly, how to identify a case that is beyond our skill level and what is beyond our remit as an Equine Podiatrist. We also had a little chat about Health and Safety, tool handling, clothing, setting the trim location up to be safe for horse, owner and trimmer, etc., mostly common sense, but as Geoff Billington (British showjumper) said at a recent demonstration, "the problem with common sense is that it is not very common".

After the classroom session, we went to visit the student’s own horses so that we could practice trimming holds and gait evaluation, great fun as she has the whole size range from 8 to 18 hands!! After we had proved to the horses, and our tutors that we could safely hold a foot and use two hands for trimming tasks, we then set off around the countryside in search of the various yards that had volunteered horses for us to trim.

Most of the horses that we were exposed to during the Trim 2 course had been rescued from one situation or another, and they were often very uncertain about being handled, never mind being descended on by 5 students and 2 tutors, so our horse behaviour training from last time came in very handy – though, looking back on things with the perspective of hind-sight, I do wonder how many of the horses were actually training us.

I must confess, by the end of the four days that we had trimming on this course, I wasn’t entirely sure that Equine Podiatry was for me, I really struggled with the trimming holds on most of the horses that I had been allocated and did not feel that I was making enough progress, everything was so slow, but we got to the end of the course, and everyone was in one piece – though I gave everyone cause for alarm one of the days when a mare I was trimming lifted her hock into my jaw while I was trying to do a hind foot. It didn’t hurt too much, but because she slammed my teeth together pretty hard it was apparently quite loud. The owner of the horses and one of the tutors were convinced the mare had broken my jaw, but it was all sound effect, I didn’t even get a bruise.

At the end of the course, we had our second exam of the Diploma, our first practical. We were given a horse that we had not met before, and had to do an initial consultation, including taking photographs, trim one hind and one front foot then give the hoof a health and usability score and make recommendations to the owner regarding their hoof care routine until the next visit. We had two hours for this which seemed like loads of time before we started, but boy, it is nerve wracking having someone watch your every move and trying to remember all of the steps of the trim in the right order, never mind meeting and greeting a new owner and horse for the first time, so a trim that would take an experienced EP about 20 minutes maximum took me about an hour – yes, only two hooves in an hour, but they were very pretty when they were done.

Happily, we all passed the trimming exam, we didn’t have to wait, we were given our results and feedback immediately after finishing the consultation which was nice, as I don’t think I would have been in a fit state to drive home otherwise.

As with all the courses, this course has homework attached to it, though this time, the homework was to start our case studies. Part of our assessment for the Diploma is the satisfactory completion of 8 six month case studies, four with non-pathological (i.e. normal) horses and four with pathological horses (more on these another time), following Trim 2, we were to go out and start our four non-pathological case studies.

Luckily for me, one of my tutors had a client that was moving out of her area and into mine and the owner was happy for a student to take over the trimming, so case number one was found. My other three cases are all barefoot horses owned by friends of mine so were nice and easy to find, but it is challenging to be professional with people that you have known for many years – all part of the learning curve I guess.

At the time of writing, one of my case studies is now complete, and the other three are due to complete next month (yes, I know, I have been rather slow writing this, again). I am happy with the condition of all of the feet, and more importantly, I believe the owners are happy with my care of their horses as well as the condition of the feet, so hopefully all of these case studies will result in a pass.

Part 7

We are now entering the 2nd year of our training. I have started my four non-pathological case studies and am looking forward (with some trepidation) to starting my pathological hoof case studies too.

Before being allowed to start our next set of case studies, we needed to learn about some of the various pathologies that can affect equine hooves. This learning was broken down into two modules, Laminitis and Pathologies. Here in the UK, laminitis is such a concern due to the climate and grazing available to the majority of horse owners that we spend a whole module looking at it - how to spot the signs and how best to look after the laminitic equine.

The laminitis course was held at one of the tutor's properties, mainly because he has several horses in various stages of recovering from laminitis, so gave us horses on site that we could go and look at during the course, depending what we were talking about at the time.

When most people think about laminitis, they think of a horse in extreme pain, rocked back onto their heels and unable to walk. This course taught us that that picture is an extreme, and not seen in the majority of laminitis cases. We learnt about dietary interventions, horse management and trimming techniques that would help make the laminitic equine more comfortable immediately after an attack, but also trimming techniques that would help the hoof to recover healthy function in a reasonable time period and how to spot the chronic cases that just rumble on and on without ever causing the horse to take the traditional rocked back stance.

As well as talking about the care of horses and ponies after an attack, we also spent some time discussing a number of potential causes for laminitis, so that we will be in a position to try and advise our future clients in such a way that they will be able to reduce the chance of their horse suffering an attack. Laminitis is not a disease in its own right, but a symptom of a number of different problems that occur in horses/ponies/donkeys and mules of all sizes which makes identifying the cause extremely difficult to determine, but, by understanding risk factors we can help to remove them from at risk horses.

A vital part of the course was talking about working with vets and reminding us that we are not allowed to diagnose laminitis, or any other hoof condition for that matter, but, that our experience can help in getting the right treatment for the horse and we can encourage our owners to include their vet in the treatment plan.

As part of the course we also had a talk about grassland management from a Farmland Ecologist. This interlude from the main course fitted in well as it was talking about the differences between traditional grasslands that existed in the UK until just after World War II and the changes that we have made since and how these changes affect our horses. We talked about things that can be done to revert pasture to more traditional swards and the pros and cons of each type of grassland.

A month or so after our Laminitis course, we had our Pathologies course, prior to the start of this course, I wondered to myself how many pathologies there were to talk about? Laminitis has already been covered, we then get, navicular problems, abscesses and thrush – what else was there? How come this was going to be a 3 day course? Oh boy, how wrong I was! Yes we talked about navicular disease and syndrome, abscesses and thrush, but somehow I took 43 pages of notes – that is an awful lot of pathologies we need to be aware of.

During this part of the course, as with the laminitis course, we looked at how we might need to modify our normal trimming methodologies to take into account the pathology present, or more accurately perhaps, how we may have to be careful to apply our trim correctly without the benefit of some of our normal trimming landmarks and how the pathologies can alter the trimming landmarks, leading to a distorted view of the hoof. We also learnt a little about some of the traditional hoof balancing methods and how they can help with understanding what is going on in the pathological hoof and how they can actually make things worse if you rely solely on one particular method, especially some of the ones that try to use structures that have been modified by the pathology to balance, such as when using the “T-Square” method alongside sheared heels.

I do get asked from time to time how does the EPA trim vary from x trim or y trim. I think, from my current understanding, that there isn't really an EPA trim (or maybe I should say EPT trim as we have been taught to trim by Equine Podiatry Training, not by the EPA(UK)), we trim each horse as an individual, with the aim of achieving a hoof on the end of each leg that is balanced on that leg for that horse. In theory, we could take four hooves on one horse and trim each differently due to the differences in each hoof, the next time we visit that horse, we may need to trim all four feet completely differently again.

The other question I get asked a lot is what can I put on the hoof for xyz problem? Having now completed the pathologies module, in a lot of cases it seems to be more about what you put in the horse rather than on the hoof, and a well balanced trim of course. I expect that once I see more problems in practice I'll discover whether this is true or not.

Oh and a final word about my case studies. I am pleased to say, that having been trimming various horses for a few months now, I am convinced that I have made the right choice in my new career. As I mentioned last time, I was really dispirited following the live horses trimming module and was almost regretting my decision, especially when combined with taking on a horse with muscular issues as a case study who was very difficult to trim because she couldn't stand on three legs for very long, but now, having come to the end of those case studies, and having had more hoof and tool handling experience, I am finding myself enjoying my days out playing with pony feet, even those days that involve slightly more difficult horses. Each one is a challenge that will hopefully make me a better EP and horse(wo)man.

Part 8

We are now well into the second year of the course, I have completed (and passed) all of my non-pathological case studies, and have started three of my pathological case studies – I have yet to find the 4th which is disappointing because I set myself the goal of having all of the case studies underway by the beginning of the calendar year so that I would have completed them by exam time, instead, I’ll have two completed and one almost complete, still pretty good going I think.

After our laminitis and pathologies modules, we had the usual homework handed out. The laminitis one was technical, but after clarifying a couple of things with the tutor I was able to confidently submit it. The pathologies homework looked pretty simple – look at the pictures and make notes regarding how you would trim the feet and what other interventions you would recommend to the owners. Oh boy! How wrong I was, not just with how simple the homework looked, but also about how difficult it is to correctly identify pathologies and therefore apply the correct trim and dietary and environmental interventions – hey! I guess if it were easy there would be no need for EPs.

The next module of the course was a more in depth look at anatomy. We were extremely privileged to have Dr Helen Davies from the University of Melbourne as guest lecturer for this module, this lady is an absolute expert in her field, and literally wrote the book on Equine Podiatry (well, OK, co-authored the first three chapters).

Dr Davies talked to us about some of her research, both in racehorses and the effects on hoof shape of shoeing vs running barefoot and her work with still-born foals looking into the connections between all the different soft-tissues in the body. The module was held at a nationally renowned equestrian centre that had a lot of horses for us to look at to illustrate several of Dr Helen’s topics and we had lots of fascinating hands on time – I think we may have run over time because we spent a lot of time in the stable block working with some absolutely delightful horses.

As part of the module, we also had another opportunity for some dissection – we were each given a limb and were targeted with locating something specific within the limb without destroying the limb or what we were looking for. This was a particularly interesting dissection for me, though a little disturbing at the same time because I was working on the limb of a horse that had been donated post-mortem by a friend who had made the difficult decision to have her horse put to sleep. During life the mare had been diagnosed with “frozen fetlock” a term that neither the friend nor her EP had heard of before, it didn’t seem to cause her much difficulty although the fetlock did not flex as much as it should and was not the cause of her euthanasia. My challenge was to see if I could determine the cause of the stiffness. After examining the fetlock joint itself and discovering it to be completely clean of arthritis we started looking for tendon lesions, but the superficial and deep digital flexor tendons were also clean and well lubricated. We moved round to the front of the limb and discovered a small, flat lump around the region of the common digital extensor tendon, so examined this further. The tendon itself looked undamaged, but, appeared to be fused via a small lesion to the fascia surrounding it. I didn’t believe this was the problem so kept looking but couldn’t find anything else that might be causing it, so cut the fascia around the lesion – bingo! This small lesion (about 1cm across) was the cause of the stiffness – we don’t know what caused the lesion in the first place – my friend acquired the mare as a retired polo-pony so maybe it was a ball injury, or perhaps caused by a pressure point from a badly applied bandage, but what we do know is that just a small bind between some fascia and a tendon caused a lot of stiffness in a leg. It made me think about the use of bandages and box rest for injuries and how keen I would be to utilise the techniques if my horse ever had a problem.

The final module of the entire course was a day spent at one of the country’s Farrier Training Centres, to give us an awareness of farriery in the UK, the law surrounding farriery (what we can and can not do as non-farriers), how farriers work, why they do what they do, and a demonstration of making a custom shoe.

The day was very interesting, we were being taught by a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, i.e. a very well respected and highly skilled person within his field. We started the day in the classroom, learning how farriers are taught to prepare the foot ready for shoeing and also about how different shoes could be used for different pathologies. It was a very interesting morning and was challenging to hear things from “the other side” that we may or may not agree with. As a student I had to remember that although I have chosen to work without shoes, it doesn’t mean I can’t learn things from a master who works with shoes and it was also good to consider who was right where things that the farrier were saying didn’t 100% tie up with things our in-house tutors have taught us.

After lunch, we went to the forge where we were taught how farriers pull shoes. Under the law in the UK, the act of pulling shoes if it is in preparation for shoeing a horse is classed as an act of farriery and is illegal for someone who is not a farrier or vet, however, this horse wasn’t being immediately re-shod so we were OK to have a go. This part of the day was interesting for me – I have pulled shoes before, but it took me nearly an hour to get the complete set off so I was keen to learn a better technique. However, one of the stand-out learning points for the day for me was the difference in horse handling techniques. When trimming, if a horse gets a bit fidgety, and wants its foot back, there isn’t really a problem to let them have the foot there and then, so while I was trying to pull the shoe off an 18hh hunter with stiff back legs, I was quite happy to let him have his foot back. The farrier told me off immediately – when you are shoeing a horse, it can be dangerous to let the horse have his foot whenever he wants it – if the farrier has the nail part way into the foot, or through the wall but not clenched up and the horse takes his foot back the nail could cause damage to horse or human, or the shoe could slip and the toe clip could end up being driven up the white line, so it is important for a farrier hold on to the foot until they are ready for it to go back down.

After pulling the shoes another willing equine volunteer showed up for a shoeing demonstration with a difference – the farrier made the shoes from scratch in front of our eyes to fit the horse, and allowed anyone who wanted to have a go to try forging too. Our tutor and a qualified EP who was there for his CPD both had a go and did very respectable jobs.

Right, that is enough babble from me for now – I have a lot of revision to do. My next instalment will be the last in the series and will detail a little about the examination process and the progress of my pathological case studies, along with some of my reflections of the course.

Part 9

Gosh! I can’t believe I am at the end of documenting my training; the two years of the course absolutely flew by.

The examination process for the Equine Podiatry Training Course is in multiple parts:

  • Every module has a home study element that needs to be submitted and passed with at least 80%. If you don’t pass first time, you get an opportunity to retake, with hints regarding where you went wrong – the assignments are not about catching you out, but about making sure you have the knowledge and understanding to go out into the world and work on your own.
  • There is a written exam part way through the first year, testing everything covered in the first 6 months of training, this also has an 80% pass mark.
  • A practical trimming assessment after the live trimming course at the end of year one, again, required standard at least 80%.
  • Four non-pathological mentored case studies carried out over 6 months – mentors visit at the beginning and end and have to see a copy of the visit report and photographs after every visit.
  • Four pathological mentored case studies carried out over 6 months – again the mentors visit twice and need to see a copy of all paperwork and photographs
  • Final written exam – 80% pass mark
  • Pathology identification exam – 80% pass mark
  • Final practical exam – 80% pass mark

You do not need to have completed the case studies before taking the final exam, but do need to pass the year 1 written exam and year 1 trimming exam before you are allowed to go out and start your case studies.

The final exam weekend was nerve wracking; as well as one of our usual tutors as examiner we had an invigilator watching us through the practicals and counter marking the written paper.

The weekend started with the written paper – 3 hours for 100 or so questions, some multiple choice, some short answer. We could leave as soon as we had finished, and gradually we all gathered outside the exam room to discuss the questions – some we felt were vaguely worded, others we realised we had misread the question – usual post exam jitters!

After lunch, we moved outside where we were all handed a cadaver limb with a rather grotty hoof and were asked to evaluate the hoof, determine what might be wrong with it, trim the hoof then write a full visit report including condition scores and recommendations for what to do before the next visit. We had 30 minutes to achieve all this and it was tough – it had been over 12 months since we had last had to trim cadavers and in that time we had seen and trimmed lots of live healthy hooves – that tend to stay put when you rasp them; cadaver hooves have a habit of rolling over, or sliding off the hoof stand if you try to put any effort into the rasp stroke.

Once the time was up, we handed our hoof and paperwork to one of the examiners then sat and waited our turn to explain what we had done and why. The waiting was excruciating! From where we were sat, we could see the examiners and student sat together and we were trying to read the body language to work out how things were going. I seem to remember the first session taking absolutely ages, then the next one seeming to fly by. I was near the end of the group, so was getting really nervous by the time my turn came round and less and less confident about what I had done with the hoof and recommended (assuming the hoof had still been attached!!) for helping to develop a healthier hoof.

Once the vivas were out of the way, we were given our scores for the written and first practical exam then went home to prepare for the main practical on day two.

On day two we were given two hours to meet a new client, gather all the relevant information regarding the horse and it’s history, examine the horse, analyse the gait, take photographs, trim, take more photographs and write up our recommendations for care of the hooves before the next visit. Sounds easy, but under exam situations you are so scared of forgetting things and making mistakes that you start doubting yourself. I was relieved to discover I had been allocated a little pony mare, rather than the huge Shire gelding that also lived on the yard, so figured I’d at least be able to finish the trim within the time frame and not get thrown all over the place in the process.

The examiner and invigilator discussed each student’s performance together before agreeing on a mark for the practical, then whichever one had been scoring the student during the practical debriefed them on their score and whether they had passed or not.

I am very happy to report that I passed all of the stages of the exam that weekend, so did not have to worry about resitting any of it. All I needed to do now was concentrate on finishing my final two case studies and then I would be qualified.

One of my case studies completed in July, and the other, who came to live with me for 6 months completed in early October 2012 and I was officially awarded my Diploma in Equine Podiatry on 11th October 2012, just over two years after starting the training.

Four months on, as I look back, I can hardly remember the first few modules, and find it especially difficult to remember the confusion and brain-ache of the first anatomy course, but I still find nuggets of information tripping off my tongue when I talk to clients, and I had a lovely chat with my equine vet whilst getting radiographs taken of my own horse’s feet recently, so I guess things did sink in during the training.

Learning to be an equine podiatrist is a little like learning to drive a car. You learn enough knowledge and skill to pass the test and then spend the rest of your life improving the skill and increasing the knowledge. As a full member of the EPA(UK) I am required to complete 40 hours of Continuing Professional Development each year, including such things as further study, trim days with other EPs, shadowing other trimmers, shadowing Vets and Farriers, attending conferences, dissection days and any other hoof or business related courses.

At the time of writing, I am in the middle of my busiest trimming month ever and have 4 more hooves between me and the end of my busiest week ever, and I have enjoyed every moment, even though there has been a biting cold wind this week and multiple layers of clothes have failed to keep me truly warm. When I think back to the first live horse trimming course where we didn’t even manage to trim 5 horses over the week yet could hardly move the next day, and compare with the present day, when I can trim 6 in one day and still be able to move at the end of the day and go shovel my muck heap the next day I realise that I am starting to become trimming fit (to all you full time practicing trimmers out there, I know, 6 horses in one day is an easy day to you, but we all have to start somewhere!).

Well, I have come to the end of my ramblings about learning to be an EP. It has been fun sharing it with you, and I hope you have found it interesting and informative. If you are thinking about taking up trimming, either of your own horses or professionally and want to discuss things with me, please feel free to contact me via my website (www.freshhooves.co.uk) or facebook page (www.facebook.com/Freshhooves)