I recently spent a 2 week rotation with our resident farrier here at Cornell. While it would be nice to think that we would leave the farrier course ready to go out and be farriers, that is not the case. It takes a lifetime of study to be an excellent farrier, no matter how gifted you are. The point of this rotation was to get us, as future vets, familiar with common problems that farriers deal with and what we can do to help the farrier do their job. We also got to do a fair amount of forge work, including making hoof picks out of horseshoes as well as making any random metal art our hearts desired. We learned the basics of safety while working with a forge and lots of other equipment used in horseshoeing.
We saw lots of interesting cases during our 2 weeks, and all of them had their root problem in the equine foot. One particularly interesting case was a draft horse crossbreed with canker. Canker is a bit of an anomaly in medicine, and nobody really knows why it occurs or what its pathogenesis is. It is a chronic hypertrophy of the keratinized tissues of the hood. This results in overgrowth of the hoof, which can be debilitating for the horse. The problem is that the overgrowth is usually very hard, grows unevenly, and is vascularized, making trimming the overgrowth painful and very bloody. Most horses need to be heavily sedated to adequately trim and clean the affected area. It is a frustrating disease, to say the least.
We saw many cases of chronic laminitis. These were due to various reasons including improper nutrition, a laminitic episode due to illness, and/or poor conformation. These situations are unfortunate but very common. We usually monitor laminitis by judging how lame the horse is as well as by taking radiographs to evaluate the sole depth and to look for bony changes in the distal phalanx that could indicate instability. It is sad that the majority of laminitis cases we saw were due to improper diets along with complications from Cushing’s Disease and/or Equine Metabolic Disease. This is a common theme in veterinary medicine (and human medicine) in the United States. Many preventable diseases are now epidemics simply due to excess food consumption, particularly an excess of sugars in the world of horses. I wish it was different; maybe someday these diseases will be a thing of the past. But for now, it just reminds me how important awareness and education are in the face of preventing disease.