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Life Of A Farrier

Oct 10, 2016

Ever experienced a pedicure where you’ve had your feet scrubbed and nails trimmed or been fitted professionally for a pair of shoes? Well it’s a basic combination of these activities performed delicately underneath a 500 kilogram animal that makes up the role of a horse farrier!

Thirty-year-old Randwick local Anthony Hamer has dedicated more than 12 years to honing this important craft which has been around for hundreds of years, in fact according to Wikipedia: “In 1897 four bronze horseshoes with what are apparently nail holes were found in an Etruscan tomb dated around 400 B.C.”.

“My job is to focus from the leg to the foot to ensure a horse remains sound or as sound as they can possibly be with tailored shoes, but we work as a team. I’m in constant communication with the vet, Peter and Paul, the chiro and physio, so we can get the best out of the horse,” explained Hamer.

Understanding a horse’s individual conformation then creating and applying a custom-made shoe that looks neat, tidy and is comfortable is the aim of the game for Hamer, who individually shoes between six to eight horses a day, six days a week.

“Having the dexterity to stay underneath them, the strength to move with them if they move and to then nail a shoe on a 2 millimetre thick nail within a 4 millimetre thick gap requires major concentration because there’s no real room for error.

“Some feet or horses are more difficult than others, so you must learn to shoe them in particular ways, solve angular problems or alleviate the damage a horse can accidentally do when they knock themselves at speed. I also do a lot of hoof reconstruction with resins and glue.

“A big part of my job is to identify a problem, and create a solution by customising a shoe so the horse can step out on raceday and perform at their best – it’s a challenge everyday but I love it.”

When asked why racehorses actually need shoes, Hamer said thatracehorses need a form of protection from the environment they are living in, and also require a lift off the ground to allow blood to flow through the foot properly.

“Shoes holds the feet in a certain position, just like braces do for teeth. Racehorses are also walking around on hard ground a lot of the time where there are loose stones which can cause bruising if stood on or if dirt or sand grit get in between the hoof and the wall, it can compact, cause infections or even separation of the hoof from the soul over time, so having a protective layer with shoes is essential.”

“The nails don’t hurt the horse at all either, it’s just like trimming your nails. At Snowden Racing we generally keep all of our horses in steel shoes and plate them up in aluminium which is a much lighter shoe when it comes to raceday,” added Hamer.

A horses’ foot can also expand or contract according to its environment for example the foot tends to spread and soften in sawdust flooring which is cooler and damper, whereas the foot may contract and harden up in a straw box because it’s drier.

To become a qualified farrier, Hamer completed a welding course, and three years at Scone TAFE, where students had a board of 50 different shoes to learn and make in addition to learning about the anatomy of the horse and on the job training. Among other things, a qualified farrier must also learn blacksmithing which involves measuring a horses foot, lighting the fire, cutting the bar stock, bending and making the metal shoe before hot fitting it to the foot.

Hot shoeing versus cold shoeing – what’s the difference?

Hot shoeing is typically used on bigger footed horses because the stock that we use is thicker and harder to move when it’s cold so we heat it up to make it easier to manipulate and then it’s burnt on to the foot to get an accurate fit. The shoe then cools out and is then nailed on to the foot. Naturally cold shoeing is for horses with more delicate feet that use lighter shoes. Therefore cold shoeing is also adopted at the track on raceday.

FAST FACTS

  • The size of a racehorse’s foot won’t grow much more beyond three years of age unless severe environmental changes come in to play.
  • No foot is the exact same shape every time you shoe it, everything has to be tailored per visit
  • A racehorse takes between 40-50 minutes to shoe
  • Three and a half to four weeks is a typical shoe cycle for a racehorse
  • Light-weight aluminium shoes are typically applied for raceday

Words & Image: Sarah Peatling & Anthony Hamer

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