Best Foot Forward

Benji and I, along with 20,000 other Melbournians, spent Saturday at Flemington cheering home Winx as she took out her 21st straight victory. According to Benji's Junior Garmin, over the day we walked 17,318 steps. I did it in heels. Comfortable heels, but heels none-the-less, and by the end of the day I was a little lame.

Benji joked that maybe I needed a farrier...if I'm a hope of surviving Spring Carnival, he actually might be onto something!

*A farrier at work. Image courtest:

There is a saying among horse people - 'No Hoof, No Horse.' As a podiatrist is to a human, a farrier specialises in equine hoof care and is one of the most important people in a trainer's stable. Farriers inspect, trim and shape horses’ hooves as well as making and fitting horseshoes. Farriers must also have an intimate understanding of hoof health and anatomy to diagnose a variety of hoof related ailments.

“Ferrarius” is a Latin word meaning “of iron” or “blacksmith,” which explains why farriers can be confused as blacksmiths. Years ago when workers were not as specialised as they are these days, blacksmiths would be called on to make horseshoes since they knew how to work with iron, and with that job already done, they would also be the ones to put the shoes on the horses.

Due to their softness and the amount of weight they must bear, a horse's hooves can be susceptible to a range of problems and diseases. These include cracks, abscesses, thrush, bruising and laminitis. With proper care and regular maintenance of trimming and cleaning, these ailments can be prevented.

There are many different types of horseshoes, each applied for a number of reasons including protection and grip, corrective measures to improve a horse’s walk or balance and support during racing and competition. Shoes are usually made from steel, titanium and aluminium. Most are nailed into the horse's hooves, although some can also be glued on.

Being a farrier is a very physical job and like most roles in racing, requires long hours across a 7 day working week. Being under the legs of a 500kg animal also means it can be very dangerous. Brad Church is Rosehill Gardens based track rider who is also currently completing his farrier apprenticeship:

What kind of training is involved to become a farrier?

It's a 4 year apprenticeship. 3 years at trade school and one year extra working for your boss. A lot of the practical side of the education is learning about the anatomy of the horse's leg and feet, as well as how to make the shoes.

How long does it typically take to shoe a horse?

Anywhere from 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on what you have to do and the condition of the horse's hooves. On a busy day, we can shoe up to 8 horses each.

Is there any extra pressure on you leading into Spring Carnival?

It's always a little harder shoeing a horse going into a big race or one of your favourites. You might spend a little extra time on those horses to make sure everything is 100% right, but at the same time, you have to treat every horse right.

There are a few different types of shoes - how do you determine what type may suit each horse?

What shoe suits what horse is determined by their anatomy and their soundness or if they have any particular issues. There are a lot of different types of shoes and sometimes its a little trial and error to find the perfect pair.

There's a story from the middle ages about St Dunstan, a silversmith by trade, and patron saint to metalworkers. The devil visited Dunstan and demanded he re-shoe his cloven hoof. Dunstan nailed on a horse shoe and after causing the devil much pain, only agreed to remove it when the devil promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe hangs over the door. This may be the origin of why horse shoes are considered lucky. And because you can't always just rely on luck, trainers will also be relying on their farriers to help get their charges to the races in the best possible condition, during Carnival and beyond.

The Caulfield Cup Carnival starts this Saturday 14 October with the Caulfield Guineas. Sydney's newest race, The Everest, will also be run at Royal Randwick. Put your best foot forward and get on track to witness some fantastic entertainment, both on and off the grass!

*The anatomy of a horse's hoof.

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