Dubai The words blacksmith or farrier evoke images of a medieval trade, but Rob Stevenson’s job couldn’t be more dependent on modern technology. Armed with an iPad, X-rays and a thermo-graphic camera, the 37-year-old Australian’s work is more science than metalwork nowadays, but old stereotypes remain.
He doesn’t forge hot iron over an anvil. He, in fact, prepares a horse’s hoof–much like a podiatrist – for racing. And shoes are pre-cast aluminium and can be fitted just as readily with glue than nails as the sport moves further toward non-invasive techniques. Just like any athlete, horses need support and protection in certain areas of their foot to enhance performance. And this is where Stevenson and five other farriers on his team make a largely unseen contribution.
Stevenson monitors gait irregularities, which might determine stress or strain further up a horse’s leg. He then cross-checks that with X-rays and thermographic images from the horse’s anatomy.
He shoes between 150 and 200 horses a month and keeps their details on his iPad to remind himself of each horse’s medical record, measurements and shoeing preferences. Hot-spots anywhere on the leg – in ligaments or tendons – might identify reasons why a horse’s gait is uneven and indicate where the farrier may have to make compensations to the hoof.
A digital hoof gauge, much like a spirit level, is placed on the horse’s hoof to monitor balance and hoof knives and a rasp are used to correct the hoof, which is much like a human’s finger nail — growing back every four weeks and subject to wear and tear.
If there is an irregularity in the hoof that cannot be corrected, Stevenson and his team can even add plastic support to the hoof using glue to attain better balance. Plastics can build up support in certain areas to take the pressure off old and pre-existing injuries further up the leg, resulting in a more comfortable gait.
Once everything is balanced, Stevenson shapes the pre-cast horseshoe to the arc of the hoof with a hammer over an anvil and glues or nails the shoe to the horse’s hoof. This part of the job requires skill as the margin for error is slim and the slightest inaccuracy can result in an injury. In order to make sure the shoe and nails are sitting correctly, he carries out a post-shoeing evaluation, which involves more thermo-graphic imaging and trot monitoring.