Interview: DR Simon Curtis – A Sound Knowledge of the Hoof
What Dr Simon Curtis doesn’t know about the equine hoof, isn’t worth knowing. In addition to his contributions to farriery, he has established himself as an author by writing of four in-depth books and being published in numerous journals.
Simon has also lectured and demonstrated farriery in more than 20 countries on six continents. He is a visiting lecturer at the University of Cambridge and is the only farrier to have been awarded an Honorary Associate by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Simon is also a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Farriers and previously Chairman of the Farriers Registration Council. Other accolades include his induction to the International Farriers Hall of Fame; being awarded an Honorary Fellowship of Myerscough College; and gaining his Doctoral degree in Equine Biomechanics & Physiology.
Here, on the brink of publishing another book, we find out more on how he built his career in farriery, learn more on his recent award; The Sir Colin Spedding Award, and learn more on how his new book differs in context from his usual approach.
Interview by Abby Dickinson.
What attracted you to build a career in farriery?
I enjoyed the outdoor life and working with horses and every day seemed to bring about a new challenge. My family had been farrier’s for many generations in the Newmarket area so I took what I thought was the “easy option”. Little did I know!
What inspired you to further scientific research into farriery practice and the horse’s hoof?
I always had a curious mind. By that I mean a mind full of curiosity! I had a general interest in science. Even at school I used to well at physics and biology; not so good at chemistry. There were so many – and still are – so many unanswered questions about the horse’s hoof.
Congratulations on your most recent award, the Sir Colin Spedding Award! Do you think the award has elevated your platform and voice, and the importance of farriery?
It was a wonderful day for me and certainly a surprise. I said at the time that I took it to mean that the equine industry as a whole was recognising the role good farriery plays in promoting soundness and longevity in our horses.
You are now the author of four books, ‘The Hoof of The Horse’ being published in Autumn 2018. What was your inspiration for the new book?
I was struck over recent years in how well our young farriers are trained and the extent of their knowledge. They can name every ligament in the leg and tell you in detail the circulatory and nervous system. However, if you ask them how hoof grows they look at you dumbstruck. It seemed to me that our primary knowledge should be the hoof. There has been more science applied to the hoof during the last 30 years but no one has tried to bring it together as a whole work.
Could you tell us some topics the book will discuss? What are your favourite discussion points that you have included?
I have a chapter on hoof shape because we recognise that hoof distortion is closely linked to unsoundness and horses with paired feet do better athletically and last longer. There is a section of The Hoof of the Horse with five chapters which track the developmental changes to the hoof from pre-birth to old age. I call this ‘the five ages of the hoof’ as each age is totally different in the way the hoof behaves and is changed. I do have chapters on trimming and shoeing but these look at the effects that such activities have upon the hoof rather than how to carry them out. In other words, this is not a farriery manual but is rather a hoof-centric book examining various beneficial and detrimental human effects.
I suppose my favourite discussion point is: if foals are born with symmetrical paired hooves, why is that this is a rarity in adult horses? I think that my book answers this important question.
Within your research for writing ‘The Hoof of The Horse’, did you come across any new information that even you did not previously know?
I learned loads of new information from the names of the microbes which attack the horn (which nobody really needs to know!) to how the shape of the hoof of free ranging feral horses can vary according to their exercise and under-foot conditions. The angle of the hoof changes throughout a healthy horse’s life -we need to take that into account when assessing them. Every chapter is filled with new findings and my challenge was to sort out their relevance and explain them in an understandable way.
How will the book apply to horse-owners, up and down the country? Will the average horse owner be able to put ‘The Hoof of The Horse’ theory into practice with their own horses?
I hope that horse-owners buy it and find it useful. It will explain many things that they have noted with their horses’ hooves. As I said earlier, it is not a manual so it is not trying to teach someone how to trim or shoe a horse. It is a pure knowledge book and from knowledge comes improvement. There are chapters on how our domestic environment can damage hooves and what type of environment is healthiest for hooves. There are simple things that an owner can do to promote stronger hoof.
What are the ‘must-read’ sections in ‘The Hoof of The Horse’ that everyone, horse-owners and farriers, need to sink their teeth into?
Actually, I deliberately wrote this book for the reader to start at the beginning and work their way through it. My previous three books were reference books where the reader would dip into parts of interest. If you were to just read one chapter out of interest in the horse then I would recommend the chapter on the evolution of the digit. If you were concerned about the way your horse’s hooves looked then the chapter on hoof shape should give you answers. If you wondered whether you horse should go shoeless then the chapter on the effects of trimming will help.
Finally, could you give our readers your top three tips for healthy hooves?
1) Trim monthly during development and then every six weeks thereafter.
2) Keep your horse on wood-chip bedding.
3) Find a good farrier and stick with them.