Farriery is an ancient skill which has been passed down for centuries.
The latest in a long line of Farriers, the Duffs, are well practiced in the art. The Duff family have been shoeing Scotland’s horses for decades. Graeme Duff is the eighth generation of his family to become a farrier. He is now fully qualified and working alongside his father, Alastair Duff, at the family’s smithy in East Saltoun in East Lothian.
The business has been based there since it moved from Fife in 1970 and specialises solely in shoeing horses. The techniques and methods used have changed little over the years and although the Duffs acknowledge that there have been advancements in shoes and in some of the tools of the trade, they believe that essentially the principals of the job are the same as they were centuries ago.
‘We’re still nailing metal onto horses’ feet to protect them,’ explains Alastair. ‘There are glue-on shoes and plastic shoes on the market, but they are an alternative rather than a replacement for metal shoes.’
But there’s more to it than just hammering on a horseshoe. The foot has to be trimmed and rebalanced, to ensure that the shape of the foot works with the angles of the horse’s leg and to evenly distribute the weight of the animal.
Shoes are sometimes made from scratch and sometimes bought in, but either way they are heated on a forge and shaped to fit the foot.
The traditional method of fitting is with six or seven nails, and then it’s just a matter of folding the nails over and punching into the foot to secure the shoe.
Horses are shod at the smithy, but the Duffs also work with the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies near Edinburgh, where they have a purpose-built forge to make surgical or remedial shoes for horses with foot problems and laminitis.
The advent of kitted-out vans carrying anvils and gas fires means they also spend a lot of time on the road shoeing horses at clients’ homes.
In his long career as a farrier, Alastair has only once had a serious injury, when a horse kicked him in the knee damaging the ligaments.
‘I’ve had worse injuries falling off horses than shoeing them,’ he says. ‘It’d be nice to think that the family business will carry on and my son is fully qualified now,’ explains Alastair. ‘But I suppose it has to stop at some stage.’
This feature was first published in Scottish Field in 2016.