Innovation and education are this farrier’s favoured tools
Passionate about excellence in his profession, farrier Andrew Poynton wants to share
his experience. Kate Edser reports
IF HUMANS had first decided to put shoes on their horses in the 21st century, it’s
unlikely that steel would be the material of choice, says experienced Wiltshire farrier
Metal has two great disadvantages in that it’s heavy and rigid, so it doesn’t “give”
like the hoof it serves to protect, but it is cheap, hard-wearing and, in the majority
of cases, if used correctly, it still does a great job.
Even Andrew, who has spent a fortune developing and marketing his Imprint range of
plastic shoes, doesn’t dispute this.
What he does take issue with, however, is bad farriery, since, when dealing with
difficult feet, subtle changes can mean the difference between a happy, sound horse
and one that is crippled, and generally accompanied by a grumpy grumbling owner.
A perfectionist to the core and pernickety in his attention to detail, Andrew is
passionate about excellence in the job – “furthering the art and the science,” as
he puts it – and about encouraging others to be the same. Intolerant of ignorance
and attitude that results in a lame horse, Andrew says simply: “I am keen on ongoing
education; all farriers need to be open to Continuing Professional Development (CPD),
which is strongly advocated by the farriery governing bodies.”
Occasionally called upon to put his money where his mouth is, Andrew is an executive
member of, and an examiner for, the Worshipful Company of Farriers (WCF). Of course,
he’s also well qualified having attained the highest farriery qualification, the
fellowship, in 1998.
Those at the bottom of the ladder must first serve an apprenticeship of four years
and two months, assuming they get through the four-month probationary period, after
which they can take a WCF diploma.
A minimum of two years later, farriers can go on to take the next exam, to become
an associate member of the WCF, which qualifies them to carry out remedial work on
diseased and deformed feet.
The fellowship is the third and final achievement, which requires at least five years
experience after initial qualification and a 3,000-word dissertation in addition
to the ability to teach.
In any practical job, there is no substitute for experience, but all farriers, in
addition to their skill working metal, should have a thorough knowledge of the structure
of the foot and lower leg and be able to interpret individual conformation and how
this relates to movement. At the very least, this requires a good eye and an inquiring
Andrew has taken this a step further than most and spent years, and no small amount
of money, developing and patenting his Imprint shoes, which are made of composite
Having experimented with various different formulae, he has come up with a strong,
but flexible material with a density that closely matches that of a hoof.
Andrew has so far created three kinds of shoe: one for laminitics, another for convalescing
horses, or those in light work, and another for foals. With the help of extensions
to the shoe, the latter are commonly used to correct limb deformities in the vital
first months of life when the bones can be most easily realigned.
In the pipeline is a fourth shoe designed for competition horses and which incorporates
metal stud holes. Although not due for its official launch until next spring, Andrew
is already fitting it with success.
Two horses have competed at Gatcombe Horse Trials wearing them, and the showjumper
in our pictures, which had badly broken hooves that couldn’t take a nailed on shoe,
is now back to work.
With the Imprint business taking great strides forward across the globe, Andrew travels
extensively holding lectures for vets and farriers and also gives consultations,
with the help of photographs and x-rays, via email. What he is particularly proud
of with regard to Imprint technology is that he’s been able to help several horses
with laminitis so severe the only other option is euthanasia.
There are other plastic shoes on the market, some designed to be nailed on, others
attached with glue, but it’s no surprise that Andrew maintains his option is better.
In a nutshell, he trims the foot, dunks a shoe in boiling water to make it pliable,
then moulds it directly to the hoof, achieving a perfect fit. It sticks with the
help of special adhesive and Andrew claims that Imprint shoes are no more likely
to come off than conventional metal ones.
And because the plastic can be moulded, Andrew can essentially build a prosthetic
hoof, which is why the product is so useful for laminitics.
In severe cases, this excruciating disease causes the soft tissue in the hoof (the
laminae) to detach from the horn, allowing the bones in the hoof to drop and press
on, or descend through, the sole.
OFTEN the hoof becomes deformed and of poor quality, requiring drastic cutting back,
leaving only healthy horn. Careful reconstruction is necessary and, as long as there
is the likelihood of new horn growth, then there is hope for such cases.
Some people might say that treating a horse on death row is an excuse for experimentation
in the name of science. But to his critics, Andrew says: “My objective when I see
a horse is that it is more comfortable than when I arrived and that there is a chance
for a positive outcome. If I see no future for the horse I wouldn’t go ahead. Occasionally
I have had to withdraw my services.”
Having spent tens of thousands of pounds last year alone on developing the competition
shoe, Andrew and his wife Julia, also a director of his company, now employ three
people in their office, plus consultants who deal with marketing and other specialities.
He has curtailed his day-to-day shoeing and is solely concentrating on referral and
Such a whopping initial outlay means fitting a set of the new Imprint competition
shoes will cost least £200 plus VAT. After watching my eyebrows disappear into my
hairline (a set of steel shoes might cost between £50 and £80), Andrew points out
that if his expensive shoes can keep a competition horse sound, its value is protected
and its usefulness retained.
Born near Banbury and brought up in Northants until the age of 10, it was when the
family moved to a smallholding in West Wales that Andrew’s love for the outdoors
came to the fore.
Preferring to spend his time at the local cattle markets and horse fairs rather than
at school, academia was never a priority and he ducked out of education and left
home at 16 to take up a working pupil placement at point-to-point yard in Wales.
A winter working at the Badminton House stables in Gloucestershire led to a meeting
with the Beaufort’s farrier Bernie Tidmarsh, who is still based there, and with whom
Andrew served his apprenticeship. Later, basing himself in Wiltshire, he would take
on apprentices of his own.
For Andrew, the learning curve is never ending. Lame and uncomfortable horses everywhere
can only benefit from such innovators. For more about Andrew’s business, visit www.imprintshoes.co.uk.
PICTURES: Paul Stallard
This article first appeared in the Western Daily Press, November 30 2007