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Interview with farrier Karn Herbert

He is an absolute professional and expert in providing the polo horses in St. Moritz with the right shoes: Karn Herbert gets the shoes ready for the polo horses, ensuring their grip and stability for every step taken on snow and ice.
How important is a perfect horseshoe for the horse?
The perfect horseshoe is crucial for polo ponies, as they are expected to move at high speed and make sharp turns. If a horseshoe is too big or too heavy, that can hinder the horse’s performance. The horseshoe can easily be torn off by the pony itself if its hooves cross over and the hind hoof catches in the front hoof. If a pony loses a shoe, that can even lead to serious injuries.
What are typical mistakes that can be made when shoeing a horse and how can they be spotted?
One common mistake when shoeing polo ponies is in the positioning of the spike hole. That should be on the outer branch of the rear horseshoe. That makes it possible for the pony to turn on the rear quarter with the least possible hindrance from the spike. Another typical mistake is fixing the horseshoe too far to the outside on the back branch of the hind foot. In that position, the horse can tear the shoe off. My tip is to have two spike holes in each of the four horseshoes instead of just one on each hind foot when you’re shoeing horses for snow polo, to get extra grip for the game.
What sort of snow pads do you use?
I tend towards the snow pads that are produced in St. Moritz. The material is perfect for working even at several degrees of frost. A few other pads are well-known for breaking or bursting when it gets too cold. Snow pads are completely harmless in play and help to keep the snow away from the hoof. The faster the horse moves, the better they work.
How long does it take to shoe a horse with snow pads?
Normally it takes about an hour to shoe a horse for snow polo. That includes eight spike holes and four snow pads. The pads are nailed underneath the horseshoes and stay on the hoofs for the entire duration of the tournament. To remove the pads you have to take off the whole horseshoe. They shouldn’t be changed too often, or else the horse’s hoofs may split, if too many nails are hammered into the hoof capsule in too short a time.
How often are horses shoed?
In the U.K., horses are shoed every four to six weeks, depending on the needs of each individual horse. Polo ponies and racehorses should be shoed every four weeks, because they move fast. Their shoes are very light and do not usually last for more than a month.
What made you became a farrier?
I always wanted to be a farrier. I started my four-year training course in 1993, then started my own business when I finished in 1997. A normal working day is ten to twelve hours. I work mostly in the U.K., but I travel to most of the European horseshoe exhibitions. I’ve shoed horses in Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Holland, Spain and the Netherlands. It’s very interesting to work in other countries. I’ve learned a lot of new things from that about how horses are shoed in other parts of the world.
And now you’re the resident farrier for the Blackbears …
Yes, I’ve been shoeing the horses for the Blackbears for six years. They’re a great team to work for as a farrier. The equipment is unbelievably good, the ponies are all very well-behaved and the people are very friendly. I’m really looking forward to the 2013 season when they’ll be playing high goal polo. A new polo field is under construction at the moment.
Where did you do your training?
I trained near Lambourn in Berkshire. I shoed mainly eventing horses and racehorses there. My big achievement was shoeing the horses for the team of the Australian evens team for the Olympic Games in Atlanta and Sydney. His name was Gary Thomas and he died tragically in 2001 at the age of just 37.
Do you also train young farriers?
I have four trainees at the moment, one of them a girl. They’re all at various stages in their training and all doing very well. A lot of young farriers have trained with me and now run their own businesses in Southern England.
What is the state of farriery in England?
The UK has very high standards for shoeing horses. No-one is allowed to shoe horses who hasn’t done the four-year training. Only the Farriers Registration Council can grant exceptions. The rules are very strict to protect horses from being shoed badly.

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