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Analysis of Responses to the Consultation Document 'Proposals to Revise Existing Animal Welfare Legislation'



(11) Shoeing of horses

Paragraph 31 of the consultation document stated: 'Couping' is a term used to describe the uneven shoeing of horses designed to cause them to alter their stance. In Clydesdale horse showing, a stance with hind legs close together is considered desirable and if horses do not have this stance naturally 'couping' is sometimes used to 'correct' the stance by building up one side of the shoe. In extreme cases only one side of the hoof is shod, but the term can also include fairly minor adjustments to a normal shoe. Uneven shoeing could cause injury to the ligaments, tendons or joints, however, asymmetric shoeing is a recognised and accepted technique for treating conditions of the foot and for correcting conformational defects in other breeds of horses.

32. The Clydesdale Horse Society and the Farriers Registration Council have produced guidelines which limit the amount of 'couping' which is considered acceptable when shoeing Clydesdales to give lift to the outside heel. However, this is still a controversial matter and we are interested to hear your views on this issue.


57 responses were received on this subject. Responders included 9 equine organisations; 3 countryside and farming organisations; 2 veterinary organisations; 11 local authorities and their representative organisation, LACORS; 1 police force; and 8 welfare organisations. Individuals who responded included 5 who had specific experience of equine and farriery issues.

Background to the issue

A small number of responders provided a background on the recent development of this subject. It was the subject of Petition 347 to the Scottish Parliament, proposed by a farmer Kenneth Mitchell. On his death, it was taken over by James Sharp. The petition sought 'to ban the practice of shoeing of Clydesdale horses known variously as couping, show shoeing, foal slippers and other local names and descriptions, and declare that the shoes are designed to alter their natural stance'. It purported that the practice was undertaken for cosmetic effect only to enhance the chance of winning prizes at shows and exhibitions. It suggested that a shoe, fitted to the hind feet, altered the natural stance of the horse. This, it was argued, 'puts pressure on all the structures of the limb of the horse causing long-term medical problems and may shorten the life of the horse.' It also suggested that 'there is no doubt that evidence is growing that couping does damage the hooves and limbs of Clydesdale horses'. The petition also suggested that a number of respectable farriers and veterinary surgeons considered that the practice was 'abhorrent'.

As the petition progressed through the Petitions Committee and Justice Committees of the Scottish Parliament, it gathered a large amount of support from farriers and specialist equine vets as well as vets, horse owners, welfare organisations (including the Scottish SPCA) and other organisations. From late 2000 onwards, it also received widespread discussion and publicity. At that time, a campaign was launched to ban the asymmetric shoeing or couping of Clydesdale horses. Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament recommended that the proposed couping ban be brought forward to the legislative stage, and this was included in the current consultation document. (Animal Concern, Scottish SPCA, individual)

The Clydesdale Horse Society had drawn up and amended guidelines relating to the coup shoeing of horses. These had been circulated and made widely available to all the Society's members (approximately 700), all the farriers in Scotland and sent to all affiliated shows. They were also to be found on the Society's website. However, they had not been formerly approved by the Farriers Registration Council which specifically pointed out that it 'did not have ownership of them'. In addition, the Farriers Registration Council pointed out that it had encouraged judges of equine showing classes and the Clydesdale Horse Society to ensure that balanced shoeing was a significant factor in shoeing.

Views on the issue

The responses brought together a wide range of views on the subject. Responders pointed out that there was a need for the subject to be discussed openly and on a level playing field, and also without bias, so that all the different views could be taken into consideration (individual). However, one responder suggested that 'the campaign is misinformed and in very large part factually incorrect or inaccurate'. The debate gave rise as to whether couping was harmful and affected the welfare of the horses.

Responders acknowledged that the subject was not a straightforward one and that some issues needed to be clarified. One individual, a farrier, noted that there was confusion between show-shoeing and bad shoeing. The British Horse Society pointed out that it was 'important to differentiate between corrective, remedial and cosmetic shoeing'. A large number of responders were aware of the differences between shoeing for welfare reasons and for cosmetic ones. In addition, responders acknowledged that shoeing was undertaken in a number of ways for a variety of reasons. The Farriers Registration Council stated that couping was 'usually only practiced for cosmetic showing purposes and horses are not normally shod in this way'. Shoeing was also undertaken for corrective purposes. The 'corrective trimming and application of surgical shoes to foals and older horses is a customary and routine method of treatment for defects of conformation and gait. Such therapy has been further enhanced in recent years by the advent of lightweight plastic shoes and advances in adhesive technology that make interventions safer, particularly for foals.' (British Equine Veterinary Association) However, if corrective 'farriery was undertaken only for the purposes of the show ring, to conform with a breed standard, it would be essentially cosmetic in nature'. (British Equine Veterinary Association)

Couping was regarded to be 'a long established practice'. (The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland) An individual noted that it was 'a traditional method of shoeing Clydesdale horses and was frequently applied in excess'. (individual) However, shoeing practices had also altered over past decades. One individual acknowledged that 'many decades ago there were some old-fashioned owners who put too much metal on their horses feet but this is most certainly not the case today.' As a result, couping was seen by some responders to be a practice of the past. One veterinary surgeon observed that it had been seven or eight years since he had to treat a horse as a result of it having been couped. The acknowledgement that practices had changed, was also reflected in the guidelines issued by The Clydesdale Horse Society and a farrier of world renown. These had been welcomed by The Farriers Registration Council which observed that they had the effect of 'limiting couping and are a marked improvement in relation to standards a couple of years ago'. It also welcomed and supported their development as a positive step forward'. One local authority considered that couping was 'only acceptable for treating conditions of the past'. (East Ayrshire Council)

Responders noted that the practice of couping was still undertaken in Scotland, though it was no longer acceptable in England. Another responder, ILPH, suggested that it had been banned in that latter country. However, an individual pointed out that even though guidelines had been issued, 'couped horses still dominate the shows across the country'. Their comment suggests that the guidelines were neither being followed or enforced. Indeed, a number of instances were cited where English judges had been 'known to disqualify coup shod horses while their Scottish counterparts favour the natural 'Charlie Chaplain' stance of couped animals'. (Animal Concern)

Couping, as indeed other forms of horse shoeing, was undertaken by farriers, whose status and reputation was commented on by the responders. They were registered under the Farriers (Registration) Act 1975, which did not, however, currently apply to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Although these areas were exempted from the legislation, the Farriers Registration Council favoured the extension of the act to include them, viewing this as being beneficial in ensuring that any farriery related welfare issues could be dealt with in a consistent manner throughout Scotland. Other responders noted the professional standing of this group. One individual considered that 'The Clydesdales are shod by Registered Farriers who are professional and very skilled people. They would not do anything to a horse that was deemed inappropriate or violate the rules of their registration body.' One individual acknowledged that a registered farrier would not cause suffering and damage to a horse, thereby suggesting that they would not undertake any procedure which was harmful. Registered farriers and veterinary surgeons were the only professional individuals who received training in hoof and leg care of horses (individual). The farriers operated to a 'high standard in Scotland. However, one individual, a farrier, acknowledged that there was 'an element of bad shoeing' within the profession.

Attitudes towards couping

Responders expressed a number of attitudes towards couping. These ranged from condemnation of the practice, to acceptance of it:

  • No justification in couping. (individual)

  • Couping of horses and ponies is cruel, unnecessary and considered unacceptable. (Munlochy Animal Aid)

  • A large volume of expert equine veterinary and farrier opinion has condemned this practice. (individual)

  • It is bad practice and most farriers and the Farriers Registration Council do not approve it. (ILPH)

  • Unbalanced and unlevel shoeing is bad practice and contrary to established teaching unless it is carried out for specific remedial or veterinary purposes. (Farriers Registration Council)

  • Shoeing should not be undertaken in such a way that it will affect the natural balance of the horse, it's conformation and its gait. (Scottish Equestrian Association)

  • The Scottish SPCA does not condone the compromising of animal welfare for presentational purposes, although it accepts that asymmetric and related shoeing methods also have a therapeutic role. (Scottish SPCA)

  • Cosmetic purposes are not good enough reason to maim horses. (Animal Concern)

  • Over trimming for cosmetic reasons is not acceptable. (British Horse Society)

  • Provided it is done in the correct and proper manner by a registered farrier, 'couping' of Clydesdales does not involve any cruelty whatsoever. (Union of Country Sports Workers)

Couping and pain

Central to the argument about whether couping was an acceptable practice was the consideration of whether it caused pain and suffering to a horse. A number of responders suggested that the practice did cause pain:

  • As a veterinary surgeon, opinion is that coup shoeing is a mutilation, a practice detrimental to the health of the horse. (individual, vet)

  • Opponents of the practice, including a number of Scottish farriers, believe that couping causes pain, deformity and hoof problems. (Scottish SPCA)

  • It is detrimental to the welfare of animals. (The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland)

  • Uneven shoeing can cause injury to the ligaments, tendons and joints. (Advocates for Animals)

  • The British Equine Veterinary Association has stated that couping should be discouraged as it may cause long term orthopaedic disorders. (Advocates for Animals)

  • The Laminitis Clinic has detailed problems that arise from couping. In the short-term these include lameness from limb imbalance, injuries and puncture wounds to unprotected medial heel quarters and heels. Long-term problems include lameness due to chronic joint pain and other problems. (Advocates for Animals)

  • Coup shoes damage the feet and limbs of horses, especially when fitted to foals as young as six weeks old. (individual)

  • Problems used to arise around the showing period, when horses, usually unshod, were trimmed and shod to be shown, accentuating the closeness of their hocks. (individual)

  • Scottish SPCA Inspectors have found it difficult to obtain conclusive veterinary evidence that a horse is suffering unnecessarily, 'on the day', due to asymmetric shoeing and associated trimming, although poor gait due to bad shoeing has been observed and addressed by Scottish SPCA Inspectors. It is very difficult to track the effects on the horse, particularly as Clydesdales are prone to an inherited type of arthritis which causes joint problems in older age. Nonetheless, there are serious justifiable concerns about the long-term effects of a practice that is primarily carried out for cosmetic reasons. (Scottish SPCA)

Ways forward

Responders suggested a number of ways in which the issue of couping could be taken forward. They had a diverse range of views which showed that this could be undertaken in a number of ways. Nevertheless, they generally agreed that the organisations which work with this subject should be closely engaged in this work:

  • This should be left to the experts to monitor and self-regulate. (individual)

  • The interested parties should agree on what the correct and proper manner is. (Union of Country Sports Workers)

  • The views of horse owners and farriers should be used to create a best practice code. (Scotlean Pigs)

  • The Executive should be guided by the Clydesdale Horse Society and veterinary advice in this matter. (Glasgow City Council)

  • The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons should respond to this issue. (individual)

  • The best available advice from the field of veterinary medicine/science should be accepted. (East Lothian Council)

  • The regulation relating to the couping of horses may be best left to comment by veterinary officers and animal protection groups. (West Lothian Council)

A number of responders were in favour of restricting or banning asymmetrical practices of shoeing. Their views had a number of distinct conclusions:

  • Couping should be discouraged. (The Home of Rest for Horses)

  • Couping should not be acceptable. (LACORS)

  • Couping should be banned. (The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland, Mossburn Animal Sanctuary, Cat Action Trust 1977, 4 individuals)

  • Should be banned if it can be demonstrated that couping increases a risk to the health and welfare of an animal. (Aberdeenshire Council, Highland Council, Scotlean Pigs)

  • Couping for cosmetic purposes should be banned. (City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish SPCA, Advocates for Animals, Grampian Animal Defence League, Lothian Cat Rescue, NEWC, NFU Scotland, 3 individuals)

  • Couping should be banned for cosmetic purposes, but asymmetric shoeing to correct joint abnormalities, or for veterinary reasons, should be allowed. (North Lanarkshire Council, Grampian Animal Defence League, West Lothian Animal Rights and Veggies, WAG, Scottish Kennel Club, Lothian Cat Rescue, ACTA, Vetwork UK, 4 individuals)

  • The treatment of ailments through shoeing techniques should be permitted. (North Lanarkshire Council, BVA Scottish Branch, Macaulay Institute, NFU Scotland, 2 individuals)

  • Should only be permitted under veterinary direction or for veterinary reasons. (City of Edinburgh Council, Fife Council, Perth and Kinross Council, Central Scotland Police, Scottish Kennel Club, Advocates for Animals, Animal Concern, individual)

A number of responders thought that the best way forward was through the regulation of shoeing practices:

  • All farriers ought to be registered and approved by the farriery association - including those in the Highlands and Islands. (ILPH)

  • All shoeing should come within the recommendations of the Farriers Registration Council. In the more remote areas of Scotland calls to ensure that only registered farriers shoe, are reasonable and well founded. However, in the absence of a registered farrier a competent and trained farrier is preferable to no foot care, so a compromise may have to be considered until the supply of an adequate number of registered farriers can be assured. (British Horse Society)

  • A competent person should carry out shoeing. (NFU Scotland)

  • It may be an opportunity to oblige yards to use the services of farriers registered with the Council of Farriers to ensure that the work is carried out by competent persons regulated by their association. (East Lothian Council)

  • New methods of shoeing, trimming and new materials should be looked at and approved by the farriery association. That organisation and the British Equine Veterinary Association should have a complete say on the equine and they should have powers to stop any fashionable methods getting established. (ILPH)

  • Council would prefer to see all Clydesdales shod level. Failing this, it would like to see the Clydesdale Horse Society and show organisers work more closely together to see that shoeing standards are made mandatory, are enforced and policed. (Farriers Registration Council)

  • It should be illegal to show any foal under one year old and that all shod horses' hooves should be level trimmed and fitted with level, even and balanced shoes. (Animal Concern, 2 individuals)

  • Shows could be made to require documentation by the horse owner's vet in case where shoeing seems to be extreme, to prove that there is medical 'need' for level of extreme shoeing used. (Scottish Centre for Animal Welfare Sciences)

  • The Clydesdale Horse Society should make the practice unacceptable in the show ring. (individual)

  • All horses couped for corrective purposes should be banned from show rings, in order to discourage this practice for cosmetic reasons. (2 individuals)

  • Breed societies should change their breed standard on stance. (Cat Action Trust 1977)

Responders also considered that guidelines and legislation should be developed. They noted how these should be developed, their status, and the organisations that should be involved in this process. They also noted problems that could be caused if legislation were to be introduced to regulate couping:

  • Guidelines should be formally introduced. Any shoeing carried out within the guidelines should only be done under veterinary supervision. (LACORS, Central Scotland Police, NFU Scotland)

  • Should be subject to a code of practice agreed by the British Equine Veterinary Association and the Farriers Registration Council. (Trekking and Riding Society of Scotland)

  • The Clydesdale Horse Society and a world renowned farrier have put in place shoeing guidelines as to 'best practice' for the design of an appropriate shoe. (individual)

  • The guidelines for shoeing issued by The Clydesdale Horse Society and the farriers should be adopted (individual) or adhered to. (British Horse Society)

  • The guidelines drawn up by The Clydesdale Horse Society and the farriers, if adhered to, should eliminate bad shoeing. Progress seems to be made in this direction. (individual, farrier)

  • Would not be adverse to the guidelines being made compulsory by means of a statutory code of practice enforceable by local authorities. (Farriers Registration Council)

  • The Clydesdale Horse Society and the Farriers Registration Council should oversee the guidelines. (Minches Hovawarts)

  • The Executive should take care that any such legislation should be drafted in such a way that it did not prevent the everyday farrier from carrying out asymmetric farriery for remedial or veterinary purposes. It would also be important to keep the issue in perspective and not to introduce measures that could not be enforceable and were an over-reaction to the scale of the problem. (Farriers Registration Council)

  • Legislation is not required to deal with this matter. (The Clydesdale Horse Society, individual)

  • There is no justification in having more rules and legislation. The Farriers Registration Act covers the welfare of the equine. (individual, Farrier)

  • It is probably not of sufficient welfare importance to merit specific inclusion in any legislation. (The Home of Rest for Horses)

  • There is a danger, that has been recognised by horse welfare organisations, that legislation will deter farriers from undertaking any remedial shoeing. (The Clydesdale Horse Society)

Better enforcement

Responders also suggested that existing guidelines could be better enforced. They also noted the nature and extent of the powers that were available to the Farriers Registration Council to undertake this work:

  • As the recognised society has already produced guidelines, it may be preferable to rely on their vigilance and expertise to identify potential problems at which time general animal cruelty legislation could be applied. (Ayrshire Council)

  • Judges have been advised that all horses must be shod within the guidelines, or must be marked down. By policing the matter in this way the Clydesdale Horse Society can deal with it 'in house' and bring anyone contravening the guidelines before the Disciplinary Committee. (The Clydesdale Horse Society)

  • Under the Farriers' Registration Act, the Farriers' Registration Council has power to discipline registered farriers. Presumably, any other move to regulate horse shoeing in Scotland would require to be implemented by the Farriers Registration Council. (Scottish SPCA)

  • Although the Farrier Registration Council's powers are limited to the consideration of individual allegations as potential matters of serious professional misconduct, it was very willing to investigate any individual case of couping where it can be proved that pain or suffering has been caused by the farrier. To date no such case has been brought to its attention. If proven, such a case could result in the farrier's removal from The Register of Farriers on the grounds of serious misconduct in a professional respect. (Farriers Registration Council)