Horse owners in Scotland are suffering from a shortage of farriers, leaving them in a desperate situation.

There are around 179 registered farriers in the whole of Scotland, with only 27 based within the Highlands and Islands.

Although there is believed to be a shortage of registered farriers in the north-east — North Angus, through the Mearns and into Aberdeenshire — worst affected are the most remote locations, especially Shetland.

Concerned readers have contacted H&H, including one from north-east Scotland, who wrote: “My farrier of many years retired at the end of 2007 and I have been unable to find a replacement. I am not alone in experiencing this problem. It is getting to the stage where it will create welfare issues.”

The Courier, a paper in Tayside and Fife, recently ran a story on John Macpherson, a mobile farrier from Montrose, who, when he retired at the end of the year, left up to 500 horses without a replacement farrier.

Shetland’s only farrier Bruce Wilcock retired last summer leaving horse owners on the island at a loss. Mr Wilcock, Shetland’s sole farrier for the past 30 years, said: “A lot of great regular customers there need help.”

Mr Wilcock was also a blacksmith, providing extra income.

Mr Wilcock said: “There is not enough work for a full-time farrier — Shetland needs a farrier who has other interests.”

Access to the island is another obstacle.

“It’s a 12-hour boat trip and when the weather is bad, it’s inaccessible,” added Mr Wilcock. “Shetland is the most northerly part of the UK – closer to Moscow than London.”

Abigail Robertson was one of Mr Wilcock’s customers.

She told H&H: “There are no indoor facilities in our area and very little off-road riding. As well as my own horse, I also help organise lessons for children and our activities are restricted without shoes.”

All farriers in Britain must be fully qualified and registered with the Farriers Registration Council (FRC). Until 30 March 2007, the Highlands and Islands were exempt from that rule (news, 21 December, 2006).

Currently, individuals who have not trained in farriery but have “appropriate” experience (a minimum of two years’), can join the register. But if a person in a remote area is required to remove a shoe or carry out an act of farriery in an emergency situation, they are permitted to do so within the Farriers (Registration) Act 1975.

The FRC believes that since the Act was amended, the numbers of registered farriers has marginally increased in Scotland.

Vicky Masters of the FRC said: “In some regions the number of horses being kept has increased, while the number of registered farriers has remained the same, so existing farriers have experienced increasing demand.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (31 January, ’08)