New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
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New Bolton Center's Farrier Service

Published: Jul 23, 2014

For 130 years, the Farrier Service at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has changed the farrier business.

“I’m very proud of that,” said Patrick Reilly, Chief of the Farrier Service at New Bolton Center. Reilly is also the Director of the Applied Polymer Research Laboratory, the only academic, scientific lab for farrier work in the world.

Penn Vet is known for the glue-on shoe technology invented and developed here by former Chief of Farrier Services, Rob Sigafoos. The glue-on shoe is now a standard of the industry, and is the shoeing technique that Reilly uses on the majority of the horses he treats today.

“That’s why I’m here. I hope I can do something pioneering like that over the course of my career,” said Reilly.

Patrick Reilly, Farrier ServicesReilly grew up on a horse farm, decided he wanted to be a veterinarian, and started on a pre-vet track at University of Vermont. Thinking that farrier experience would improve a vet-school application, Reilly went to farrier school, and continued in that career. He first worked in private practice, and then for a veterinarian referral service, transitioning to focus on therapeutic shoeing.

Reilly came to New Bolton Center in 2007, taking over for Sigafoos, who retired. Farrier work and research in a university teaching hospital combined all of Reilly’s interests.

“I like helping animals, I like being my own boss, and I like working out on the road. I like the physical nature of what I do. And I like the other parts of veterinary medicine,” Reilly said. “I tried to integrate the two, shoeing horses and working in a veterinary environment.”

The first time he saw Rob Sigafoos was in a photo in an equine publication. Reilly was working for a mixed-animal practitioner who was a Penn Vet alum. In the photo, Sigafoos was working with the glue-on shoes, wearing a farrier apron over scrubs.

“Seeing him wearing a farrier apron and a scrub top metaphorically showed that the worlds are combined in a way,” Reilly said.

“Working at New Bolton Center presented a unique opportunity. I love it here,” Reilly continued. “I work with the best people. I work on the best horses. I work with the best tools. I run the only farrier research laboratory in the world. It’s an awesome place.”

Penn Vet’s Farrier Service

By Patrick Reilly, Chief of Farrier Services, Director of the Penn Vet Applied Polymer Research Laboratory

There is an old proverb among horsemen: “No hoof, no horse.” When the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine was founded, the farrier building was one of the first constructed, showcasing the importance of hoof care in treating equine problems. One hundred and thirty years later, we still recognize the truth in the old adage, with studies showing as much as 80% of equine lameness originating within the horse’s hoof.

Horseshoeing in the old blacksmith shopPenn Vet is committed to teaching, healing, and scientific investigation. As the oldest continually operating farrier service in the United States, we have continued this mission through our studies of the horse’s hoof.


1884- When the veterinary school was founded, there were only about 300 practicing veterinarians in the United States. Much of what we think of today as veterinary work was done by farriers in the 19th century. All veterinarians were then trained in the fabrication and application of horseshoes, as there was high demand for this service. This practice was continued for the first 15 years of the School, at which time it was noted by Professor of Surgery John Adams that it was “futile to attempt to make practical horseshoers out of veterinarians.” The teaching was then altered to instruct veterinary students in the theory of horseshoeing.

2014- Of the 30 veterinary teaching institutions in North America, only four schools currently employ a full- time farrier. Penn Vet is proud to be one of these schools, with a continually operating farrier service since the School’s founding. As many as 50 students per year participate in clinical rotations in Equine Podology (the study of the foot). Clinical rotations are complemented by classroom lectures outlining horseshoeing theory and practices. Additionally, farriers routinely visit New Bolton Center to learn about therapeutic horseshoeing.


historical electric horseshoe1884- Horseshoes have traditionally been manufactured out of steel, heated in a forge, and shaped by hammer and anvil to fit each horse’s hoof. This basic process has remained unchanged for centuries. Although coal forges are frequently replaced by propane forges, the basic process (often starting with only a straight bar of steel) has experienced only minor technological advancements since the founding of the veterinary school. The original Penn Vet farrier shop would still be useable by many farriers practicing today. Of course, a coal forge in the surgery suite might be frowned upon…

2014- New Bolton Center has one of the highest caseloads of any veterinary teaching institution. About one-third of New Bolton Center cases are patients of the farrier service, with needs ranging from routine trimming and shoeing to therapeutic horseshoeing for issues such as quarter cracks, laminitis, and other lameness. More than 50% of the shoes applied in the farrier shop do not require the use of nails, but rely on adhesives and polymers, many of which were developed at New Bolton Center.

Scientific Investigation

1884- From the earliest days of the veterinary school, the farrier service has been a source of scientific investigation. Franz Enge, Chief of the Farrier Service from 1893 to 1927, worked and published extensively on the use of a Foringer Apparatus, a device used to measure the deformation of a horse’s hoof while bearing weight. Painting the hoof with a metallic paint and applying an electric current to arms extending from a horseshoe, Enge studied horses in various types of work and wearing various types of horseshoes. This practice still serves as the basis for many hoof deformation and gait analysis studies today.

Read a Pittsburgh Press story about Enge published in April 1900.

in-shoe force measuring system2014- New Bolton Center is home to the Applied Polymer Research Laboratory (APRL), the only farrier research laboratory in a university setting that focuses on material science relating to the horse’s hoof. The APRL and founder, farrier Rob Sigafoos, have produced several patents in glue-on horseshoe technology, which has become a standard method of attaching shoes for both performance and therapeutic reasons. The most recent patent (2014) involves the use of hydraulic crumb silicone as an additive to the pads used to support feet. The material provides a level of firmness that changes based on the force placed upon it, acting as a softer material while the horse is standing, but becoming harder during activities such as running or jumping. 

Other research includes the development of an in-shoe force measuring system, which, like Franz Enge’s system, utilizes an electric current to measure the effect of various equine activities, horseshoes, or gait analysis.

Read a Penn Vet story about Reilly and the Farrier Service.

The axiom “no hoof, no horse” is just as true today as it was 130 years ago. While we have not solved all problems related to the horse’s hoofcare, we have certainly made some progress in developing new understandings of how the foot functions, and the development of new materials to support the hoof and attach the shoe.  Another saying relating the horse’s hoof, often attributed to University of Pennsylvania founder Benjamin Franklin, states that “for want of a nail the shoe was lost.” Of course, this particular saying is no longer as relevant today. Franklin might instead be lamenting for the want of some glue!

Learn more about the history of Penn Vet’s farrier service.

Watch a video on the use of glue-on horseshoes.

Make an appointment with our farrier service.