Guest Post: Harness racing shoeing

Guest Post from Adam White :

From an early age I always had a passion for shoeing, well horses in general. I worked in stables and had family involvement from day one, I was doomed to have some kind of career in harness racing. Dad was a jockey, mums family owned some very successful trotters & pacers through the years. I remember the earliest memory of  our shoeing experience was watching dads (Barry) old uncle Brian Wilson shoeing at a yard we called into, remembering the smell of burning hoof and the swearing at this young colt that looked like the first time it had been tied up. Dad had a small stable of his own and shod his own horses, everyone seemed to. I remember sitting in our small lounge watching the two Carl O’Dwyer videos from start to finish every Sunday evening . I was on the rewind button on the video  so we could practice driving nails into pieces of wood and hoping they came out the side or rushing outside to re-trim the pony again to find if we had 5 mm of white line around the capsule wall.

The early days the trainer I worked for shod all his own horses we had a big team to back then. Murray Edmonds would shoe a couple each afternoon and I would sit on the bucket and watch passing the tools and climbing into the loft to grab the size we needed.

It all seemed to be what I call “packet shoeing ” back then you grabbed a size and shaped it and banged it on, I am still guilty of this on the odd occasion, you just can’t help it when you get to a stable with 29 on the list to be done.

The interesting thing for me is that after so many years I still have a rig full of O’Dwyer steel shoe they have stood the test of time not entirely the same as the ones I retrieved from the loft all those years before but still  much the same design steel shoes are still very popular with my clients, cost, wear probably the biggest factors although I have a lot more barns using aluminum shoes.

The funny thing about harness racing and to a lesser degree galloping, much of what the old trainers and farriers of 20-30 years ago did is still practiced today. I have many trainers telling me how to shoe a problem horse and what shoes to use everything is still run past the trainer. This is a practice I am working rectifying rather than when I started, to get a gig it was just yes sir no sir certainly sir. Now it’s a bit different most of the big stables I work for leave me with a free rein, we still talk through each case and shoe it accordingly. I guess after so long they have some trust in you or they would have someone else and to be fear I don’t hang around long at yards with no it all’s.

Adam White Farrier

Most of what I do is still packet shoeing only now I have a better understanding of the importance of balance resulting in soundness. 90% of all soreness is hoof related & educating clients of this is paramount for me now. I see I so often a stable regularly shoeing their horses getting better results than the horse left for 7-8 weeks. A horse during warm  months will be at 100% balance the day of being shod but after only 21 days the stride has been shortened after 42 days it will be down to less than 50%. This is when I find so much improvement in a horse that comes to me  racing the week I shoe it. I have lost count how many times dad & I come across a case like this, shoe it, finish  & say to ourselves this horse must race better, we have made a lot of money betting on these horses. The development & training  of my 50/50 hoof trim balance, trimming from the centre of articulation has also been a big help to theses types of horses I think people under estimated the importance of balance and actually thought you just banged a shoe on. I am sure if an owner paying a trainer to train their horse realized the importance that regular hoof care can actually benefit their chances on the track they would demand more attention in this area. Like I said earlier most of the horses I shoe have O’Dwyer full swegde shoes and I try to shoe them all with no wing side weighted hind, I try not to use winged shoes as I have found these to be less beneficial and cause more problems than they solve adding extra phases to an already busy hind stride. Aluminum outer rim alloys are very popular on the racing stock I shoe but the odd time I do grind the toe grab off, most of the time on pacers, with a half round with a swegde hind that can be modified for a cross firing horse.

Raised aluminum are also a common choose but don’t get me started on theses I could write a whole page on these they are ok used as a “band-aid ” but to many times I see these left on to long over a long period and contracting/crushing  the heels they were  first put on there to save.

Trotters are an interesting challenge at times with various interfering problem most of these wear a pleasure shoe an inside out shoe designed to allow advanced break over or a half round based on the  same  theory. Most are shod with an even weighted hind swedge shoe in behind. Scalping, speedy cutting, elbow hitting all gait problems to deal with in racing trotters. I was always taught the only way to stop these problems was to speed up the fronts and slow down the heels but basically this is an impossible thing to do there is no way the front can go faster than the hind or the horse will bust in half, split down the middle. This theory is floored.

You can only change the position of the hind feet in relation to the front feet all to do with timing issue.

Pacers have similar gait faults with the most common being hitting their knees. The near side hoof in flight swings in and hits or brushes the opposite knee causing all kinds of problems when trying to run at speed. Basically again each is taken in a case by case exercise whether the horse stands toed in, out, narrow in front etc. I have had success with various different theories including lowering the lateral side of the hoof designed to land on the highest heel load up and roll off the lateral side breaking over straighter basically the only phase of the stride we can alter is the break over and breaking over square and straight we see improved gait with less or no interference.

Lately I had a big win with a horse we applied a lateral extension at the toe which worked great both cases involved a square toe. The whole racing  industry is a colourful one with many wonderful people and great horses I have shod some fantastic horses over the years and hope to continue for a while yet, educating clients and trainers about the importance of balance will be one of my ultimate goals.

Adam White Farrier