Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wings II....

Part II: Shoeing in the Fast Lane;

Fronts -- The Landing Gear
 of this Business:

[Note: Well gee, we'll just throw out most of the old article and mostly ad lib.  However, it is important to remember that much of this conversation is about perspective -- high performance horses over a historical time-line.  And of course, the possibility that I'm just making the whole thing up.]

Ever watch a 747 land?  Yeah, the landing gear isn't rigid.  Same case with a horse's leg.  The entire suspensory system of a front leg is an absolute marvel of engineering.  And it has to be able to repeatedly handle that 60% of the horses weight + rider, coming off a 4-5' fence. Key word: repetition. 

However, the horse is well-equipped to handle this job if supported in a positive fashion.  That entails thinking a bit outside the conventional (or popular) thinking.  In earlier days, a great deal of emphasis by shoeing instructors was based (as I mentioned earlier), on the finer points of ship construction.  Fronts should be 52 degrees, hinds blah, blah...shoe should start here, end there...and on and on. Why?  Because it was remedial education and somewhat safe to teach to an audience that rarely consisted of horsemen/women, but rather students seeking a way to afford a Ford F-250 with chrome wheels and a CB radio.  While that is a bit exaggerated --- particularly in today's world, the exact motivation is rarely sought on the first day of class.  As a practical matter, a potential student should first become somewhat acquainted with a horse, prior to specializing in a job where your working environment is six-inches from the business end of a hoof.

Why does this matter?  Two reasons really.  One is the cost of a funeral nowadays, and the other is that it places the aspiring farrier into a learning curve based on what doesn't work -- not what could.  It is also why so many programs emphasize shoe-making, rather than a degree of specialization or even business acumen in this rapidly evolving profession.  With the resources and technology available today, shoe-making may still be necessary from time to time, but can be seen as a highly overrated skill.  And you will notice this fundamental truth once your right elbow gets about 100,000 miles on it.  And those miles pile up faster than you think because labor has a price that you often pay for at a later date.

That Front End:

Back to 747's.  The front-end of a hunter (or jumper) always seems to garner more attention than it might deserve.  This notion probably evolved because that is where the horse's head is attached.  In its relation to shoeing (not the head, the other part), it should be viewed as the secondary end, or as an attachment to the rear-end.  It is merely pushed along by the back-end and gets all the credit because it arrives at the destination first.

The front-end of the horse carries the majority of the weight and acts as a fulcrum for the body to pass over; and since the head is here, it also determines the direction of travel.  For these reasons, most riders face to the front.  The design of the front-end of a horse naturally dictates a different approach to shoeing than the rear, as it has a completely different purpose.  Again, length and vertical elevation of stride play a role here, as they are a measure of efficiency -- further, particularly with hunters; courses are set to specific stride length -- normally 12 feet.  Horses that can't make the right distances generally find themselves unemployed in this business rather quickly.  And sure, riders can adjust the stride, but a horse with excessive knee action will probably knock himself unconscious at the first fence anyway.

Angles and Other Considerations:

This is just possibly the most contentious topic ever developed in farriery, and has been thrown at  horses like a cash prize handed out on the Wheel of Fortune.  Angles are arbitrary, far too exclusive by interpretation, and immediately place one number in a raging conflict with some other number.  And further, Henry Ford didn't invent the horse, nature did, and then us geniuses started messing around with product improvement. So not only are the disciplines specialized, but the horses are as well. Which means that what we have here is an artificial animal.

So what does a 49-degree hoof angle mean?  Not much. It is a static measurement out of context with other elements -- most notably where the hoof rests in conjunction with the entire leg (all 6-feet of it), more importantly, where the terminus of the heel is in conjunction with both cannon/fetlock joint and the bulbs above the actual heel.  And where's the toe at in relation?  At 49-degrees you could have a great alignment or a disastrous one dependent on those other issues.

In my early experiences with both shoeing and managing Thoroughbreds (for the track), I would often hear other farriers lamenting the absolute horrors of race plating. "They butcher their heels, blah, blah..."  And given my early training in farriery, I bought into it -- though I did not bring up the topic on the backstretch.  Later I was licensed as a plater;  leading me to question everything I had been taught, a lesson I carried over to jumpers.  The dynamics are very, very similar...with a caveat or two:  As any woman can tell you, it is possible to fall off your shoe -- in the horses case, to fall off his foot.  Normally backwards, but sometimes sideways as well. And it is here that you might want to grab the aspirin because it is a difficult concept for many people to comprehend. And no, I don't have any scientific proof, just eyes.
My favorite shoe...picture.
See, the  racehorse's heels are presumably low, but not necessarily in relation to the toe.  For every time you lower a heel a degree, the heel ends up posterior to its previous position.  So if your horse was brought to me in a size 1 shoe...he will probably leave in a size 2 or 3.  Because I have now shifted him off his foot and onto his leg.   Hmm. Maybe take that aspirin with four-fingers of Bourbon.  See, low heels don't injure or kill racehorses; however, muscle-body fatigue, toe-grabs, congenital issues, poor conditioning, immature or over-racing can and do.  As does the masking affect of over-medication. 

 Everyone has seen one of these photos showing a hyper-extended knee. In this split-second, what happens if the toe-grab anchors on the harder sub-surface?  Remember here, that many tracks have a light asphalt undercoating -- a harder surface to move excess water to the infield.  If the horse cannot retract his toe in that instance -- something else will give; normally the knee itself.  It is also at this point, perhaps late in a race where the muscle bodies (above the knee) have reached the point of exhaustion, thereby throwing the load onto the suspensory apparatus below the knee.  And if you are wondering, yes...the fetlock is designed (in runners and jumpers) to seek the ground as well under maximum load.
Jumpers rarely, if ever experience the type of muscle-body fatigue seen in racehorses.  However, they do have the issue of load, aggravated by the angle of descent -- considerably different according to the discipline.  Added to this, horses jump as an element of a complete stride...i.e., landing one front leg at a time; (as pictured) as a continuous motion towards the next fence.  As you can see here, the leading fetlock is in/on the ground.
Back to high fashion. Consider the relationship between the heel of this shoe and the woman's ankle -- yes, extreme here, but extrapolate that image to a horse with a short shoe, maybe a wedge pad...say the bulbs being about where the woman's actual heel is located.  What happens under that maximum load on the down side of the fence?  Yes, the horse falls off his foot because the angle between heel and fetlock (under load) has pulled the toe off the ground -- transferring the whole load to the rear of the actual shoe support.  And it is at this moment that most injuries can occur. 

Yeah, I flunked art school -- Angles
of descent...sort of.

                                  Next: Part III
Jumpers and more....

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