Monday, July 8, 2013


Shoeing in the Fast Lane:
Hunters, Jumpers and CT's

Part I

Anvil Archives: Rob Edwards,

[Note: This article was first published in 1988, hence certain annotations will be added here. Up to the mid-1980's, the majority of hunters and a high percentage of jumpers were Thoroughbreds. Imported Warmbloods were beginning to infiltrate American shows, but their numbers did not really impact the sport nationally until the early 1990's.  Today, they dominate the ranks of the H and J world.]    
Hunters and jumpers. The term has always made the implication of something a little special -- a touch above the ordinary -- an air of sophistication...espirit de corps with four legs and a tail.  Images of champagne on ice, Bentley's and of course, the Olympic Games.  Perhaps it is the formal attire, the organization and promotion of the sport, the money...prestige wrapped in a dangerous encounter with walls and rails.  However you care to shake it or wrap it, the shoeing concerns need to be as fast, and yes -- as cautious as the participants on course.  A dangerous kind of caution to be sure.
Over the years, horseshoeing has developed a language of its own -- distinct semantics that often have no clear definitions, accepted interpretations or even a general agreement on whether the topic is horses or a building inspector's opinion on your new chicken coop.  Words like angle, length, flat and balance generally manage to only confuse owners and trainers, worse yet, become an ambiguous deflection, allowing the farrier to commit on being uncommitted.  Most of these terms are better suited to engineering and mathematics and not to a dynamic piece of physiology such as a horse.  It is virtually impossible to apply rules or set procedures to a living organism.  Instead, it would seem better to focus on themes and priorities (that may not include your opinion), and allow the individual horse to dictate the proper course of action.  It is quite accurate to say that a 16-hand, 1200lb horse is going to offer a horseshoer little more than an inch of adjustment in any direction, 3 to 4 degrees of angular deviation and less than a pound of negotiable weight.  This kind of influence amounts to stopping a runaway freight train with a stuffed armadillo.  So applying all this technology and terminology to that 1200lb animal with the persimmon between his ears is not likely to influence the conversation. Which could mean that the real object needing your attention is not going to be his exact lengths, angles or favorite pizza toppings, but how this particular horse approaches his job, and what can be done to accentuate his abilities and finer points.  The horse is going to be helped, not  converted to some mysterious ideal.  High-end horses end up there because they DON'T have a wheelbarrow full of problems.  $50,000 = talent.  If you want to shoe used cars, try the 4-H. They thrive on projects.

In any discussion of hunters and jumpers, it is imperative to distinguish between the two disciplines.  The only real common denominator is that they jump non-rigid obstacles.  Other than that, it is like having a ballerina and a wide-receiver apply for the same job. Somehow, someone is going to be overqualified.


In the American mind, hunters are supposed to be pretty. These are not the hodge-podge of breeds and types jumping hedges in England or Ireland.  Field hunters have little in common with the American show hunter of today. While both need to move fairly well, for disparate reasons; show hunters must also appear to be sound, jump their fences with form and safety, use themselves properly and hopefully not fall down somewhere on course.  The idea is to showcase the rider's ability to negotiate a course properly.  Yes, these are all theoretical parameters, not necessarily how it ends up, as hunter and rider are also engaged in a kind of on-the-job training exercise.

Moving well is always the chief priority with hunters.  There is a strong correlation between a bad mover in the ring and the restroom schedule of the judge.  And while that is an exaggeration, a spotless round on a dump truck will earn you nothing other than a nice go and maybe your trainer's applause.  However, the criteria does have roots in those field hunters of old, as a bad mover on a long hunt could easily put a rider permanently in dialysis; and it is a general rule that bad movers generally make mediocre jumpers.
Good movement is basically defined as how the horse uses itself, how it covers the ground and the level of comfort and stability offered the rider.  This is a laterally viewed conception for the most part and subject to a wide degree of interpretation.  Good hunters (and jumpers) will work off their hind end.  This is the business end, the source of their power and forward momentum.  In many horses, if the hind end is right, then the front end will take care of itself.  This is not to say that a good mover can be created out of anything larger than a cow.  Rather it is a case of accentuation and/or reduction of the opposing elements.  The picture that the canvas should depict is a horse that uses itself well (efficiently), or basically gets its hind legs under its body well -- providing the necessary propulsion to move the front end forward...effortlessly it would seem to the viewer;  thereby producing a long, low stride with a minimum of knee or vertical action.  Going up is not the same as going forward -- wasted energy.  This is the desirable frame, not always available in what might be standing in front of you, but still, a reasonable goal. Accentuate the good points, reduce the bad...and in many cases, one will improve the other.

[Note:  Show hunters have changed dramatically over the years, primarily the result of the changing focus of horse shows and the ever-evolving eye of the judges.  It is still quite true that judges have favorites; they are horsemen/women -- biases and all.  And judging hunters is a subjective pastime. In older days, when soundness carried much more weight in these divisions, the sight of pads, bar shoes...even rotational deviations were considered strikes against the horse and rider. With the expansion of the amateur divisions, most of those prejudices have pretty much dropped from the judging criteria.  And too, most farriers today have thankfully concluded that rotational (with concurrent break-over issues), are best left alone.  The hoof itself has nothing to do with these deviations anyway.  Break-over is the property of the suspensory and annular ligaments of the fetlock/pastern -- disparate medio-lateral lengths, the result of developmental conformational irregularities.  Which means that even if you welded a door knob on the toe of the shoe, the break point is pre-determined by the fetlock/pastern, not the hoof.  So focus on what is important -- that being the overall package.] 

From here....
Of course, these horses also need to be trained -- a silly sounding notion here, but bad movement is often related to bad riding as much as poor conformation.  And remember too that particularly with hunters, horses are purchased according to the ability of the rider...whether a novice amateur or a developing junior rider.  Equitation, medal riders, etc -- good mover is essential.  Green, conformation, model or derby hunters are normally money prospects or money hunters -- meaning the trainer occupies the irons.  A bad ride is therefore unlikely.  Not impossible, just unlikely.  So, if you are lucky enough to shoe one of those amazing natural absolutely nothing to screw him up.  Revel in the comfort of a status quo job.  They are damn rare.
To here...
Hinds Comes First...Not the Other Way
Everyone seems to look at  conformation as a definer of movement, and yes it plays a definitive role on the macro level. Yet farriers often view it piecemeal instead of as a complete element, or assume some similarity exists between the function of a front and hind leg.  Consider the angle of the entire hind leg -- top to bottom -- the posture it assumes viewed from the rear or for that matter in movement.  It begins at a wide point (the hip), then angles inward toward the mid-line, that being the terminus at the ground. The leg will invariably meet the ground at an angle, in some cases, actually crossing the mid-line.  This is an extremely efficient way to use a hind leg, if forward propulsion happens to be your goal.

[Note:  I am often reminded of those wonderful, but extremely flawed diagrams from farrier school (and your average Quarter horse show), of these completely useless fence posts identified as correct hind-leg conformation.  Yes, correct if you might want the horse to hold up a small building.  Two other issues come to mind -- the first being that the hip is an actual joint as opposed to the shoulder which is not -- leaving it with very limited rotational capability, that confined to the elbow.  And two, how farriers tend to view horses.  Most, from the foot up, unless you happen to be left handed, right-brain in your thinking.  In that case (my own case), I look at the package down, because for the most part, I'm shoeing a horse, not a foot.  And all my thoughts, concerns...angst perhaps -- must consider the package and more importantly, the horse's particular job in life.  And no, this is not some kind of  tree-hugging "natural horse" approach.  I've personally never seen a 'natural' horse and have never noticed a feral horse doing the first-year green stuff either. My notions are based on physical law -- as both Newton and Einstein noticed: every action has an equal and opposing re-action.  Shoeing itself will produce an impact at even its most basic level, so KISS and within the parameters of the horse's job.  There are no all-encompassing theories, no magic bullet -- no absolutes. Simply variations on a fundamental theme.]  

Might work for humans...but not horses.
This hind-leg angle is what produces the propulsion (impulsion), by allowing the maximum forward extension of the hind foot -- under the horse, near the girth.  Good place to be if you plan on lifting 60% of the horse's weight and that overdressed pilot over an obstacle.  Hence, the trimming and shoeing of the hind feet of a hunter (or jumper), should emphasize and encourage the usefulness of this bit of factory equipment.  Which means forget the animal's conformation for a second, throw your chaps in the truck and wander down the schooling ring and smoke a cigarette.  Walking or jogging a horse on a hard surface to see how he moves is slightly ludicrous and marginally useful -- unless they plan on setting the course down the middle of the aisle-way.  Horses cut into the ground, they don't simply tread the surface.  Besides, we live on a round planet, so throw away the textbook and slide-rule and use your eyes.  Separate the elements of the horse into thirds, see what you like and don't like and then put the animal back together again. And too, decide if there is anything you absolutely can't live with outside your own ego.  Yes, that is a consideration -- does the horse have a problem or do you have the problem? 

Yes, exaggerated, but you get my drift.

What, you say?  Basically, you are not seeking a level foot behind.  (Whatever the hell that is.)  Rather, the trimming and shoe need to represent the added needs of a horse that jumps for a living.  The foot should be slightly banked, thereby assisting the hind leg on its path and reducing resistance from the ground on the outside of a hind foot.  And yes, it is subtle.  Let that hind leg travel the course intended and not hit or stab the ground prematurely.  Exactly how much variation is completely dependent upon the horse's own tendencies; his way of moving forward.  Remember above all else, that a hind leg is not intended to support weight (other than standing in the cross-ties), but to propel the body forward -- as such it does not sit under a horse like the pillars in a parking garage.

Comparative anatomy supports such a conclusion, the carpus being primarily a perpendicular (square) joint, the tarsus triangular, with obvious angulations.  So why we would approach them as apples and apples when they are not?  Excellent question.  Hold onto that thought.

Does kind of make you ponder a little over the popularity of trailers, lateral extensions -- support via length or width to the outside of many hind shoes. I call them runners.  People often say, "he was hittin' a bit behind,"  "hocks are a little shaky," "she rope-walks"....blah, blah..."pops the hocks too much."  In truth, the only horses I've ever seen hit are those with physical issues or on the receiving end of a bad ride.  Sure, accidents happen, horses can get tangled up on course, but no horse in its right mind is going to bloody himself with every stride and no farrier is going to correct an outside aberration -- whatever it's origin may prove to be.  If the hocks are sore (not uncommon), then the phone call needs to go to the vet, because Rule #2 is "you don't screw up the horse's job chasing somebody else's ghosts."  (Yeah, I was going to say, "You don't talk about Fight Club."  Kind of the same, really.)  So when considering additions on a hind shoe -- square toes, caulks, your initials etc., be aware that you are creating an asymmetrical masterpiece here.  Balance is for a bar stool, not always a horse. 

Hind shoes are really rather discretionary as most shoers have their favorites, but since hunters show without protection, they should be fit relatively tight and well safed-off to the inside. Weight minimal according to size demands of the individual horse.  The shoes should support the trimmed foot, meaning the outside branch may be 1/2 to 1" longer than the inside.  The horse is going to work off that outside branch a bunch, so give him a little extra to accomplish that task.  In all cases, cut the quarters some slack while having a fairly tight inside heel. The quarters are the seat of the vast majority of medio/lateral flexing -- the heel really not going anywhere, being perhaps one of the strongest engineering examples in the whole hoof.  And if the quarters are weak or problematic, then give them a slight gut and a three-point fit.  It was a book that first said a horseshoe needs to be flat -- not any of the thousands of horses I have discussed this, it is subtlety in fit and application, but often the only way to control those migrating quarters. The idea here being that show season is NOT the time for extensive repairs or some approach that might work. Trainers tend to be a little unresponsive to this kind of approach.

Part II

Fronts -- The Landing Gear
 of this Business:
Ever watch a 747 land?  Yeah, the landing gear isn't rigid.  Same case with a horse.  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.     
And don't forget...comments, hate mail and crank phone calls to:
The Rich and Scientific Horseshoer's Association
PO Box 4
Tijuana, Mexico



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