One of the most challenging tasks a non-riding person can undertake is shoeing racehorses at the track. Shoeing horses on a track is more than just an exercise in staying awake while working in an uncontrolled atmosphere. It is a highly technical specialty requiring manual dexterity and good common sense. Just as a shoe fits an athlete, so must a shoe fit a racehorse. If the shoe is off, it will hinder the horse in performance and possibly cause serious injury.
Before attempting to shoe a racehorse, you should know what you are getting yourself into. I cannot emphasize too strongly how important your attitude is in dealing with any horse. Success or failure when shoeing a racehorse is directly related to your knowledge, skill, and patience. You will be successful if you are firm but kind, understand what you are doing, and desire to learn. Although most horses wear some form of steel plate, racing horses do not because steel is too heavy for racing. Horses’ shoes are made of a synthetic material called calk, which is a pneumatic material that can collapse under pressure to allow the horse’s hoof to expand and contract with the animal’s movements. Alternatively, aluminum shoes can be used. Aluminum shoes are lighter in weight, but they do not soften as much under pressure, thus limiting the expansion and contraction of the hoof.
Shoeing consists of three steps: (1) removal, (2) trimming, and (3) fitting. These steps are closely intermingled, as is true of all horseshoeing. High-quality shoes that fit these three steps provide the best performance from a horse.
The removal of a horseshoe is always the first step. The horse should be securely tied in a working area close to where the farrier will be shoeing the animal. The horse should be relaxed and quiet. Using hand tools, the horseshoe is “knocked off” by striking between the shoe and the hoof wall, approximately one-third of the circumference of the foot around its perimeter. There are many tools used for knocking off shoes. A pry bar is an excellent all-around tool. The center section of the bar should be at least three-quarters of an inch thick. It is essential that the device is of heavy enough steel that it is impossible to bend and still stay in shape when struck against another object.
Trimming requires the farrier to take the shoe off, trim or remove excess leather around the hoof wall, and then fit new leather around the hoof wall. The horse can be easily cut while standing on a hard surface. If a horse is trimmed on dirt, the farrier should carry a shovel and clean up the hoof after trimming. The hole in the hoof where the nail was inserted should be inspected and all dirt removed if it is present.
This step requires the farrier to fit the new shoe over the hoof, taking care not to bang it too high on foot or lower than it is supposed to be. If the shoe is too high, it will limit the movement of the horse’s foot and make it awkward for him to walk. If too far down on the hoof, the shoe will rub on the ground and wear prematurely. The shoe should fit snugly enough that the horse cannot flex his foot into it. If the shoe fits too loosely, it will not expand and contract with the horse’s movements and may limit the amount of pressure applied to the ground. The shoe should be a little loose at the toe. This allows the horse to pick his foot off the floor without pinching or injuring himself.
Shoeing the Individual
While each horse is different, most race about twice a month. This typically gives enough room for trainers and farriers alike to consult on what changes must be made to a horse for that particular race. Bruises, quarter cracks, and hitting are among the issues that trainers and farriers must monitor to ensure they are not causing any harm to their equine athletes.
Like in all professions, the very best know their field of work and how the business works. Each horse is a business, whether toy breed or Thoroughbred.