Egg Bar Shoes
She was holding the lead line so tightly her knuckles were white. Her eyes were glued to the farrier's fingers as they felt the horse's coronary band. Then she looked into the eyes of the veterinarian and wailed, "You've got to do something! I have to show this horse this weekend, and he can't go to a horse show wearing a bar shoe. No one will ever want to buy him. They remember. It's a curse. Please, please, please can you take them off?"
This egg bar is helping a lame horse. A horse shod with bar shoes in this way is probably on stall rest and would be turned out only when wearing bell boots.
Not too long ago, farriers and veterinarians heard this whine in barns all across America. Horses which needed bar shoes often were reshod with open shoes at the request--and, sometimes, insistence--of owners before the bar shoes had finished their jobs. Nailing a bar shoe on a horse was like putting a scarlet letter on the horse for all the world to see. They were a giant flag announcing, "Hey, look! There's something wrong with my feet!"
All that has changed now. Owners no longer are afraid of bar shoes; in fact, many farriers fear that bar shoes--particularly shiny egg bar shoes--are in danger of becoming something akin to "Air Jordans" on the show scene. They're shiny, high-tech looking, and every farrier has them in his or her truck. No more waiting for shoes to be welded or handmade back at the forge. They're hanging right there. Couldn't we just try them? If they worked on that first place horse, won't they work on mine?
The story behind the egg bar shoe's evolution from a kiss of death into a piece of sports equipment is difficult to track. No one knows where the fad is going, and worse yet, no one seems to know if the shoes really are working. You see, to find out, they'd have to take them off. And there are many owners who would plant themselves between a farrier and a pair of pulloffs.
Enter The Egg Bar Shoe
This partially-nailed classic wide-web aluminum shoe has been made into a bar shoe by simply welding in a piece of aluminum.
In Australia, they call it a "moon shoe." Some people call them "oval shoes." Call it what you like: An egg bar is simply an oval-shaped horseshoe. Where the heels would normally end, they keep going--but in a circular direction, creating an oval back to the shoe. Other bar shoes have a definite end to the heels, with a bridge welded in place between the two heels.
The egg bar's "out back" design, which is its strongest point, always has been its worst enemy. Many people, particularly Americans, fear extending the heels, no matter how beneficial that extra support might be, thinking that the horse will overreach with a hind foot and rip the shoe off. The shoe is expensive if lost, and it might take awhile for the farrier to return to nail it back on. So, Americans resisted egg bar shoes for a long time.
An egg bar shoe is featured in a case of demonstration horses made by the eminent author and teacher on American horseshoeing, Professor William Russell. In his book, Scientific Horseshoeing (published in many editions in the late 1800s and early 1900s), Russell classified the egg bar as a has-been, relegating it to a case entitled "Old Style Horseshoes Made 1850-1865." Did horses march off to the Civil War wearing egg bar shoes? Is it a coincidence that the end of the Civil War coincided with the end of the egg bar shoe in American farrier literature?
Interestingly, in London in 1897, the famous Handbook of Horseshoeing by Dollar and Wheatley includes no mention of a rounded bar shoe, but illustrations, which are attributed to the Dresden (Germany) academy of horseshoeing run by the master professor Anton Lungwitz, show all bar shoes with egg bar-style heels. The author recommends these full-fitting heels for every imaginable ailment of the feet, from corns to seedy toe.
The egg bar gained modern notoriety in the early 1980s, when it was recommended in the treatment of navicular disease in the papers of Scandinavian researchers like Kold and Ostblom. Whether the egg bar was dusted off from a museum display or reinvented in the fertile mind of a young researcher, we don't know. We only know that it was an idea whose time had come.
The egg bar shoe has shared the navicular disease prescription pad with seated out wide web shoes for many years; both routinely are still prescribed. But horses with navicular disease have two separate syndromes: the upright, "boxy" foot so typical of the small-footed, old-style Quarter Horse, and the underrun, low, flat foot of the Thoroughbred.
Historically, the egg bar was used as a therapeutic shoe, usually for navicular-type lameness, from the late 1970s until the early 1990s. As more research and writing were done on the subject of navicular lameness, the skills of farriers improved in the making of egg bars, and veterinarians began routinely to prescribe the shoes.
At the same time, there was a growing awareness that the diagnosis of navicular disease was a little tricky. One existential aspect of the diagnosis is the question: If the horse regains soundness and stays sounds, must one assume that he had been misdiagnosed and never actually had navicular disease? This question was asked more and more often, since so many horses returned to soundness when shod with various incarnations of the egg bar shoe.
Around 1990, it became a safer assumption that a lame horse with a set of clinical signs suffered from "posterior foot pain," which could have many causes, including navicular disease. The easiest and often most successful recommendation was to try egg bar shoes. Remember, a very large number of these horses were also suffering from "horizontal heel syndrome, whether they showed signs of lameness or not.
Before long, if an underrun-heeled horse had a minor heel-area lameness or bruise, an egg bar was a good insurance policy to keep the horse in training. Once the horses became accustomed to the shoes, many charged through their careers without ill effects.
If you were a veterinarian or farrier, consider this scenario. At a boarding barn are two customers, both with sore-heeled horses. One agrees to give her horse time off, try a larger, open-heeled shoe size, and aim for a show late in the season. The second customer's horse is just as lame, but she insists that the farrier nail on the same type of shoes that helped her last horse. Voila, the horse is sound (although this is not always the case). Off she goes, showing every weekend, until the horse develops a more serious lameness problem or injury.
Bar Shoes By The Bagful
Inventory for every horseshoe supply store these days includes titanium, aluminum, and steel bar shoes; the Centaur Forge catalogue presents bar shoes in a whopping selection of 93 sizes and models. There are at least seven companies in the United States alone making bar shoes. Most are cut from steel plate, which offers an advantage over handmade or insert-welded bar shoes in that there is no "weak link" spot in the shoe where a weld can break. Some aluminum shoes are "extruded," meaning that the directional flow of the stock is actually in an oval, without cross-directional forces that could weaken the shoe.
Bar shoes can be blanks (no nail holes), creased or uncreased, wedged or flat. Some can be fitted with wear inserts for the toe, to help make the shoe last longer. One model even is available pre-clipped, creased, and punched. To use this shoe, a farrier had better be certain that that shoe is the exact Cinderella model for the horse at hand.
Creased bar shoes have a narrow valley in the steel or aluminum into which the nail holes are punched. This crease is a standard design element in many horseshoes; farriers feel that it fills with dirt and helps give the horse more traction, as well as give the nail heads a more secure seat. Best of all, on a lame or tender-footed horse, a creased shoe requires that the clinches be cut and the nails be pulled, one by one. This causes less stress and torque to the foot; a flat shoe is just wrenched off in a powerful twisting motion. Pieces of hoof wall can come with the shoe.
How successful are bar shoes? The GE Tool Company in California, famous for high-quality hoof-cutting and shoeing tools used by veterinarians and farriers worldwide, began making extruded aluminum egg bar shoes as an experiment, since they had the technology to try it. They now make 20 models of egg bar shoes, including the only pre-made egg bars for racing Thoroughbreds. How successful were they? GE recently started to make an open heeled shoe for all the customers they had gained in egg bar sales!
To be truthful, the GE egg bar--and many of the others--is a beautiful horseshoe. It could be mistaken for a bracelet. It is nicely finished, and four of them lying on a table look vaguely suggestive of a set of "party wheels" that you'd admire on a Porsche. Anything that looks that good must be good for your horse! Mustn't it?
Putting On Egg Bars
Not long ago, the thought of an egg bar shoe made horse owners see red. Horses would overreach and pull them off. They'd get "sucked off" in the mud. They'd fall off for no good reason, as if yanked by evil arena spirits. Everyone knows bar shoes cause contracted heels. And they get all thrushy under the bars. And they cost a lot, as well they should, given the amount of time it took for a farrier to craft a pair from bar stock.
All that has changed now. The initial softening factor was the reduction in cost, once farriers had even a fraction of the 93 models and sizes to choose from that were ready-made. The more farriers used them, the more skilled they became at properly adjusting and fitting them, so that lost shoes became less frequent.
Farriers routinely began "backing up" the toes, and first rolling the toe, or rockering it, to help the foot compensate for the longer platform. The foot was no longer planted on the ground for that extra micro-second that it would take for the diagonal hind to clip it. Lately, it seems that many farriers successfully square the toe or literally "set the shoe back" under the foot, instead of rolling or rockering it.
Sport Horse Gear Or Lame Horse Therapy?
A recent survey of farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners around the United States, conducted by Hoofcare & Lameness Magazine, found a polarity of opinions on the popularity of egg bar shoes.
Some people think they are a godsend. After all, the horses go sound. But is a horse sound if, when you remove the magic shoes, he is immediately lame again? Should such a horse be jumping, competing, and training as if nothing were wrong, when all its connections know that something is indeed wrong?
Would you buy a horse wearing egg bar shoes or would you ask to have the shoes pulled for a lameness exam to find out just how sound the horse is?
Some people think that the bar shoe is overused. They charge that farriers and veterinarians, when faced with a vague lameness, just shrug and say to each other, "Well, let's try an egg bar and see how he does," instead of trying to find out what is truly wrong with the horse, or to experiment with differently configured open shoes.
For many owners, the egg bar shoe is cheaper than a set of radiographs. Which would you rather have? Chances are that after reading the radiographs, many veterinarians will prescribe egg bar shoes, with successful results.
Brian DuBose, owner of Ironworks, a leading steel bar shoe manufacturing company in South Carolina, finds that many of his shoes are being applied to performance horses as a preventative measure against potential problems. DuBose feels that many farriers are becoming more comfortable with the application of bar shoes "largely due to outreach of the American Farriers Association at local clinics and contests. I am encouraged by the growth we have seen in our blanks (shoes without nail holes) because this means the guys are punching them, which implies better farriery skills and at least the use of a forge."
A farrier from New Jersey moaned, "In the last five to 10 years, I haven't been asked for anything but an egg bar shoe by veterinarians!" He might cheer up soon; a veterinarian from Utah assured all that the egg bar fad had passed for all but reiners and barrel racers, and that the Natural Balance shoe (a thick, open, aluminum shoe with rolled toe, straightish branches, and a "natural foot" shape a la the wild horse) was replacing the egg bar as the therapeutic shoe of choice.
And a horse owner wrote adamantly, "The egg bar shoes saved my horse, and my family can use her again. I have trouble keeping them on, but I think they have helped her back to a normal foot and a normal life."
You can't argue with that.
William W. Cary, a Texas farrier with 30 years of experience, sums up bar shoes beautifully in his advice: "Most of the horses adapt to (bar shoes) well; it's the owners who don't adapt to them well--i.e., picking up the feet and cleaning out the bottom on a daily basis!"
About the Author
Fran Jurga is the publisher of Hoofcare & Lameness, The Journal of Equine Foot Science, based in Gloucester, Mass., and Hoofcare Online, an electronic newsletter accessible at www.hoofcare.com. Her work also includes promoting lameness-related research and information for practical use by farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners. Jurga authored Understanding The Equine Foot, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.
POLL: University Equine Hospitals