Winter’s finally over and you’re ready to roll down the road. Your horse is fit, you’ve been coached to new heights, and visions of blue ribbons dance in your dreams. Suddenly, your happy dream turns into a nightmare as you recall what happened last year at that horse show, when your horse needed to be re-shod at the show.
What’s a horse owner to do?
You have a few options. You could marry a farrier. Or you could send one of your children to farrier school. If you have two children, send one to veterinary school and the other to farrier school. Maybe that would help. But would they be willing to go to all the horse shows with you, and be on standby in case of a thrown shoe or a pastern laceration?
Many potential ribbons and memorable show experiences are lost each year to what the horse industry calls "the agony of de feet." Minor injuries, lost shoes, missed farrier appointments, and misunderstandings of breed or sport shoeing rules all are preventable catastrophes that could keep your horse at home in his stall instead of out there doing the victory gallop you know he deserves.
Make yourself a checklist of foot tasks to take care of, and start getting ready 30 days from the first time you will compete with your horse. Specifics will vary among breeds and sports, but the idea is the same across the horse industry: Think ahead, and anticipate problems.
Meet With Your Farrier
Could you pick your farrier out in a crowd? Many horse owners work full-time and have a great relationship with their farrier’s message machines and pagers. But they’ve never met each other in person!
If you are planning to show your horse, make a point of meeting your farrier face-to-face. If you can’t be at the barn when your farrier is scheduled to shoe your horse, find out if he or she can meet you early one morning or one late afternoon, at least a month before you plan to begin competing. Even if your horse is not in need of shoeing, ask for a consultation appointment, and pay him or her for time well spent.
Go over your plans for the horse with your farrier, and explain that you want to be prepared. Your farrier might not know that you are switching to running barrels this year, which will mean a change of shoeing equipment. Your farrier might not know that you will be showing in amateur owner jumping classes on grass, which will mean an equipment change.
If you are showing in the local area, your farrier can give you some good advice about different show grounds. He or she sees evidence of the aftereffects of certain shows, particularly if the arenas are hard and unyielding. You might not get all good news from your farrier; you could hear, "Gee, why don’t you skip that show? The ground there will just kill his feet and set you back a month." Alternately, the farrier might suggest pads or another equipment change for a specific arena.
Dissatisfaction with arena surfaces has led several show organizations to present a new award each year for "Best Footing." However, remember that a show facility that receives an award for its footing receives it for the arena where horses compete. The award is for the spring in the surface, or the quality of the landscaping in getting water to run off and leave dry grass. Remember that your horse might spend a lot more time warming up in a boggy field or being hand-walked on concrete than he does in the arena itself. Be prepared.
Some farriers are not familiar with more than one show discipline. Switching from plain hind shoes to sliding plates so you can try your horse at reining can be a problem for your farrier if he or she isn’t familiar with sliding plates and how to start a horse with gradually increasing width to the shoes. Hopefully, your farrier will be honest with you about this lack of knowledge and consult with a farrier who specializes in that sport, or refer you to a new farrier for that horse.
Before you assume that your old farrier is obsolete in a new sport, remember that your current farrier knows both you and your horse, and has seen the horse over a long period of time. Switching to a new farrier can be just as problematic as staying with the old one. The time to switch farriers is not right before you begin a competition season!
Shows come in all forms, and you might be headed to a show where your horse will not be the most common breed or sport type. Imagine that you own a draft horse which will be doing an exhibition between classes at a hunter-jumper show. What if you have a shoeing problem? Chances are, the show farrier wouldn’t even have a nail that would fit your horse’s shoe.
What if you are headed to an all-breed exhibition with a pony? What would you do in an emergency? You might want to contact show managers in advance to find out what facilities for shoeing will be available.
Many farriers send horses off to shows with an extra set of shoes, along with nails to fit in a little plastic bag; and their business card is enclosed. The most common example of this is an event horse with special shoeing needs; combined training events often are far from everyone’s home, and the horses don’t always respond well to a change in shoeing, regardless of the skill of the event’s official farriers.
No matter what, tape your farrier’s business card to the inside of your tack trunk. Carry it in your glove compartment. Tattoo it on your wrist. Make sure that if he or she has a pager or mobile phone, you have that number (if it is available). Nothing is worse than standing at an outdoor pay phone at a horse show, in the rain, talking to your farrier’s six-year-old son, or the answering machine!
Shoeing At The Show
Horseshoeing is not horseshoeing, especially when it comes to horse shows. At your local show, you might find a local farrier. He or she could be a terrific, highly skilled farrier who wants to help the show, or it could be a youngster straight out of farrier school with no experience. Or, the highly skilled farrier could be over in the tent eating lunch when you walk up with your horse, and his new assistant gallantly offers to shoe your horse for you. Not knowing that this is not the "real" farrier, you hand over the horse.
At a big-time breed horse show, you might find some of the best farriers in the country. These are experienced farriers who specialize in that particular type of horse. A good example is the Quarter Horse Congress or American Quarter Horse Association World Show, where the farrier trucks read like a "Who’s Who" of Quarter Horse showing, reining, and cutting farriers.
Expert farriers are not at these shows because they particularly want to be; the trainers they shoe for practically live on the road, so the farriers are at the show to take care of their customers. You might see a name that strikes awe in your heart. Think that perhaps your horse could be shod by this expert, only to find out that the shoer is on the grounds only to take care of a client’s horses.
At many shows, the official farriers are expert, but you might want to get a few names of the farriers shoeing at the show and call your farrier back home. You could be relieved to hear, "Wow, if you can get that horse of yours shod by him, go for it. I went to a clinic he gave a year ago, and if anybody can straighten out that left front, he’s the one."
It’s always nice to have a horse shod by someone who has the blessing of your farrier back home. It also lays a good foundation for you to talk to the show farrier if you can lead with a gush of praise from your own farrier.
Beware of farriers who insist on making drastic changes in your horse’s shoeing. They might have perfectly legitimate reasons for suggesting a special device, but your goal in having the horse worked on is to get through the show with a sound horse. If there is a problem, you can have it worked on at home, by someone who knows your horse and his history.
It might sound obvious, but ask a show farrier ahead of time how much you can expect to pay for the shoeing and what the payment arrangements are. Most farriers like to be paid in cash, particularly when dealing with strangers. And some show farriers charge much, much more than you are accustomed to paying!
There are many advantages to having your horse shod before you leave home. One that you might not have considered is that your horse will be shod in front of a critical audience at a horse show. Three or four idle farriers and owners might stand around and critique your horse’s conformation, your tack, your horse’s bloodlines, or the current shoeing as if you weren’t even there. This can be unnerving, not to mention rude. But it happens all the time.
Don’t be surprised if farriers at a show are critical of the way your horse is shod. They don’t know you, your farrier, the horse, where it lives, or its lameness history. Just smile and be as polite as possible under the circumstances. Take solace in the fact that their work probably is being critiqued in the same way at some other show at that very moment.
Show shoeing sometimes can be upsetting to even the calmest horse. Your horse might have been shod all his life while standing on cross ties, and suddenly he is to be shod out in the open air, by a stranger, while a loudspeaker blasts in his ear and strange horses walk by. If you think your horse will be nervous being shod at a show, ask the farrier to be the first appointment in the morning, or ask for a quiet time for your horse to be shod.
If your horse is always difficult or nervous to shoe, be honest with the show farrier. Do not wait until the horse begins to act up to admit that the horse is afraid of shoeing. If your horse has never been hot-fit and you think the shoer will be putting a hot shoe on, tell the farrier in advance that your regular farrier shoes cold.
Any farrier you hire at a show should be willing to provide you with a receipt for your payment, which should show his or her name and contact information. This is important in the event that you want to get in touch with the farrier again or if your farrier at home wants to ask where a certain type of shoe or pad used can be purchased.
A distinct advantage of show farriers is that they are acutely aware of shoeing regulations and equipment limitations. Some breeds have particular rules for toe length, pads, bar shoes, or shoe weight. Show farriers will be aware of these regulations, and stewards will be on hand to answer any questions you have about meeting regulations for your particular division.
Many riders are upset to arrive at a show or competitive trail ride to find that the show farrier insists on removing special shoes instead of resetting them. This is an issue for you to raise with your farrier before you leave home, and it is evidence of the importance of having your horse shod before you leave home. Still, if a horse throws a shoe, you are at the mercy of the event farriers, and there is not much you can do to change their minds about a product that they might not be familiar with or like, no matter how well your horse goes with that type of shoe.
Foot Preparation For Showing
Many breed or sport disciplines have "foot fashions" that most exhibitors follow in a slavish way. You should check with your farrier before you go along with the crowd. Practices like clipping the hairline might seem harmless, but clipping might not flatter your horse’s lower leg conformation, particularly if the horse has a small patch of white at the pastern or a crooked ankle. Hopefully, your horse has no bumps in the hairline and no sheared heels; clipping will only draw attention to these problems and could be especially detracting in a halter class. This type of visual flaw often is not seen by exhibitors, but the judge will find it hard to miss.
Blackening hooves on a light-colored leg accentuates hoof conformation problems even more, particularly if a horse has one upright foot and one flat foot. Proceed with caution, and ask for assistance or advice from a professional groom or trainer.
Clinics given by experienced judges and trainers are a good place to learn about show ring fashions like hoof blacking. You might be surprised to learn that fashions are changing on the national level, and you could show up at the first show of the year with the only horse with unnaturally blackened hooves, or vice versa.
If you do use "hoof black," remember to remove it as soon as the horse has been shown in the last class for the day. Do not leave it on!
Be sure to tell your farrier if you are planning to sand your horse’s hooves. You might want your farrier’s advice on this matter before you do it, and he or she might want to fill in the nail holes with putty if you will be sanding the hoof walls. Your farrier also might make alterations in wall filler and hoof repair compounds if he or she knows that you will be sanding the hooves. Remember to be conservative when sanding.
New hoof sealants available from your farrier or at tack and feed stores can be helpful in presenting a nicely finished foot for the judge. Make sure that you know how much to use, and how to apply it in light layers to avoid drip marks. Practice at home, long before you head off to a show! You will be nervous enough about showing, so you won’t want to have to figure out how to use a new product.
Setting Up At The Show
Perhaps you show in the big leagues, but maybe you’re going to local shows for one day. If so, you won’t be stabling your horse. Instead, your horse might spend a good part of the day standing tied to your trailer.
Regardless of the size of the show or how long you will stay, check out your horse’s area before you unload the horse. If the horse will be stabled, get your stall assignment, and check the stall. If it hasn’t been bedded, check the flooring for loose boards, and anything in the floor that could hurt your horse. Sometimes, temporary stalls are erected in a hurry, and workers can drop nails or forget to secure a board.
If your horse will be tied to your trailer, try to find a spot with some shade for your horse. Dry ground is particularly important, since mud can be slippery for your horse, as well as making it difficult to keep him clean. Horse shows usually are either dusty or damp, so you should plan to spend a good part of the day keeping your horse clean.
Many exhibitors do not consider the danger that lurks around their trailers. If your horse is tied to the trailer, try to anticipate what would happen in the event of a barking dog running underneath your horse, or a sudden thunderstorm.
A nervous, scrambling horse is in danger when tied to a trailer. Many hoof and pastern injuries are caused by sharp edges on trailer bodies. Be sure to tie your horse properly and consider bringing a couple of bales of hay to place between your horse and the trailer body so that, if he slips or rears, his foot will not go under the trailer.
Keep all your grooming gear and tack out of the horse’s reach. Remember that you will need a clean surface for the horse to stand on while you apply hoof sealant or coloring.
Practice installing and removing traction studs for combined training or jumping horses at home. Remember that you will need someone to hold the horse for you while you do this at the show. If you are the rider and a groom will be doing this, make sure that all the tools and extra studs are handy. Any time you change the size, shape, or position of studs, make sure that you have a chance to school the horse in the grass or dirt before you compete.
Keep in mind that other exhibitors might be camped near you, or be hacking or hand-grazing close by. Stow your gear out of the way of other horses and tie your horse where he will be bothered least by passing horses, dogs, and people.
After The Show
As soon as possible after competing, remove boots and traction studs. Dirt or small stones can be trapped under boots and cause irritation. Do not load a horse onto a trailer or van if the horse is still wearing removable studs. Your ramp and body mats will be ruined and if your horse scrambles, a serious hoof or pastern injury could happen.
Once your horse is loaded and ready to go home, clean up the area where you have been parked. Be especially careful of leaving behind any metal or sharp objects, realizing that a horse could be injured there in the future, or that you could drive over something sharp and ruin a tire.
Don’t be in such a rush to get home that you neglect your horse. Shipping boots that cover the pastern are a real luxury, but they have helped prevent many injuries in horses. Remember that your horse is just as tired as you are, and that his reflexes might be decreased by fatigue. Some horses brace themselves while trailering, which takes a lot of energy. A relaxed horse will trailer more quietly, so your horse will benefit from hand-walking for a while before loading.
When you get home, make a few notes on your calendar about what to do before the next show.
The day after the show, be sure to check your horse’s feet and legs carefully for any bruises and cuts that might have swollen during the night. Run your hands up and down each leg and hoof, checking for heat and swelling. Check behind the pastern, just above the heel bulbs, for an elevated pulse. Call your veterinarian immediately if you find anything unusual or if you horse is stiff and unresponsive.
Horse shows should be fun for you and your horse. Planning in advance can help you avoid nightmare adventures far from home, and let you concentrate on achieving a peak performance. Hopefully, you’ll have enough fun to do it all over again, next weekend!
The Event Groom’s Handbook by Jeanne Kane and Lisa Waltman, Event Books International.
Care of the Competition Horse by Sarah Pilliner, B.T. Batsford Ltd.
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.