Where Did All The Farriers Go? The AFA Convention

The same message echoed from a thousand telephone answering machines across the country in February, and if you happened to have a horse throw a shoe that week, you were in trouble. "Hi, I'll be away until March first attending the American Farrier's Association Convention in Rochester, New York..."



New ideas in quarter crack repair not only include many ingenious patching methods, but also have expanded to include removing an outer layer of horn near the hair line, thus encouraging new growth of a wide band of horn. Even when patched, quarter cracks can't heal; they can only disappear as healthy new horn grows down from the hairline.

Of course, the farriers did lots more than just "attend" a convention; they rolled up their sleeves and tried their hands at everything from fancy forgework to touring the Internet. They danced, they fiddled, and they no doubt told a few lies, but who's counting when the fellow (or, more often these days, the woman) across the table from you is a farrier, too?

Education is the main idea of the national convention for farriers, run by the American Farrier's Association. Based at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., the AFA has hosted a national meeting for farriers for more than 25 years. The 1998 meeting was in Rochester, N.Y., and attracted almost 1,000 hard-working farriers determined to learn about everything that is new for their profession--and have a bit of fun while they were at it.

If the interest level at the convention is a valid indicator, farriers in America are hooked on "stuff." A trade show of 165 companies, held on two levels, sported displays of everything from trucks and trailers to shoes and nails. One popular exhibit, the Stonewell Forge Company, featured a high-tech golf cart that had been retrofitted into a shoeing rig. St. Croix Forge, a horseshoe manufacturer, handed out 1,000 pairs of safety glasses. Polished chrome hammers flashed under farriers' arms.

Farriers want to know about "stuff" that can make their jobs easier and make their clients' horses more sound, or help with lameness problems. In past years, the AFA convention was the launching pad for glue-on shoes, hoof repair compounds, slim-shank horseshoe nails, thrush medications, and hoof-growth feed supplements. Many of the products routinely used on American horses have come to the market in the last 10 years.

Farriers turned out in record numbers at several lectures, evidence that they have not had all their problems answered by new products or flashy pickup trucks. They wanted to know about quarter cracks, about laminitis, and about white line disease. They asked the speakers what they thought of the four-point trim; farriers are not afraid to speak their minds, or request that someone else do the same.

Politics seem to play a larger part in AFA between conventions than it does during the convention, when farriers are too distracted by the honest pleasure of seeing one another to get around to arguing. The AFA did manage to vote in a disability insurance policy for all members, and California farrier Emil Carre was elected president. Carre is full-time resident farrier at the Pioneer Equine Hospital in Oakdale, Calif., and owns Independence Farm with his wife, Kate. Outgoing president Lim Couch will stay on the board of directors as past president. Nebraska's Greg Johnson was elected treasurer. Finally, the AFA continues to promote and support its voluntary certification program, which is open to all farriers, regardless of AFA membership, and has become recognized worldwide as a logical system for evaluating farrier skills.

Quarter Cracks

No one farrier stood tall in the audience at the AFA Convention and said, "I can fix a quarter crack. This is how I do it." Yet, for many farriers, this is what they wanted to hear. That there is a fix, and that there might be hope. Instead, the farriers saw a few case studies, particularly in presentations by David Farley, Bruce Daniels, and Myron McLane, that outlined new ideas to try, or new ways to look at quarter cracks, but all stressed that preventing the evil wall fractures was one of the most important parts of a horseshoer's responsibility to a horse.

Quarter cracks are literally stress fractures in the hoof wall that break through just behind the quarter, or widest part of the foot. Some quarter cracks are fissures beneath the hoof wall; others shear right through the wall. All quarter cracks wreak havoc with a horse's career and long-term athletic potential. All quarter cracks are a farrier's nightmare.

Quarter cracks have never been "graded" in terms of their severity, so it has never been possible really to compare one horse's crack to another's. Farriers off the racetrack, working on thicker walled, heavier horses, are frustrated by trying to apply techniques designed for and used by racetrack patch experts. Short-term sewing, screwing, lacing, bonding, patching, and entombing a split in the paper thin hoof wall of a Thoroughbred, racing Quarter Horse, or Standardbred have become specialties of nomadic patch gurus across the United States.

Little research has been done into how a quarter crack changes the weight-bearing aspects of a foot. For instance, farriers were formerly taught that they are reuniting the foot by patching the crack, and that their goal is to close up the crack. Speakers at the AFA convention countered that belief vehemently and in unison. The hoof will not "heal"; the only hope is to stabilize the coronet so that a new, stronger wall grows down.

Ohio farrier David Farley laid the blame for quarter cracks on unbalanced feet. "Remember that an unbalanced foot does not have a normal blood supply," he said. "There is a difference between distortion and deformity." A deformed foot, he feels, is caused by conformation; a distorted foot can be helped back toward normality.

While establishing a "normal" (in appearance, at least) foot can help prevent some quarter cracks, "getting to normal" can cause problems, too. Farley warned about removing flares. "Try to apply the shoe with the frog centered in the shoe," he said. "And you should try to fit the heels parallel with the bulb. But be careful where the nails are placed if you have removed a flare (at the quarters). Be safe! Leave that nail out, or replace it with a clip. A clip can be as strong as two nails."

Back on the farm, when blood is running out of a crack and a heavy warmblood or halter horse is lame, farriers need help. Bruce Daniels, a former Standardbred racetrack farrier turned generalist, offered a few clues. First, he explained how his years of experience with quarter cracks on the racetrack were different from his current work.

"When you see a quarter crack at the harness track," Daniels noted, "it might have been caused by a wreck or some trauma to the hoof. Now what I see on horses is a man-made quarter crack. Let me tell you, a dressage horse doesn't get much trauma! What's the difference? That dressage horse works in a soft arena. The racehorse is pounding on a hard track. The racehorse shows the damage quicker." With the heavier sport horses, a quarter crack can be an insidious, gradual ripping of layer upon layer of hoof wall and laminae.

"These horses are ready for Dr. Green," Daniels said in his characteristic tongue-in-cheek style, "They're ready to be pasture-ized!"

Myron McLane, a farrier from Massachusetts, shared the podium with Daniels and agreed. "A man-made quarter crack is from the inside out. You can't see it, and it eventually breaks open. I use a full-support shoe (heart bar/egg bar combination) and float the heel. I believe that you must hold the quarter crack apart, not together." McLane showed a slide of what looked like a normally trimmed and shod foot, but he slid a business card under the heel, to show that it was not weightbearing.

Treating a quarter crack successfully means knowing when and if you should be patching it. Bruce Daniels offered some advice: "When do you patch? Ask yourself if it is dry yet. Press on either side of the crack. If the other side moves, hold off."

McLane recommended patching a crack with the horse's foot up on a farrier's foot stand. "Don't have the horse stand on the foot while you're patching. It will collapse the foot and you'll patch it so it stays collapsed, not open."

"Watch out for a rigid patch as the foot grows down from one of these quarter cracks," Daniels continued. "The coronet will bulge out and expand, but the ground perimeter can't expand. It causes more stress!"

Quarter cracks sometimes can be discerned on radiographs before they penetrate the outer wall (called "blind quarter cracks"). The most effective prevention is to avoid excess pressure and stress on the medial (inside) wall of the foot, which often is straighter than the outside and might land harder or sooner than the outside or toe.

Wider-webbed shoes, clips, and nails that are all forward of the widest part of the foot are helpful in supporting the foot to avoid imbalance problems like quarter cracks.


Laminitis was the buzzword of the 1980s for farriers, as they found new products and treatments that had real value in helping foundered horses. The products came at just the right time, as laminitis and founder seemed to reach epidemic status in the U.S. horse industry, highlighted by the death of Secretariat and many other high-profile racehorses and show horses. Insurance companies were particularly eager either to keep foundered horses alive or ascertain whether euthanasia had been justified.

Along came a farrier with the chutzpah to throw his Stetson into the opinion arena. Texas farrier Burney Chapman narrowed his case load to foundered horses back in the 1960s, and has shod little else since. He first addressed the AFA on the subject of shoeing for laminitis in the early 1980s. The AFA brought him back in 1998 for an update.

Chapman teetered at the podium, supported by crutches necessary to keep his tall frame upright, as a result of a horse's collapse during a shoeing a few weeks before the convention. Gone was the bravado of a Texas super-shoer, replaced by the insights of someone who has seen it all, and still doesn't have all the answers. No matter how many times he said it, the questions still came from the audience, and farriers and veterinarians followed him all week, asking for opinions on their cases.

Chapman's tips for treating laminitis included the following valuable information:

  • On Day One, it is advisable to use some kind of support on the frog, but not the sole. This can be accomplished by taping a roll of gauze or a Lilly pad to the frog.

  • No one device works 100% of the time, but some devices work with a higher percent of success than others. This is a device that does not compromise the blood supply to the digit that has already been damaged.

  • There are two circumflex (circular) arteries in the horse's foot; one at the coronary band (top of the hoof wall) and one around the ground surface of P3 (coffin bone). As the horse advances from laminitis to founder, the distal (lower) circular artery becomes compressed between the bottom of P3 and the horny sole. This can cause acute pain, and the upper circular artery also compresses, cutting off growth to the hoof capsule at the toe. So-called "fever rings" are evidence of this compression.

  • A heart bar shoe should not put more than 1 to 2 millimeters of support on the frog. Think of it as an arch support for the foot. The point of the bar should not extend past the apex (point) of the frog and ideally should be three-eighths of an inch posterior (behind) to the apex. It should not overlap the frog in any way.

  • Use the smallest nail possible with a heart bar shoe on a laminitic or foundered horse. Race nails (4 1/2) or small e-head nails (#2) seem to do the job with little trauma to the horse and still secure the shoe.

  • If the foot is dry, pack the sole with medicated packing to keep the sole soft and pliable; suggested products are Sole Pack by Hawthorne or Equithane Hoof Pack foam. Use a heart bar shoe in conjunction with a hospital plate.

  • If there is pus or serum draining from the foot, use a sugardine solution to medicate the sole.

  • Felt- or fleece-lined bell boots can be helpful in medicating the coronet. Use icthammol or Corona ointment to keep the coronet soft and pliable.

  • If the horse is lying down, also protect the elbow from rubbing. Good hand lotion can be beneficial.

  • A farrier cannot help a horse when true P3 rotation has occurred. Surgery (deep flexor tenotomy) should be done before P3 has deteriorated and remodeled.

If you ever become jaded about the horse industry and want a fresh outlook, pack your bag and head to an AFA convention. Where else could you see conventioneers get together to play music (fiddles, banjos, and an opera-singer-turned-farrier were among them), then get serious for a lecture on visualization techniques for right-brained people? And have you ever seen a Japanese contest farrier in his robe? Who else can raise $1,200 (in less than five minutes) to help a crippled farrier from the stage of an annual banquet.

By now, all the lost shoes of that lost week have been nailed back on, and the farrier trucks are all back on the road. Farriers who attended the convention might still be humming a tune they heard the all-farrier bluegrass orchestra play, as they pull out a few new tricks to try to help your horse. If your farrier went, you should sleep a little better in the months to come. The 1999 American Farrier's Association convention will be held in Lexington, Ky., Feb. 23-27.


Contact the American Farrier's Association, 4059 Iron Works Pike, Lexington, KY 40511; 606/233-7411; fax 606/231-7862; e-mail farriers@americanfarriers.org. Visit the AFA online at www.americanfarriers.org.

About the Author

Fran Jurga

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.

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