Big Brown's Feet Not So Bad, Farriers Say

(PHOTOS/VIDEO) Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown clearly owns some of the Thoroughbred industry's fastest feet. But many question their soundness, fueled by reports of layoffs, quarter cracks, and special shoes. His current farriers Tom Curl and Ian McKinlay gave us the real story on his feet, special pads, and how he went from stall rest to the Roses in just eight months.

Concussion--pure impact on the feet (particularly the heels) from Big Brown's ground-covering stride--caused his past problems, said Curl. "Now he's got great-looking feet. He's moving, and when you move as big as this horse, he's hitting the ground big-time."

A Yasha horse shoe

A Yasha rim pad system.

McKinlay first saw Big Brown last October, when an apparent quarter crack threatened his left front foot. "About four days later, (an abscess) erupted out the hairline, so I knew it was a wall separation," he recalled. Those start at the ground (often from a sole bruise), get infected, and go up in the foot, rather than a quarter crack starting high and coming down.

"It took us about 45 days to get that straightened out," he went on. "Luckily, Rick (Dutrow) said, 'Just take your time and do it right.' But I think when we laid him off, the other one was brewing. Soon as he went back into training, the other foot popped."

Enter Curl, the southern member of this New York/Florida team, who worked on the right front foot starting on Dec. 30 at the Palm Meadows training center. "It was heavily infected, so I knew it was a wall separation," he said.

After a month's rest, a patch, and three weeks of training, Big Brown won at Gulfstream in nail-on plates. "After that, I said to Rick, 'We need to glue the Yashas on him... If he gets one more crack like this, you won't get where you think you're going,' " recalled Curl. Shortly thereafter, Big Brown won the Florida Derby handily in his first set of glued Yashas, then the Kentucky Derby in his second pair.

"There was no intention of going to the (Kentucky) Derby after the January layoff, but he came back so strong," said McKinlay. Now, Curl says, "We're not even seeing a glimpse of his past problems."

What's a Yasha?

The Yasha is a two-part rim pad system developed by McKinlay, including a hard red pad around the front edge of the foot and a softer black pad around the inner edge of the shoe and in the heels. These "sneakers" are bonded to glue-on or nail-on shoes.

"They just need cushion in the heels, as most lameness comes from the rear of the foot," explained McKinlay, who has also had success with Yashas in Standardbreds and non-racehorses. "The whole idea is prevention more than antidote."

Going Into the Preakness

Yesterday (May 15), McKinlay trimmed and reset Big Brown's front feet with new glued Yashas, noting that his feet are "just perfect. The left patch has completely grown out and the right only had about an inch left. He's not got a bad hoof wall at all."

"It was so good to work on Big Brown; he's so easy and cooperative," Curl commented. "Great horses have great minds."

And hopefully, great feet.

Big Brown just before getting his new right front shoe

Farrier Ian McKinlay resets the shoes on Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown May 15.

The glue and clips holding Big Brown's shoes in place

Glue and copper tabs hold Big Brown's shoes and pads in place.

What's With All the Glue?

While racehorses don't all run in glued-on shoes, this method of attaching shoes has certainly worked well for Big Brown. There are a two basic ways a shoe can be glued onto a hoof:

  • Direct glue attaches a traditional shoe to the bottom of the hoof with glue.
  • Indirect glue refers to tabbed or cuffed shoes that are glued to the outside of the wall.

Big Brown currently sports indirectly glued shoes on his front feet. His shoes don't have tabs or cuffs all the way around, although they do have a copper tab on each side, riveted to the foot surface of the shoe, to help hold the glue. The buildup of glue you see on each side of his foot isn't there for hoof repair (although it can work that way); it's there to provide a solid mass of glue for holding the shoes and pads on his hard-pounding feet.

More information:

Video: Ian McKinlay, who designed Big Brown's pads, describes and demonstrates how they work.
(More of McKinlay's farriery videos)

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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