© Rob Edwards
published in ANVIL Magazine, June 1997
The father, an innovative man, had created the Thoro'Bred Racing Plate Company after World War II. The son, Ed Kinney, had the opportunity to work in this, one of the most successful manufacturing operations in the farrier industry. This good fortune, coupled with his own ingenuity, has taken him and the company around the world. Expansion of the business through continuing foresight and planning is evident in the global demand for the numerous products made and distributed by Thoro'Bred.
ANVIL: Ed, your father started Thoro'Bred Racing Plate Company, didn't he?
ED: Yes, back in 1949 in Los Angeles. He rented a small garage area from a friend and started there. Alcoa Aluminum Company helped my father by making the shoes for him, because he couldn't afford the forging and trimming presses at that time. Alcoa would do the forging and we would then trim, punch, sand, polish and package. That worked for some time, but when we were making hind patterns, which would be different from each other, sometimes Alcoa would give us a batch of front shoes and maybe only one side of the hinds. So they weren't always able to forge a complete batch of shoes for us. And that became quite a problem. So as soon as we could, we started making our own shoes. We also built our own forging presses. My father built and designed a hydraulic forging press which the engineers said would never run because it wasn't big enough for the tonnage required. But it worked for about 20 years without stopping, and worked very well.
ANVIL: Was your father's background in engineering, or did he have something to do with horses?
ED: He was a self-taught engineer. He had started out in the automobile business with car dealerships in the 20s and 30s in Los Angeles. He went on from there to a defense plant during the war where he made parts for planes. After World War II, he went into the boat and trailer business. Unfortunately, the recreation boom didn't really start coming along until after the Korean War, about 1952. So Dad was a little ahead of his time in the recreation business. He was looking for another way to make money in manufacturing, and a friend of his said that there was only one manufacturer of aluminum horseshoes for racehorses and he thought that would be a good business to get into. So my father researched it and decided that was what he wanted to do. It was a struggle, though; it took eight years to make a profit!
ANVIL: When did you begin working for the company?
ED: In 1959, about 10 years after its inception. I started after college. I was at Cal Poly in California, studying to be a landscape architect. I'd also earned an Associate of Arts degree in business from Pasadena City College and I had a lot of machine shop experience from schools I'd attended. I had to make up my mind what I wanted to do. I had the draft facing me in a couple of years, so I decided I would work with Dad; we got along well together. I remember when I was going to grade school and he'd just started the business, we were importing Mustad nails from Sweden. I would get nails in these large, 25-pound wooden boxes and break them down into pound boxes in my bedroom. He was paying me $1.00 an hour to do that so I could earn a little extra money. Unfortunately, the nails at that time were not as good as they are today. They were very hard, and the Mustad nails from Sweden were not very popular here in the 1950s. That didn't last too long.
ANVIL: Your manufacturing plant was in Los Angeles at that point?
ED: Yes; it grew little by little and it was moved to three or four different locations in Los Angeles as things expanded. In 1968 we bought some land in Anaheim and built our own buildings.
ANVIL: At one point you started manufacturing horseshoe nails, called the American Horse Nail. What were some of the problems you encountered with them?
ED: The reason we started the American Horse Nail was that there was only one nail available in the U.S., and that was the Capewell nail. This was even before the Japanese Izumi nail came onto the U.S. market. So the farriers asked us if we could possibly make a nail to create some competition for Capewell. So we tied up with Northrup Aviation, actually the Northrup Electro-Mechanical Division in Fullerton. They helped us engineer some of our horseshoe nail dies and machinery and equipment. This was in 1971, when there was kind of a downturn in aerospace. So Northrup was looking for other ways to make money. We worked with them for several years and then went on to develop the nail ourselves. We worked on it for about 11 years total, and did make a "limited" production nail. But we weren't satisfied; we couldn't produce the volume we wanted. To do that, we would have had to invest another quarter of a million dollars in machinery equipment and tooling changes. About that time, my father passed away. When he died, my job role changed to run Thoro'Bred full time. So we let the nails go. By that time, there were other nails: the Cooper nail, the Izumi nail and Capewell. Mustad was also beginning to make a better nail, too, by then. The farriers now had a choice, so there wasn't any need for us to be in that market.
ANVIL: I remember that your father worked at the plant every day until he died. How old was he then?
ED: He was 82. He never wanted to retire; he just wanted to continue working, and I think that really kept him going and prolonged his life.
ANVIL: Recently you've started importing nails from Australia.
ED: Yes, we are working with the Australian Horse Shoe Nail Company, bringing their nails into the U.S. Actually, these are nails that are designed by General Motors engineers in Australia. They developed the tooling and the nails with Dr. Rick Schultz. Dr. Schultz is an Australian veterinarian and General Manager of Miric Industries.
ANVIL: Is it a rolled nail or a stamped nail?
ED: I believe it's a stamped nail, but with a modern design. The materials used and the way this nail is manufactured is probably as up to date as modern manufacturing techniques can be.
ANVIL: You mentioned earlier that you thought the best nail that was ever made was made by Northwestern. Why do you think that?
ED: Well, the old Northwestern nail was made of almost pure iron. The ductility was excellent; the strength of the nail was excellent because it had no impurities. Being pure iron means that it spends about 24 hours more in the kiln or furnace to burn off all the impurities in the metal. It's something that they can't duplicate today because of the time and energy required - it would be too costly.
ANVIL: Would they take the whole spool of wire and then twice bake it, so to speak?
ED: That's right. They just burned out all the impurities in it until it became pure iron.
ANVIL: Now the nails today are obviously made of an alloy.
ED: Yes. U.S. Steel has what they call a horseshoe nail alloy. It's one that they have developed with Capewell, I believe, 40 or 50 years ago. It is called horseshoe nail quality wire.
ANVIL: Is this the same material that the Australian nails are made out of?
ED: I believe it is similar. A company called BTH manufactures the steel for their nails.
ANVIL: So the Australian nail, even though it's stamped, has the ductility of the rolled nail?
ED: Yes, very close. They have done shear tests and strength tests of the nails and they equal or exceed the other manufacturers' nails under load tests. It's a good quality nail.
ANVIL: Speaking of Australia, you've been quite active in marketing your products to the Pacific Rim. But at one point, you had a rather difficult time exporting shoes to Japan.
ED: Japan is an interesting market. We went to Japan about ten years ago and talked to the Japanese Racing Association. We presented our products to them and they were patient and very understanding. They actually accepted our products for about six or seven years. Then they referred back to a domestic product made by another company in Japan over importing our product. However, we're making a new product for Japan now - a racing shoe for their market - designed in Japan but manufactured here at Thoro'Bred. We hope that this new design will be accepted by the Japanese farriers.
ANVIL: Is this design patented?
ED: I don't think so; it's very difficult to patent a horseshoe. You have to have something so unique that it has never been tried before. It is very rare to be able to patent a horseshoe.
ANVIL: You mentioned earlier a situation where you applied for a patent for a particular design and the U.S. Patent Office had some interesting things to say about it.
ED: Yes - that was our Level-Grip, or another name for it is the outer rim shoe. We applied for a patent in 1965 and were told by the U.S. Patent Office, after they sent us back our shoe, that they regretted they could not accept it. The reason was because they could trace this shoe pattern back to the Ming Dynasty in China in the 16th century! This example explains how you can apply for patents, but may not obtain them - horseshoes and their designs have been around for a very long time.
ANVIL: You have sold a lot of horseshoes in Australia, and I understand that most of the horses in Australia are racehorses of one type or another. But now you're going to do something in Australia that's rather innovative, aren't you?
ED: Yes, we are opening a manufacturing plant in the Melbourne area of Australia. This is a joint venture with our friends there, Carl O'Dwyer of O'Dwyer Horseshoes and Dr. Rick Schultz, the Australian veterinarian I mentioned earlier. This will be a shoe produced through O'Dwyer's facility, marketed and manufactured there for the Australian market and also other Pacific Rim countries, which would include New Zealand, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore and Japan. So we're excited about that and it's bringing to Australia for the first time an aluminum racing shoe that will fit their needs.
ANVIL: I would imagine that the logistics will be a lot easier also, shipping from Australia to the Pacific Rim rather than from the U.S.
ED: Yes; New Zealand and Australia have a free trade agreement and so do some other countries in that area. So there is no tariff or duty on goods purchased between those countries.
ANVIL: So the shoes can be kept at a more economical price than if the shoes are exported from the plant here in Anaheim.
ED: Yes, that's right.
ANVIL: In the March, 1997 issue of ANVIL Magazine, the editorial you wrote indicated how much you appreciated the research done by veterinarians nowadays in the develop- ment of shoe design.
ED: Yes. I pointed out two veterinarians whom I felt are really working for the benefit of the horse and the development of horseshoes for the best application for racehorses especially. That was Dr. Al Kane at UC Davis and Dr. Kim Henneman from Utah. They have researched different shoes, and their findings have been very significant and beneficial to racehorses. They are bringing out the fact that you don't always need toe grabs for your shoes for gripping action. If you allow an ease of breakover in the shoe that you put on the racehorse, you will benefit the horse - especially its fragile front legs.
ANVIL: Dr. Kane has done a lot of research on horses that had to be euthanized on the track as a result of leg damage.
ED: Yes, they counted the number of cases they had with certain types and styles of racehorse shoes. And they found that the ones with the higher toe grabs tended to be the most lethal to the horse. But this data can be varied by deep or hard racetracks. You have the tracks of California which tend to be a little more firm because they would like to have records broken - they want fast times. Fast times, under certain conditions, cause more breakdowns in horses. They just can't stand that impact. When you are at a deep or sandy track, sometimes you need the grabs. It's a matter of choice and it's very important that the farriers choose the right racehorse shoe - the right type and style of shoe for a particular area or track condition.
ANVIL: How many types and styles of horseshoes does Thoro'Bred manufacture?
ED: That number approaches 400 different types and styles.
ANVIL: I didn't realize so many! It would seem that your accolades for Dr. Kane could be self-defeating in a business sense, because he is finding that the grabs can be detrimental, and yet a large percentage of your manufactured shoes have various sizes of toe grabs incorporated in them.
ED: If you put it in perspective, the toe grab in the front is maybe not as necessary as the toe grab on the hind feet. Your hind legs, of course, are where your power comes from. The front ones are more of a placement for those driving hind legs, so you don't want to hinder the front legs with grabs and things that may not add any benefit, and actually may be a hindrance. The grabs work well on the hinds because the hinds have the power and the strength.
ANVIL: Anatomically, the horse doesn't pull from the front legs.
ED: There is some pull there, but your driving force, of course, is your hind legs. We manufacture the inside of some of the race-glu shoes that Mustad makes. They are the queens plate style shoe. Initially you could get the Mustad race-glu shoe with a grab. When they were first tested with the grab, some of the horses were actually tearing the shoes right off the bottom and leaving on all of the glued attachments to the wall. So the difference in force or traction that was generated was quite significant.
ANVIL: It's my understanding that grabs help for the horse coming out of the starting gate but once the horse is up to speed, there is a diminishing advantage.
ED: That seems to be a very popular opinion, yes. Just a matter of a couple of strides and that starting situation is over. Then what you want is breakover and you can achieve the middle ground between the two. Out of the gate they're standing on their toes, so to speak, and as soon as they get down the track, you want those toes out of the way and you want them to break over and be comfortable and run fast.
ANVIL: Are you finding a lot of the traditional shoes being replaced by the World Racing Plate?
ED: Gradually, yes. It seems that farriers, trainers and veterinarians are finding that the World Shoe eases the breakover and it does reduce the strain on the legs, the ankles and the knees. It reduces the swelling or eliminates it altogether. That's a positive sign for racehorses.
ANVIL: In that same editorial mentioned earlier that you wrote for ANVIL Magazine, you also talked about Dr. Kim Henneman. I've read a lot of her comments on bulletin boards on the Internet at horseshoes.com.
ED: Yes, she does participate from time to time and does bring in valuable information to the bulletin boards. She has been doing a lot of studies with the World Plate, and is finding that it does reduce the swelling of the legs and it can actually improve the performance of racehorses in most cases.
ANVIL: Speaking of the Internet, your entire product catalog is now on the World Wide Web, isn't it?
ED: Yes, it is. We started this about 18 months ago with Baron Tayler at the horseshoes.com Web site and we have found it very interesting. Of course, the Internet is world wide, and we get input on our bulletin board from people all over asking questions about our products and asking if we're going to develop new products - all sorts ofquestions, but they strictly relate to horseshoes and farrier products.
ANVIL: How is the Thoro'Bred bulletin board working for you?
ED: Although not too many people participate directly, it's read quite extensively. We may get as many as 5,000 hits a month on our bulletin board and on our Web site regarding our catalog. Sometimes it's people just browsing - not necessarily all farriers, but there are horse owners who are looking and people who are interested in farrier products.
ANVIL: Had you contemplated building your own Web page at one point instead of being linked to someone else's site?
ED: I did think about it some time ago, but I related it to putting a note in a bottle and tossing it in the ocean. You put it in somewhere and are hopeful that someone would read it eventually. There are so many Web sites and so many people involved that you can get lost in a big hurry out there. So I think you need to go with a site on the industry or one relating to horseshoes and farriers.
ANVIL: You've decided to take it even one step further by starting direct sales on the Web.
ED: Yes, we've developed a way that we can help our distributors and help ourselves at the same time by allowing farriers to purchase our products on the Internet. We will do this especially for farriers who are at a distance from the distributors to the tune of 100 to 300 miles. It's very difficult for them to get to their distributor every time they need a set of shoes or something. With United Parcel Service usually running by even the most remote areas at least once a day or once every other day, we have developed a way to help our distributors and also help the farriers as well by allowing the farriers to buy direct and then we credit 20% of that sale to the distributor that they normally buy from. If the farrier does not have a distributor that he recognizes in his order, Thoro'Bred will credit the nearest distributor to him by way of zip code cross-referencing.
ANVIL: You have always been supportive of your distributors. I see that you have your distributors listed on your Web site. I find it encouraging to hear that you are taking that one step further in selling over the Internet and at the same time supporting your retailers. It sounds like a win-win situation across the board - for the farrier, the retailer and for you, as well. Actually, the retailer doesn't have to stock the inventory.
ED: That's correct; we make a large amount of product. We can't actually anticipate our distributors handling everything we make. So this keeps the distributor's inventory down to a point and also still credits him with 20% of the sale. So it is a win-win situation, true.
ANVIL: You've had your catalog on the Web site for about 18 months now. Can you actually see results to this point, or are you giving us a somewhat nebulous analysis?
ED: I think right now we're probably a year ahead of our time - maybe two. But I think this is where the Internet is going, and where the future is going. We are interested in being part of that.
ANVIL: I know ANVIL Magazine has received new subscribers via the Web - particularly from those in countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain. Now we have a secure site, where people can actually subscribe over the Internet with a credit card and know that their card numbers are safe.
ED: That's terrific. Of course we do more than one thing by getting involved with the World Wide Web - we help the environment by not having to cut so many trees down for paper products. At the same time, I feel that if browsers see an article on the Web that is of particular interest to them, they can download it and have a copy for future reference.
ANVIL: One other thing we're doing is putting the entire magazine on a secured area within the Web so that people can subscribe via the Internet only, thereby saving the cost of trees as you alluded to earlier. Like you said, they can download the articles, but the articles are essentially archived on the Internet for them. So they can go back at any time and download older articles at their leisure. Our electronic magazine will be called ANVIL Online.
ED: That's super. That's part of this whole Internet system, and I think it's great. It's part of the future, and I'm pleased about it.
ANVIL: I notice that you have several new products available and one is called the Hospital Kit, designed by Burney Chapman.
ED: Yes, Burney requested that we work with him to help develop this kit. It features our Lite Champion shoe drilled and tapped with 5/16" bolts, an aluminum pad, plus neoprene frog supports. The whole kit, including the rivets, is in a plastic bag and it comes with full instructions. It is designed for journeyman farriers and veterinarians, either working as a team or individually. It really isn't intended for the novice, but rather the professional farrier. Burney came to us with the request because there are so many times when he is working on horses - as so many farriers are - in remote areas where they may not have electricity hooked up, they may not have aluminum, or the ground may be frozen. And there's always an instance that arises where they don't quite have everything together at the same time or they have to create something on the spot. He or she will have all the parts to put the hospital kit together and repair the hoof.
ANVIL: It looks to me like a great combination of the hospital plate as well as the frog support.
ED: It's working out very well. When we package these, I've asked Burney to add an information sheet of his own, telling how he himself has worked with the shoe and what it's done. He has related stories to me about them and he is enthused, as am I, about how beneficial these kits can be for the horse. I'm excited about the future of this particular product.
ANVIL: It looks like a convenient setup, because all you need is a drill, a hammer and a wrench to tighten the bolts. You have also been marketing a product called Sole Pack(TM), coming out of a relationship you've developed with the Hawthorne Company.
ED: Yes; almost ten years ago, we purchased a half interest in the Hawthorne Products Company in Indiana. Hawthorne makes natural medicated remedies and medicines for horses - everything from Windaid(TM) which helps breathing problems in the racehorse, to the Cool Cast(TM), which is a medicated leg wrap. It medicates and reduces swelling. The Sole Pack was developed about six years ago. We incorporated some natural medications into a synthetic fiber to form these patties, which are used on the sole and the frog area. They will help in lameness problems or dry feet. It goes right to the source. It will actually penetrate the hoof and kill fungal and bacterial growths that may be hidden inside the sole. The medications were unique and good enough that we received a patent on Sole Pack.
ANVIL: It sounds like it combines the best aspects of pine tar and oakum with medication and not so much goo.
ED: Actually, it has a pine tar base. If you substitute the oakum with the polyfiber ingredient and you add to that a small amount of iodine, like 3% - not enough to dry the foot but enough to medicate - and several other natural medications, the combination works better than just pine tar and oakum.
ANVIL: You have another new product, a new hoof pad.
ED: Supracor Honeycomb Pad(TM) was developed by one of the largest horse owners in California, Mr. Kjell Qvale. He had a tenant in one of his buildings in Sunnyvale who made numerous impact products, one of which was a helmet liner for jet pilots. Another was air supports in tennis shoes. Other products included air cell cushions for wheelchairs and mats for hospital beds. He was interested to see if there could be a similar product developed for racehorses to soften impact. The two of them worked together on the project, and Kjell tried the product on his racehorses. They found them to be very effective, and then they came to us and asked if we would be interested in marketing the product for them. We said we'd test it out and see. I tried it on one of my friend's racehorses in Los Alamitos. He had a six-year-old Thoroughbred and this horse had soreness problems in his front legs. So he had the farrier put a pair on at the next shoeing, and the next race out he won by ten lengths! It was amazing. The pad has been used in international endurance races, by harness horses and many Thoroughbreds, as well as hunters and jumpers - the whole gamut of competition has used the pad.
ANVIL: What makes it different?
ED: There are actually air cells in a honeycomb frame, and they're extremely lightweight. The pads are probably half the weight of a normal pad. And yet they are very strong and very tough. Where impact occurs, those air pockets are like little shock absorbers. In every area where that impact takes place, you'll get that absorption of shock. It was tested at the University of Idaho and at Washington State University about a year ago. They tested it against one of the major brands of equine pads. And they found that the Supracor Honeycomb Pad absorbed 40% more of the shock load than the comparison. These new products are impressive and they will help horses as well as the farriers who care for them.
ANVIL: Thanks, Ed, it's been most interesting to talk with you today about some of the innovations taking place at Thoro'Bred.
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