On the Right Track

© Edwin L. Kinney

published in ANVIL Magazine, March 1997

About 25 years ago, a horseshoe was developed and patented called the "Nature Plate." This shoe was touted as the most exciting, natural and new design in horseshoes. Many articles by prominent people were written expounding on the merits of this new idea. There was a feeding frenzy with everyone wanting to try this new shoe.

The Nature Plate looked like an extension of the hoof when applied, just as nature intended the hoof to look . . . or was it? The shoe was first tested on nine Thoroughbred racehorses on the East Coast, and though it wasn't told for years afterward, eight of the nine horses came up lame. They would work fine if your horse only traveled about 20 feet a minute. Now, if you were to tie a 1" x 6" board to your feet, letting it hang out about 2" in front of your toes and 1" on the sides, and then try running a mile, you would get the same sensation. Well, the Nature Plate went belly up within two years after finding very limited sales.

If you keep a horse tied up or stall bound for a long period of time, the natural hoof will grow out on the same continuous angle. But this is not nature's athletic horse. Nature's athletic horse is the wild horse and in general, this animal is as healthy from head to toe as our best kept domestic horses, except maybe for grooming. Nature's athletic horse continually wears down its hooves in a consistent pattern, which includes more of a squared toe than a round one.

Gene Ovnicek, a farrier from Montana, roped, measured and studied more than 100 wild horses, to see the hoof close up (see ANVIL Magazine, September, 1996 and October, 1996). He went on to design and patent his version of the athletic horse's shoe, calling it the World Racing Plate, even though today it is used on all types of competition horses as well as on racehorses. The square toe, rolled toe and rocker toe are all good methods of shoeing and are good for the horse.

In racing and in competition, we have been confronted with the long toe-short heel syndrome that every trainer (and many farriers) believe to be the basic method of shoeing. And this idea will probably never change. Until recently, it really didn't matter too much - there were plenty of horses. If the horse developed any number of the hundreds of things that can go wrong with a horse, the trainer would just bring on another that was waiting to take its place. Unfortunately in racing today, we don't have that many horses coming along to fill the stalls. It is becoming more important to shoe the horse correctly the first time and every time to keep him sound.

If you have a good racehorse that can run and win races, he will run with almost anything that you put on him, and still win. It is no different from putting a used car salesman up against an Olympic runner. Even if the salesman is wearing the latest Air-Jordans and the runner is wearing cowboy boots, the Olympic runner will still be first at the wire. The problem is that there comes a time when wrong shoes and/or the wrong application will finally take its toll.

Hopefully, all of us will keep learning about new methods of shoeing with new types of shoes that may be more beneficial to horses. And we especially want to say to veterinarians Al Kane, UC Davis, and Kim Henneman, Utah, you're on the right track! Please keep up your research projects on shoes and techniques that might take all of us to a higher level of knowledge.

Return to the Farriery Articles listing page.

Return to the ANVIL Magazine Table of Contents for March, 1997.