Five well-known and highly respected farriers make up our Roundtable:
Dale McMain is a third-generation Belgian breeder from Delmar, Iowa. He is the younger half of the Double M Belgians. Anyone who follows the Belgian breed is familiar with the accomplishments of the McMain family in both the breeding and hitching end of the business. They have bred and presented several all-American horses on the line and their hitches have been winners at major shows from Lexington to Denver and many points in between. All of those winners have been shod by Dale, who was recently elected to a seat on the board of directors of the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America.
Jim Rupple, Hortonville, Wisconsin, is an equally versatile fellow. His apprenticeships include stretches at the Budweiser Clydesdale Breeding Farm in St. Louis and many years as Rolland Ruby's right-hand man with Ruby's Belgian hitch. Among his current responsibilities are the jobs of keeping the Live Oak Plantation Clydesdale, the Soder Farms Percheron and the Pareo Belgian hitches up and going. Jim flies out to reset the shoes on those hitches as needed. He, too, is partial to the Belgian breed, and is now breeding and showing some of his own.
Tim Kriz, Bethany, Connecticut, is the only one of these five who managed to get one of his wedding pictures on the cover of THE DRAFT HORSE JOURNAL. (Spring, 1992) His is a family of horseshoers. Timothy's grandfather came to this country as an emigrant from Czechoslovakia, and settled in the Naugatuck Valley of southwestern Connecticut, where he found his skills as a farrier in immediate demand. The family is still there... and still shoeing horses, an incredible number of horses. There are ten people in his crew. Where breed preference is concerned, I guess you would have to call Tim a Percheron person. He and his wife are both formidable competitors at the big shows in the northeast with their blacks.
Dale Schlabach, Sugarcreek Ohio, brings a slightly different background to this subject. Dale is located in the very heart of Eastern Ohio's Amish country and, consequently, has shod hundreds of Standardbreds as well as draft horses. If one wants to keep busy as a full-time farrier, I can think of few places on earth that would offer more opportunities to do so than Sugarcreek. He is also a native of the area, is Amish himself, and shoes many of the horses sold annually at the Columbus and Dover Sales.
Will Lent, Shelby, Michigan, is no stranger to the horse breeders of the country. Not only does he shoe a great many of the draft horses that frequent the sales and such places as the Detroit Show, but he can be found with his display at the big sales in Columbus and Indianapolis. More recently, this accomplished farrier served as the horseshoeing instructor at the Youth Hostel & Draft Horse Clinic, sponsored by the Percheron, Clydesdale, and Shire Associations and held in Huntington, Indiana. If it were possible to put all the horses these five men had shod head to tail, they would reach from Pittsburgh to someplace way out west.
WHY SHOE A HORSE?
Dale McMain: "We shoe to protect a horse's foot from the elements it comes in contact with. We also shoe to correct a foot or feet by creating an optical illusion (as with a horse that toes in or out) to make it appear correct. Sometimes corrective shoeing, like heartbar or bar shoes, is required to cure a problem. Many horses move better, with more animation and action, when correctly shod."
Jim Rupple: "The basic reason is to protect the hoof from bruising and cracking. We also shoe for more correct motion and in pulling horses it gives them much more traction."
Tim Kriz: "You shoe a horse for several reasons: to protect the feet from cracking, breaking up or bruising, to improve his way of going, or to enhance the size of his feet. Also, shoes with hard surfaces like borium provide better traction on some surfaces for a horse than when barefoot."
Dale Schlabach: "I feel that the reason to shoe a horse varies by what your horse is being used for. A regular farm horse needs to be shod whenever his feet become too short, or is worked where traction is important, which is true also on a pulling horse. A street horse needs to be shod for traction and wear, a show horse for dressage, to grow a better foot, create better movement, and occasionally for correction."
Will Lent: "In general terms, a working horse should be shod to prevent unsoundness. A livery horse, for example, will undoubtedly wear its feet down faster than they can grow. The horse may need traction, as with a pulling horse. I also shoe horses to enhance their gait, and for cosmetic reasons, as with a show draft horse. And, of course, there are pathological reasons for shoeing, such as navicular or founder. Sometimes I shoe a horse simply to please the owner."
WHEN SHOULDN'T A HORSE BE SHOD ?
Dale McMain: "A horse should not be shod when not in use, when not being shown, or when there is no purpose for shoes. Going barefoot is much healthier for a horse's foot than being shod all the time."
Jim Rupple: "If a horse is on good ground, it's good for the hooves to be trimmed back and left barefoot."
Tim Kriz: "As long as a horse isn't sore-footed without them when he's being used or if he's just turned out in a soft pasture, he doesn't need them."
Dale Schlabach: "I feel that broodmares, horses turned out for rest, and growing colts not being shown should not be shod, as frog pressure is important in spreading a hoof, and growing a healthy foot."
Will Lent: "A horse simply shouldn't be shod when it doesn't need it. I am referring to broodmares or studs with good feet, the horse that is used only occasionally for riding or driving, and, most typically, the horse that can go anywhere anytime, and be used for whatever reason without damaging the foot or going lame. Too many people wait too long before shoeing."
WHAT ABOUT PADS -- WHEN, WHY, AND WHAT TYPE OF PAD AND HOOF PACKING?
Dale McMain: "Pads should be used when a horse is pounding the hard pavement all the time, as are the Budweiser and Country Hitches, or anyone with a 6-horse hitch that is on the fair circuit. Also, pads enhance the looks of halter horses being shown. It also protects the feet when being driven or exercised on parking lots. Big rocks can easily bruise a horse's sole. I like leather pads the best. Neoprene pads last much longer, but are hard to hold in place. Hoof packing is a personal preference which depends on how long a horse will be wearing pads."
Jim Rupple: "I like to use pads on the front feet of most hitch horses that are shod for long stretches of time or year 'round, and on any horse that is on hard ground or pavement. The hooves can be packed to keep the moisture content right. I use different packing depending on what the foot needs. In most cases I use pine tar and oakum. If the foot is too moist, I've used Venice Turpentine. I also use pads to fill out the foot on a shoe, but I hate to see a draft horse stacked up on pads like a Standardbred."
Tim Kriz: "I use pads on draft horses for numerous reasons. They help protect the feet if a horse is sore or to help keep a horse from going sore. I sometimes use wedge pads on a sore horse or one that needs more heel."
" For show horses, pads can really enhance the size of the foot and this can improve their way of going. Pads can really help a horse grow a better foot especially when packed with some kind of hoof packing: The hoof packing keeps the foot moist and growing under the pad. Pine tar and oakum is the best packing material, but it's messy and hard to use. So, I often use a good commercial hoof packing like Forshner's."
"I prefer to use a leather pad with draft horses because they allow the foot to breathe. I find that rubber or synthetic pads seem to cause more thrush in draft horses than leather pads."
Dale Schlabach: "Pads should be used on any horse with hard, dry feet, so they can be packed with some kind of packing material. I prefer Forshner's Medicated Hoof Packing. Also, horses appearing sore need pads. We use either plastic or leather pads for these occasions. On show horses I prefer plastic pads, as I think they are easier to rasp, shape, and bevel. It's very important not to use a rubber-like, or too-soft pad, as there is give. Every time your horse steps on it your nail will breathe, and your shoe will have a tendency to work loose more quickly. An advantage with pads on show horses (where they want a bigger foot) is you can bevel them 1/4" on each side, so that you have gained 1/2" on width."
Will Lent: "Ah, yes, the perennial pad debate. Some years pads are in and some years they're out."
"I shoe with pads for preventative reasons (as on the street horse), for cosmetic reasons (to put a bigger shoe on the show horse) and on lame horses (a dropped sole, wedges on pulled suspensory tendons, etc...)."
''I use both plastic and leather pads. The plastic pad has a good memory: it will not lose its shape, if it's hard enough. It will not cave in on a dropped sole, and it will hold its degree on a wedge pad. Plastic pads that are too soft will loosen at the nails as there is too much give, and they don't finish well. A hard pad is a pain in the neck to cut. Plastic pads cannot breathe."
"All pads create the ideal environment for thrush which will thrive on the anaerobic bacteria which inhabit moist, airless environments."
"I prefer leather pads over plastic because they are easier to work with, they look better, and, I am told, they breathe. I don't personally think they breathe. If you make a cup out of an old pad that's been saturated with urine and water, it will hold water... so I don't think they breathe at all. They do provide an environment for thrush, and they do give, meaning that they cannot absorb concussion and protect the sole as well as a plastic pad. But the fact that there is some give enhances frog pressure, which is more natural to the foot. Each kind of pad has its drawbacks. Sometimes the only basis for deciding whether to use plastic or leather is the preference of the customer."
"Mostly I use a pine tar-based hoof packing because I think it's better than anything else. Occasionally, I use silicone."
WHAT DETERMINES THE THICKNESS OF THE SHOES USED?
Dale McMain: "Personal preference. The size of the horse. The age of the horse. The purpose for which the horse is being shod. I prefer 3/8" for the majority of ours."
Jim Rupple: "I use all 3/8" thick shoes on show horses. If you put borium on the shoes, they will last as long as the nail holes. Most pulling horseshoes are 1/2" thick."
Tim Kriz: "The thickness of the shoe is determined by a horse's way of going. If he has natural motion, then a standard shoe would probably be appropriate. If he needs to improve his action, then maybe a thicker shoe would help to enhance it. On the other hand, some horses will labor with a thicker shoe and need a lighter one to bring out their best."
Dale Schlabach: "What determines the thickness of the shoes which I use is the weight which is preferred. I feel on a weanling being shod for sales, 5/16" by 1" is heavy enough, on yearlings, 3/8" by 1", except in occasions where you have a real strong moving colt, maybe 3/8" by 1 1/4". 3/8" by 1 1/4" shoes will do on most all sale horses, 1/2" shoes are fine on hitch geldings. I feel that the greatest cause for a horse to wing or paddle is over weighted shoes."
Will Lent: "Most heavy horses do quite well with a shoe made of 1 1/4" x 3/8". I go up to 1 3/4" on the show horse so I can nail above the flare and add supportive area for the horse. Generally, I widen the web rather than the thickness of the shoe. If you widen the web as the foot grows, you not only support the foot, but add weight."
"Heavy horses should be left with more foot than other breeds to help dissipate concussion. I'm often asked if a heavier shoe will help a horse's way of going. In principle, it will: the heavier the weight on the end of the pendulum, the further it will swing. But I caution against using heavier shoes for this reason alone, and particularly on horses under the age of three. It just puts too much stress on the works in the legs, making injury an even greater possibility. Young horses have a hard enough time getting their feet to go where they should be going, so why add to the problem?"
"In general, the quality and size of the horse's foot, its conformation, and its use are the determining factors regarding the thickness of the shoes."
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON FOOT PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED IN HITCH HORSES?
Dale McMain: "Thrush is always a common problem, but it is easily cured. The second most common problem is over shoeing which causes interfering, loss of shoes, loss of foot, and many headaches for the shoer."
Jim Rupple: "Any time you keep a horse shod for long periods of time, you can encounter problems. Dropped soles, quarter cracks and under run heels are the most common."
Tim Kriz: "The most common problem I see with hitch horses is cracked feet because of no pads and packing-- especially on a horse that really pounds the ground."
Dale Schlabach: "I feel that the most common foot problem on hitch horses is contracted heels from being shod year after year, and not having proper frog pressure. Hooves become dry and brittle from having a lot of growth. It becomes a problem to keep shoes nailed on properly without cutting the foot back in the midst of` show season."
Will Lent: "Thrush, abscesses and cracks."
WHAT CAN THE FARRIER DO TO SOLVE OR MINIMIZE THESE PROBLEMS ?
Dale McMain: "Don't overdo the shoeing. A good, solid foot looks a lot better than an overshod foot that has been lost or pulled off several times and patched up. After a shoe is pulled off or lost a time or two, there is hardly enough foot left to nail to. There is a big difference between a 'big-footed horse' and a 'horse that grew a big foot.' Also, make sure that the heel of the shoe is under the heel of the horse."
Jim Rupple: "Keep from going over board on the flare and square toes unless you have a foot that can handle it. There is nothing wrong with scotch bottom shoes as long as they are fitted properly. You can do as much damage with a keg shoe as with a show shoe if it doesn't cover the heels or if they are left on too long."
Tim Kriz: "The thing to do is to keep the feet healthy with pads and packing."
Dale Schlabach: "Farriers can help eliminate these problems by keeping any thrush and excess pockets trimmed out so a disease doesn't get started. Also know when and when not to use pads or bars. Trying to get a good high nail helps keep shoes on longer. Advise clients to use hoof dressing and other hoof aids."
Will Lent: "With thrush, about all the farrier can do is to pare out the foot and tell the horse owner how to treat the hoof and to keep the horse in a clean and dry environment."
"With abscesses, it's about the same procedure. Cut out the abscess; the horse owner will have to treat it and keep the hoof clean and dry."
"I had a client with a horse whose foot was cloven as the result of an injury. We kept her shod year round, of course, and I kept the foot nicked at the ground level of each crack, and then used drawn clips on either side of the crack. And as long as the foot was reset often enough so that there was never any pressure on the cloven part, the mare stayed sound."
"In less drastic cases, regular hoof care and shoeing will do a world of good. Cracks get worse the more they're neglected. For a show foot, I often use hoof repair products to strengthen the crack and make it look better. I think most horses that are prone to cracks ought to be on some sort of feed supplement. It really helps."
WHAT MAJOR IMPROVEMENTS HAVE SURFACED IN SHOEING IN THE LAST TEN YEARS?
Dale McMain: "The major improvements are that more people are making shoes in a mechanized manner and making good shoes a lot more available than they used to be for a lot of people. Stocks are no longer a rare item. Many people have them now, although I don't like to use them unless it is absolutely necessary."
Jim Rupple: "There are more suppliers for shoes and pads and we finally have hoof repair products. The gas forges have made the shaping of shoes more convenient."
Tim Kriz: "The use of borium to improve traction has been a big step forward. Also there is a better variety of hand tools and ready-made shoes available if a farrier doesn't make his or her own."
Dale Schlabach: "The biggest improvement in my own shoeing business in the last 10 years is that my boys are 10 years older. We shoe a great many sale horses and yearlings first time around. We greatly appreciate the accepted fact of shoeing stocks, new draft clinch, and better tools. Improved hard surfacing and different types of rubber shoes made by Anvil Brand are also an improvement."
Will Lent: "The major improvement is the larger availability of commercial shoes. Other than that, I can't think of anything that has really set the world on fire. Many newfangled products have been introduced to the market, and most of these have added little to the quality of shoeing. Shoeing isn't about products; it's about putting shoes on a horse that fit, are balanced, and help prevent unsoundness. A lot of that depends on the skill of the farrier and the kind of care that the horse regularly receives."
HOW LONG BEFORE SHOW SEASON DO YOU LIKE TO APPLY PLATES TO SHOW HORSES ?
Dale McMain: "We start showing about July 1st, so as a rule of thumb, I like to have plates on before we plant corn, which is on or about April 20th. So it's approximately two months and ten days on average. Some horses need more time, some need less."
Jim Rupple: "If you have a good foot to start with, one reset (6-8 weeks) is enough. If you don't have a good foot, sometimes twice that amount of time is needed."
Tim Kriz: "I keep many of our show horses shod year 'round, but if they are not, it really depends on the horse. On a good-footed horse, I put on plates one shoeing before the show shoes. On a bad-footed horse, I would put on plates and then reset them once or twice before going to show shoes."
Dale Schlabach: "I like to plate show horses approximately 4 months before show season and to do a real super job without putty, 6 months."
Will Lent: "Ideally I like to get two shoeings in before the show season. So that means getting plates on 12 to 16 weeks before the first show."
AND WHEN DO YOU GO TO SCOTCH BOTTOMS?
Dale McMain: "The term 'scotch bottom' only means that the edge of the shoe is scotched or beveled or angled to meet the angle of the foot. All of my plates are scotch bottom plates for the simple reason that without that angle on the edge of the shoe, it would have square corners - which are twice as easy to step on and tear off with the other foot. So, to me, there are only scotch bottoms."
Jim Rupple: "I use scotch bottoms from the start, but shoes that aren't as full in the quarters. If you want a foot to spread you have to set the shoe wider than the hoof, but still support the heels."
Tim Kriz: "See above."
Dale Schlabach: "I like to go to scotch bottoms on the last shoeing before show time. We feel that exercise is important, but there is a greater problem to keep scotch shoes on when a horse is turned out."
Will Lent: "I use scotch bottom shoes when the horse is ready for them. Some horses can step into a scotch bottom shoe any day of the year; others can't. Still others could never wear a scotch bottom shoe unless, quite honestly, I made them do it! A great deal of all of this depends on the environment the horse is in. Terrain, clay, swamp, sand or cement all play major roles in how horses wear their shoes, and in how well they keep them on. The kind of care the horse gets is another important factor."
"I have some stables at which I can leave a lot of iron on most of the horses, and the shoes are going to stay on because of how the horses are cared for. They aren't subjected to conditions which would allow them to pull the shoes. At other stables I have to shoe the horses a bit tighter, because their care is less structured and they will be running into conditions which would make it possible for them to get those shoes off. Knowing how your clients care for their horses is a big part of shoeing with scotch bottoms."
HOW OFTEN DO YOU RESET SHOES WHEN IT IS UP TO YOU?
Dale McMain: "Different horses grow and wear shoes very differently. It varies from 4 or 5 or 6 weeks for plates and a little less for show shoes. To be real honest, in many cases here at home, they are reset one day before they are about to lose them."
Jim Rupple: "I would say 6 weeks is the average, but that's just an average. All horses and conditions are different."
Tim Kriz: "It depends on the use of the horse and the condition of the feet, but generally 5-8 weeks for a reset."
Dale Schlabach: "I feel that 8 to 10 weeks between resetting shoes is proper, depending on your horse."
Will Lent: "I reset horses every six to eight weeks, and sometimes more frequently than that in the summer."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT FEED SUPPLEMENTS THAT CLAIM TO IMPROVE HOOF HEALTH, STIMULATE GROWTH, ETC. ?
Dale McMain: "I hate to be critical about those feed supplements, as I've had little experience with them. But before going out and buying them, be very cautious and ask someone for proof."
Jim Rupple: "Supplements do help, but they are no replacement for breeding for a good, sound foot."
Tim Kriz: "I'm sure that they don't hurt - however, I don't believe they are a miracle cure. The best thing for a horse's feet is regular proper shoeing. And if you want to stimulate growth, keep the feet moist with pads and packing."
Dale Schlabach: "I feel that it is very important to feed supplements that claim to improve hoof health. Our main problem on feeding supplements is that it is such a slow process, and we usually expect quicker results."
Will Lent: "Supplements are good, and I think a large percent of horses should be on them. They should have good feed and water, regular worming, and a proper environment where adequate hoof care is provided, or else all the supplements in the world won't help."
WHAT IS YOUR PET PEEVE ON CLIENTS? ON OTHER FARRIERS?
Dale McMain: "Several years ago, I made myself and my dad my only clientele. So my biggest pet peeve is I never get paid anymore! As for other farriers, there are not enough of' them who are good for draft horses and probably never will be (for good reason)."
Jim Rupple: "As a farrier, you need good work areas and horses that get worked with on a regular basis in order to do a decent job. Some people never try to improve the conditions and it gets frustrating. I also hate to see a bunch of shod horses running out together."
"I give anybody credit who tries to keep a horse shod decently. My pet peeve is that we don't try and learn as much as we can from one another."
Tim Kriz: "My biggest pet peeve is clients trying to tell me how to shoe their horses when they have no idea what they are talking about."
Dale Schlabach: "My pet peeve is a client trying to tell me exactly how to shoe a problem horse, when I am sure it is incorrect and will not solve the problem. Yet, you have to strive to keep the client satisfied. Another one is other farriers telling my clients that I didn't shoe their horses right. If they are serious, why not tell me instead of my client? I always appreciate bits of good advice. Or, are they trying to downgrade me and hurt my business?"
Will Lent: "My most frequent criticism of clients is that they don't handle their horses enough. I absolutely hate working on ill-mannered horses, and there is no excuse for it. Regarding farriers, I don't think enough of them use the forge to fit shoes properly."
Reprinted with permission from the Autumn, 1993 issue of The Draft Horse Journal.