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Tuesday December 7, 2021

Keep the Fires Burning

Written by Marilyn Burns Sumpter
Category: Essays For Horse Owners
Hits: 6634

The patient's chart was swinging from a hook outside the hospital stall. His name is Fox.


Inside, veterinarian Alan Ruggles and farrier Bob Grover, pictured at left, removed bandages from the 10-year-old gelding's front foot. Ruggles outlined the patient's problem: A chronic infection plagues a three-month-old puncture wound deep in the left foot; the location of an abscess points to possible navicular syndrome or bursitis.

Fox's owner sought professional help at the Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital in Columbus. Ruggles, an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, had cleaned and treated the wound, but the patient now needs a tailor-made bar shoe and plate to protect the wound and support the foot.

That brought OSU consulting farrier Bob Grover to the stall. Within minutes, the veterinarian and farrier agreed on Fox's front shoe needs. Two hours later, Fox's injured foot sported a leather pad and a creased bar shoe, all covered by an aluminum treatment plate. For balance, Grover made a regular plate shoe for Fox's uninjured front foot.

"Horses with really sore feet need a creased or fullered shoe," Grover said. "Normally, you pry against the foot to remove a shoe. That hurts a sore foot. With a creased shoe, you can pull each nail out individually with a crease nail puller; it doesn't hurt the horse as much."

The farrier's fee: $150 for the special shoe, plus $25 for the regular shoe. Grover said that after "at least" six weeks of stall rest, Fox's hometown farrier can replace Grover's handiwork with a full pad and a regular plate shoe.

"I get them started, and then their regular farrier can take it from there," said the veteran horseshoer, who entertains clients with his wit while he helps patients with his skill.

As OSU's consulting farrier - a common addition to many top veterinary hospitals - Grover commutes once a week from his Medina County home to the Columbus campus, about a two-hour jaunt each way. Sometimes there's just one lame patient, but often there's a lineup, all waiting for Grover's experienced eye and therapeutic shoeing.

Some horses wait an extra day or two for Grover's visit; some travel 200 miles to the hospital for his forged creations. Sometimes, it's simply their last chance.

"I enjoy my work here because I can help horses--even some that might have to be put down otherwise," Grover said of his six-year stint at the large animal hospital.

Patting his patients on the shoulder and talking to them while he works, Grover treats each one like an old friend, including the 14-year-old Arabian gelding Isla Warlock and the Thoroughbred gelding Brio.

"Warlock" had been visiting OSU for more than eight months after a brain tumor caused him to founder. Owner Sherry Hull said the founder required that Grover fit him with special shoes to enable him to walk until his front feet could grow stronger.

Brio, on the other hand, came in to the hospital after suffering chronic lameness and was diagnosed with navicular. While he measured his feet, Grover spoke to the animal in reassuring tones, patting him and stroking him on the nose, the caring as clear as the farrier's talent.

As consulting farrier, Grover works on all equine breeds at the veterinary hospital. "I like the challenge of the different horses to work on," he said. "But I prefer gaited horses because they're longer footed, and I can do more for them.

"Standardbreds, Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses have such a short foot that I'm limited in the amount of help I can give them. It's easier to enhance leverage, traction and momentum on a horse with a four-and-a-half to six-inch foot."

Although he focuses on lameness referrals and American Saddlebreds in his northern Ohio practice, Grover worked exclusively with Standardbreds during the early 1980s in Ohio - at Northfield Park, the Canton Fairgrounds, and Soehnlen Stables.

"The racetrack business is good, year-round work for farriers," Grover said. "If they're not racing, then they're training young horses."

During his early years in the business, Grover had the opportunity to put racing shoes on the late, great Rambling Willie, twice. "I was so excited, I didn't even charge," the farrier laughed. He did receive two autographed copies of the book, "Rambling Willie: The Horse That God Loved," for his effort.

Another Standardbred, though less famous, gave Grover a broken nose, one of two fractures the farrier has experienced during his 19-year practice.

"There's no trainer or textbook prescription for the correct way to shoe a horse," he emphasized. "Farriers need to look at each horse individually."

But at times his efforts are in vain: By the time some horses arrive, their foot problems - laminitis, navicular syndrome and flexural deformities are the most common - are too severe, too crippling. He has spent hours making special shoes for patients, only to see them euthanized later. "Correct shoeing and early treatment would prevent many needless deaths."

Whether at the veterinary hospital or on the road for his own full-time practice, Grover teaches owners and trainers proper equine foot care. He said it works best when veterinarians and farriers work together.

Veterinarians can recommend good farriers, and other horse owners can, too. Not all farriers make special shoes, Grover noted. But if they trim and shoe correctly, so the horse is balanced and moves easily and naturally, therapeutic shoeing often isn't needed.

At OSU's veterinary hospital, the staff depends on Grover's expertise when it comes to special shoeing needs. Experience - as well as a good work ethic, savvy business skills and a genial personality - earned Grover this respect.

A native of upstate New York, Grover befriended farrier Steve Parker during his senior year at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. "I hung out with him and went along while he worked. As a result, I got the 'horse bug,'" Grover said, smiling.

After completing his bachelor's degree in economics, Grover spent eighteen months grooming standardbreds. In the fall of 1977 he then went to the Michigan School of Horseshoeing. Upon completion of his studies there, he was then broken into the standardbred shoeing business by Medina, Ohio farrier Dan Perry. Two years later he met Mansfield, Ohio farrier Randy Luikart, who Grover says has mentored him to the success he enjoys today.

In 1982, Grover became an American Farriers Association certified journeyman farrier. Currently, he's an AFA certification examiner and treasurer of the national association. He lectures on horse shoeing at numerous colleges and seminars and is an instructor at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio.

"It's important to keep active and up to date," Grover said. "Farriery is more than slapping a piece of steel on a foot. It's a very technical science."

In all breeds, Grover sees common shoeing problems: shoes that are too short or too small; hooves angled too high.

"Some owners, trainers and farriers think an undershod horse - one with shoes too small or too short - won't pull shoes," Grover said. "They're simply setting the stage for navicular syndrome or other hoof problems."

And shoes angled too high - similar to women's high heels - can cause permanent ligament damage, the farrier noted.

Incorrect shoeing practices like these often bring patients to a veterinary hospital. For example, navicular syndrome (Grover said "disease" is a misnomer) can be prevented by correct shoeing.

To relieve navicular's crippling effects, Grover makes regular bar shoes, egg bar shoes or longer shoes, sometimes adding a full pad or wedge pad. "What I use depends on each case," said the farrier.

Heart bar shoes are Grover's usual choice for horses with laminitis, another frequent diagnosis at the hospital. Usually horses wear Grover's special shoes for six weeks, although with laminitis, horses might wear heart bars for one year - or forever.

Flexural deformities in young horses are commonly treated at the clinic by veterinary surgeons. Grover then follows up with shoes that are extended anteriorly or posteriorly, depending on the situation. These deformities (often misnomered as 'contracted tendons') are often present at birth, or develop during the first few months of a foal's life. They can be nutritional, genetic, or injury related in origin. Grover admits that shoeing horses at this stage of their development does have its drawbacks. "The younger you shoe a horse, the more you impede foot growth," he explained. "I like to wait until late in their yearling year to shoe Standardbreds."

At the hospital, Grover frequently encounters racehorses with trauma injuries. He said horses with bowed tendons need rest and a supportive shoe. "I use a longer shoe and usually lower the angle, because often the superficial flexor is involved," the farrier said.

Grover treats coffin bone fractures with a special bar shoe with a raised rim.

The farrier's special shoes aren't the ultimate cure-all, however. "People put too much expectation on shoeing," Grover said. "Maybe what the horse needs most is rest."

For therapeutic purposes, most of Grover's shoeing is performed with regular bars, heart bars and egg bars. He keeps up with trends, however. "There are always new pads and hoof wall acrylics on the market. Plastic shoes are the newest innovation," Grover said. "I've seen them used for racehorses and therapeutic shoeing, but they won't ever replace steel - they're too flexible, they work loose and don't last as long."

Titanium shoes, which Grover said are as light as aluminum but last longer, are useful, too. "But farriers need to be careful when working titanium in the fire. Titanium is a combustible metal. It produces toxic fumes as it's heated, reaches an ignition point at much lower temperatures than steel shoes, and once ignited titanium is virtually impossible to extinguish unless you have a class D fire extinguisher handy!" Grover said he prefers a coal forge: "It's less expensive to fuel, and it gives me more versatile heat."

In addition, he stressed current trends can't replace good, old-fashioned foot care. Grover encourages owners to check horses' feet and legs between farrier visits. Things to look for include lameness, stumbling, bent or loose shoes or the foot spreading over the shoe. A quick call to a farrier could save money - and your horse.

This article first appeared in the July 1996 issue of Hoof Beats magazine, and is reprinted here with permission.

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