With the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority’s shoeing rules just days from taking effect, the federal regulating body announced it is changing its stance on the application of traction devices for Thoroughbreds racing on dirt tracks.

Horses racing on dirt tracks may be shod on the hinds with either a full outer rim shoe up to 4 mm in height or a toe grab up to 4 mm in height. The full ban on toe grabs remains in place on the front shoes. HISA’s Rule 2276 will take effect Monday, Aug. 1, 2022.

“In the last week, the Racetrack Safety Committee (“the Committee”) was made aware through communications from elected officials on Capitol Hill and from horsepersons of widespread concerns that the traction provided by full outer rim shoes and toe grabs for the hindlimbs is essential for the safety of horses in certain circumstances,” according to a statement from HISA. “These circumstances include breaking from the gate and track conditions that are impacted by ambient temperature or precipitation (including maintenance procedures, such as watering the track). The concerns are that reduced traction will result in horses either slipping, falling, or otherwise being unable to firmly grip the track surface, with resulting injury to horses and their riders.”

Criticism isn’t New

While HISA’s statement implies that it was made aware of concerns recently, the hoof-care industry has been vocal about its criticism for several months. An American Farriers Journal survey conducted in the spring of this year found that 58% disapprove of the federally-mandated shoeing rules. Much of the opposition is rooted in the blanket application of the shoeing rules while offering no latitude for variable climates, track surfaces or horses.

“We have deeper tracks like Belmont and Aqueduct that many feel traction is necessary, especially in the slop,” Colts Neck, N.J., farrier Gary Gullo Jr. told American Farriers Journal in its May/June 2022 issue. “They don’t call Belmont ‘Big Sandy’ for no reason.”

Traction devices at tracks such as these are necessary for the health and welfare of both the jockeys and horses, he says.

“I’ve had veterinarians and trainers alike ask for more traction even while the horse was already wearing regular toe grabs during the meet because they were encountering soft tissue injuries from a lack of traction in deep or muddy track conditions,” he says. “That’s why you see so many horses running in ¼-inch bends at Aqueduct, for instance. If you go to Monmouth Park, on the other hand, it’s not as deep as Belmont or Aqueduct. You won’t see horses running in ¼-inch bends as much. This is one of those things where the rules shouldn’t be one size fits all.”

Reluctant Change

HISA’s Racetrack Safety Committee changed the traction device rules for dirt tracks after meeting with a group consisting of trainers, owners, a veterinarian and a farrier. However, its statement indicates the committee disagreed with the change.

“After full consideration of the matter, the Committee strongly recommended the use of full outer rim shoes for hindlimb traction because these shoes provide traction while enabling the hoof to land flatly on the track surface, whereas toe grabs accentuate stressors on bone and soft tissues, such as tendons and ligaments, which contributes to injury,” according to HISA’s statement. “Moreover, the only study investigating the association of hindlimb toe grabs with injury revealed that injuries to the suspensory apparatus were more likely to occur to horses shod with hindlimb toe grabs.1 In contrast, there is no evidence indicating that toe grabs protect horses or riders. However, given the concerns expressed, the Committee recommended to HISA that Rule 2276 shall not be enforced for horses racing on dirt surfaces that are shod on hindlimbs with traction devices in the form of either a full outer rim shoe (up to 4 mm in height) or a toe grab (up to 4 mm in height).”

The committee referenced seven peer-reviewed scientific studies to support its original recommendation to apply full outer rim shoes in place of toe grabs. The references are listed below.

“Findings that support the rationale for strongly recommending use of full outer rim shoes rather than toe grabs are the epidemiological data,1 consistency of the association of musculoskeletal injury with toe grabs on the hindlimbs with that of injury of the forelimbs,1-4 findings of the association of a long-toe conformation with racing injury (toe grabs would extend the effective length of the toe),5 expert opinion,6 and evidence from other racing jurisdictions where toe grabs are banned and where injury rates are lower (including Japan, where racing on a dirt surface is prominent).”

Congressional Questions

The implementation of HISA’s Racetrack Safety Program has been roundly criticized by those in the racing industry, the hoof-care industry and members of Congress.

One month ago, a bipartisan quartet of United States senators questioned the “chaotic implementation and poor communication” of the Authority, as well as whether the FTC has the “ability to effectively provide oversight of the Authority and ensure it complies with HISA.”

The mandated implementation of HISA was July 1, 2022; however, the Authority did not meet the deadline for the Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program, horseshoes and riding crop regulations. The horseshoeing rules are set to take effect Aug. 1.

“This deadline is statutorily required and neither the FTC nor the Authority have the authority to extend this deadline,” according to a letter addressed to Lina Khan, chair of the FTC and Lisa Lazarus, president and CEO of the Authority. The letter is signed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.

American Farriers Journal was first to report May 12 that the Authority would delay the implementation of the shoeing rules until Aug. 1.

“This is also concerning because we understand the initial rules were functionally impossible for industry participants to implement due to limited supply chain availability of horseshoes and riding crops,” according to the senators’ letter. “This raises questions about what industry representatives were consulted in the drafting of the rule.”

American Farriers Journal contacted the four main manufacturers and suppliers of Thoroughbred racing plates to determine whether they had been consulted during the initial drafting of the shoeing rules. Victory Racing Plate Co., Thoro’Bred Inc., Mustad Hoofcare and Farrier Product Distribution, which supplies Kerckhaert racing plates, said they were not consulted.

Although Dr. Susan Stover, chair of HISA’s Racetrack Safety Committee, confirmed the delay with American Farriers Journal on May 12, it officially was confirmed June 28 on the Authority’s website. HISA published a downloadable fact sheet on shoeing requirements before June 17 that stated the rules would be delayed until Aug. 1. Citing American Farrier Journal’s May 12 report, the senators chastised the Authority for how it has implemented HISA and its effect on the farrier industry.

“And now, only one week before the rule was set to take effect, the Authority published a notice announcing a one-month delay in enforcement of these rules,” according to the letter. “This chaotic implementation process and poor communication by the Authority makes it difficult for industry participants to comply with the new rules and regulations. Additionally, continuously changing implementation dates for new rules and regulations, and last-minute delays, cause more confusion and difficulty with implementation.”


  1. Kane AJ, Stover SM, Gardner IA, Case JT, Johnson BJ, Read DH, Ardans AA. Horseshoe characteristics as possible risk factors for fatal musculoskeletal injury of Thoroughbreed racehorses. Am J Vet Res 1996;57:1147-1152.
  2. Hill AE, Stover SM, Gardner IA, Kane AJ, Whitcomb MB, Emerson AG. Risk factors for and outcomes of noncatastrophic suspensory injury in Thoroughbred racehorses. J Am Vet Med Assoc 200;218:1136-1144.
  3. Hernandez JA, Scollay MC, Hawkins DL, Corda JA, Krueger TM. Evaluation of horseshoe characteristics and high-speed exercise history as possible risk factors for catastrophic musculoskeletal injury in thoroughbred racehorses. Am J Vet Res 2005;66:1314-1320.
  4. Anthenill LA, Stover SM, Garner IA, Hill AE. Risk factors for proximal sesamoid bone fractures associated with exercise history and horseshoe characteristics in Thoroughbred racehorses. Am J Vet Res 2007;68:760-771.
  5. Balch OK, Helman RG, Collier MA. Underrun heels and toe-grab length as possible risk factors for catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries in Oklahoma racehorses. Proc AAEP 2001;47:334-337.
  6. Casner B. 2010 Jockey Club Welfare & Safety Committee Presentation.
  7. Hitchens PL, Morrice-West AV, Stevenson MA, Whitton RC. Meta-analysis of risk factors for racehorse catastrophic musculoskeletal injury in flat racing. Vet J 2019;25:39-40.

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