Established by federal law in 2020, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) was entrusted with creating uniform rules affecting various areas of Thoroughbred racing in the United States. However, the establishment and enforcement of shoeing regulations have left many in the farrier industry frustrated.

In March 2022, HISA announced rule changes affecting the use of horseshoes in Thoroughbred racing to take effect on July 1, 2022. After industry members raised concerns on various fronts, enforcement was delayed to Aug. 1, 2022, so manufacturers and farriers could adjust to these changes. Later, as manufacturers adjusted production, HISA then announced it wouldn’t enforce these rules as of this date for dirt racetracks. Further complicating matters, the hind shoes permitted under the regulations didn’t exist on the market.

American Farriers Journal sat down with a few racing Thoroughbred industry exhibitors at the Northeast Association of Equine Practitioners Symposium trade show. These manufacturers all make racehorse shoes. With the confusion surrounding the HISA shoeing regulations and the recent announcement of horseshoe manufacturers forming a committee within the Farrier Industry Association (FIA) to monitor and offer HISA advice, these manufacturers used this discussion to outline why HISA’s decisions and communication have been problematic to them and others in the Thoroughbred racing industry.

Lack of Understanding of Manufacturer and Farrier Challenges

One point of contention for these manufacturers is the various changes in regulations affecting horseshoes and timetables created chaos. The group felt that HISA lacks a basic understanding of the manufacturing process. From acquiring raw materials to tooling machines, production isn’t a simple process that can be altered without more advanced notice.

“We order toe grab materials and aluminum for shoes several months prior to manufacturing,” explains Remco van der Linden, vice president of Thoro’Bred Inc. “There are several other steps involved in the planning to prepare for the expected demand. So when regulatory decisions change multiple times over a few months, it makes manufacturing preparation nearly impossible. By the time we make a shoe, so much has happened. The shoe being made is the end result of many steps in planning.”

According to the group, these regulatory changes cause a chain reaction, as the supply shop selling horseshoes will struggle determining what inventory to order, or ordering shoes based on previous customer buying trends, some of which are contrary to HISA guidelines that the manufacturers will factor in their ordering. In turn, the customer at the supply shop may fail to find the inventory needed for their racehorses and their specific needs.

Through this uncertainty, the group reports there is an inconsistent or lack of enforcement that varies from track to track. This adds to the disruption already present in the planning and production processes.

“It is all over the board,” says van der Linden. “As a manufacturer, what should we produce? As a supplier, what shoes should you carry? And as a farrier, what shoes should you carry on your truck to nail on a foot?”

Furthermore, the apparent lack of broad farrier input on HISA’s decisions is glaring to these manufacturers. Some of the language within the regulation and discussion with HISA revealed what these manufacturers view as the absence of farrier knowledge.

“Before HISA can make decisions affecting an industry, HISA must understand the language of the business,” says Curtis Burns, owner of Polyflex Horseshoes. Burns adds that in a conversation with an unnamed HISA board member, the other person was unaware that horses can run in horseshoes made of synthetic material rather than aluminum.

As another example, these manufacturers pointed to HISA’s allowance of 4mm full outer rim hind shoes and 4mm toe grabs on hind shoes. However, these horseshoes have never existed on the market. This led the manufacturer to question the evidence of safety improvements.

“If no horse has ever run in these shoes, how do we know they are safe?” questions Pat Broadus, owner of Hanton Horseshoes.

Another complaint from these manufacturers is the lack of HISA to name a farrier to its group, again referring to the lack of knowledge regarding shoeing practices. In late August, HISA announced it would create the Horsemen’s Advisory Council (HCA). HISA reported more than 200 people applied for this 10-12 person committee. Although a few farriers reported to American Farriers Journal that they have applied to the HCA, there is no guarantee from HISA that farriers will be named to the committee. HISA is expected to announce the HCA members in October.

“The underrepresentation of the industry at large ignores not just us as manufacturers, but also farriers and the farrier supply shops,” says VICTORY Racing Plate Co. Sales Manager Mark Hickcox.  “If HISA leaves out the racetrack farriers’ and the supply shops’ input from the discussion, this will provide a skewed view.”

Offering Help to HISA

In mid-September 2022, the Farrier Industry Association (FIA), a trade group of hoof-care businesses, formed a committee of members to offer guidance to HISA. The FIA named Hickcox as committee chair. The group has met several times to discuss industry needs and remains optimistic that HISA will see this as a good faith effort to help the regulatory body make informed decisions regarding shoeing regulations.

“Ultimately, we want to help HISA by creating an avenue for seeking advice,” Hickcox says. “We are willing, if HISA does in fact add a farrier to this council, to stand behind that farrier and be a sounding board and give a perspective that a single individual might not think of.”

This FIA committee is also aware of farriers who have applied to serve on the HCA. Ideally, the group would like a track farrier or manufacturer to be appointed to the board because of familiarity with available products and the common language used to describe shoeing needs for track Thoroughbreds.

Should HISA fail to name a farrier to the council, the FIA committee plans to lobby a group of United States senators who have previously voiced displeasure with HISA’s decision. HISA’s decision to not enforce traction rules and accept a full outer rim shoe up to 4 mm or a toe grab up to 4 mm came a month after a bipartisan quartet of U.S. 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 FIA will address what they view as a failure of HISA to include farrier input on the shoeing regulations that farriers will have to follow.

“We have a diverse representation of the industry that bridges farriers, supply shops, manufacturers and veterinarians,” says Hickcox. “If HISA fails to consider our viewpoints going forward, they are destined to make more mistakes, on top of three major ones already made in regard to shoeing regulations. I encourage HISA to reach out and use our knowledge base so they can make informed decisions.”

The group would like to educate HISA regarding the conditions that affect shoe use. Burns says uninformed opinions that similar Thoroughbred shoeing regulations outside of the United States, such as racing in England are not fair comparisons due to variable conditions outside of races themselves. Broadus cites factors like proximity between training tracks and barns are factors that can greatly affect shoe wear.

“For example, many tracks use limestone surfaces because service trucks drive on the horse paths,” he says. “There isn’t a clear path for the horses so the shoes wear out more quickly. At other facilities, there is a lot of concrete that the horses walk on. I don’t believe wear comes as much from training as it does from walking back and forth to the track in conditions like this. I’m not sure that HISA was looking past what happens between the starting gate and the finish line.”

What Shoeing Regulations Would Manufacturers Like?

Asked what their preferred shoe would be, the manufacturers agreed this isn’t about a specific shoe type that would ease their production. Instead, first and foremost, they want informed guidelines that result in a safe product for the horse. For them, the key is consistency in message and enforcement of the rules.

“Consider that the racehorses and most farriers who shoe them travel around,” says van der Linden. “If there is no clarity or enforcement, then this creates a problem for the blacksmith. Creation of consistency will alleviate many problems, regardless of what shoe is legal.”

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