Editor's Note: This article from our April 2008 "Shoeing Showcase" issue that featured Ian McKinlay's Yasha Shoe. After this article ran, Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the first two jewels in Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, wearing these shoes.
During his career as a racetrack blacksmith, Ian McKinlay of South Amboy, N.J., had little doubt of what was his biggest enemy — concussion; particularly heel concussion.
"I've seen it and I'm not the only one," says McKinlay, whose primary focus is dealing with lameness issues at racetracks throughout New Jersey and New York. "When you have footsore horses, the back third of the hoof is the problem with 85% of them."
McKinlay says heel concussion can lead to very serious hoof problems.
"A horse starts getting sore heels and he changes his gait. Eventually, he develops an abscess in the sole. It can work its way up to the coronary band, then blows out the whole heel."
Beginning Of An Idea
About 4 years ago, McKinlay dealt with a particularly troublesome case.
Ian McKinlay demonstrates how the heels of his Yasha Shoe flex to absorb concussion at the Tenderhoof Solutions booth at the 2008 International Hoof-Care Summit.
"I had a horse called Redskin Warrior," he says. "He was a 2-year-old and his owner was hoping to get him into the Kentucky Derby. But his feet bugged him."
Time was of the essence, so resting the horse to let his feet recover was not an option.
McKinlay first tried glue-on shoes. The horse did fine for 5 days, but eventually the problems returned.
"It was clear he was having problems from concussion in the heels," McKinlay recalls. "I came up with putting a gum rubber pad on the heels. I glued the front of the shoe and used one nail to pin it in the heel."
Redskin Warrior was able to return to training. While he didn't make the Derby field, he did win some major stakes races that year. McKinlay felt he was on to something and followed up on what he'd found through the case.
"I'm kind of a specialist," he says. "I'm called in on lameness cases. If I don't make them sound, I don't get called back. That gives me an incentive."
McKinlay knew gum rubber wasn't a long-term solution for heel concussion, because it wouldn't stand up to the heavy pounding on hard racetracks. He started experimenting to find a material that would offer the protection the gum rubber had, but would have much greater durability.
"It took a while," he says. "We started experimenting with polyurethane that we could glue to a shoe. Then we came up with a protective coating for the polyurethane."
Shoe-Rim Pad Combination
Eventually, he came up with the Yasha Shoe -- a combination of a flexible and lightweight shoe that has a sort of "built-in" or bonded rim pad formed from the coated polyurethane.
When looking at the foot surface of the shoe, you'll see a black inside rim that extends over the heels. The rest of the foot surface is covered with red polyurethane.
"The black is the softer material," McKinlay explains. "It's on the side and over the heels because that's where the concussion is the heaviest. The red material is harder. It has to be because that's where you're going to be nailing. If it were all as soft as the black material, the nails wouldn't hold."
McKinlay says the black material as a durometer rating (a measurement of hardness and resistance to indentation) of 50. The red material has a rating of 85.
The pad in only 1/8-inch thick, but McKinlay says the results have been excellent.
"We've put these on the horses and you can see they are starting to feel better in their feet," he says. "They develop more confidence. We definitely see them extending their stride."
McKinlay expects the Yasha Shoe -- the name means defend or save in various languages -- to be used primarily on racetracks, although he indicates there has been some use in the hunter/jumper area.
"They are expensive," he says. "That is a drawback."
The shoes are available in a variety of styles, including rim and bar shoes. McKinlay has been experimenting with clips and says he expects to have a clipped version of the shoe ready soon.
More Tests Planned
McKinlay also plans to do more testing of the shoe, including some tests using high-speed video and gait-analysis software. He says he's particularly interest in seeing if the shoe can help improve the performance of horse's who aren't displaying any major lameness problems.
"We did put them on one horse like that," he says. "The blacksmith and trainer were a little hesitant. They said 'He moves pretty well right now.' But when we put them on, he moved even better right away. He really opened up his stride."
McKinley believes other problems can cascade from a problem that begins with heel concussion.
"A horse that is in pain will change his gait trying to avoid landing on those sore heels," he says. That can lead to other problems like sore ankles, knees and shoulders. Horses that are in pain may go off their feed.
"When a horse becomes sound again, you see all kinds of other things," he says. "Their eyes get brighter, their coat gets shinier. They just feel better."
McKinley is not directly involved in manufacturing and distributing the shoes. He's part of a company, Tenderhoof Solutions that takes care of those aspects.