If you shoe dressage horses, Dave Farley has some pointers that might interest you. If you don't shoe dressage horses and think you probably never will, you might want to pay attention, anyway.
Farley, a prominent farrier from Coshocton, Ohio, who shoes in West Palm Beach, Fla., during the winter, says dressage shoeing now stretches far beyond its usual boundaries.
"A lot of people think that dressage is used just for dressage horses, but it has spread to all other disciplines in some way or another," he says. "Almost everything that is done in dressage is now done with other breeds and in other disciplines.
"We see it now in Western riding and all the other disciplines. And we see a lot of Andalusians, Arabians, some Quarter Horses, a lot of Thoroughbreds and many different horses in dressage events," Farley says.
Training Method Spreading
Dressage is a French term meaning "training," and in the horse world it is a method for teaching horses to be obedient, willing, supple and responsive to their riders, he notes. "The object of dressage is the harmonious development of the horse in both mind and body, and every horse, regardless of its type or use, can benefit from this training," he says.
"The training is very in-depth, and it'll work on every horse. When these horses are working right and are in sync with the rider, they're amazing animals," he adds. "As farriers, we don't see this enough and don't know the end result of our work. Too often, we just get under these horses and shoe them and don't appreciate what they do. I encourage everyone interested in dressage shoeing of any type to go watch these horses work."
Proper shoeing must assist the performance of the horse and rider, he says. "The horses should freely submit to the riders' lightest signals while remaining balanced and energetic," he adds. "They need to be disciplined, but they need to have that energetic look."
Growing Into Shoes
Dressage hoof-care techniques can vary with different levels of training, he says. "The young horses, especially European horses, are started at 3, 4 or 5 years old, after they've developed. The heavier-boned horses require more time to mature, so a lot of these horses are started without any shoes."
That's a good thing, he says. "I like it when a horse has been ridden and trained and doesn't have a lot of foot. I can tell exactly where he's breaking over, what he's doing and where he's compensating for his conformation faults. In dressage shoeing, as in any shoeing, you need to know what conformation faults a horse has so you can compensate for that. You have to help and encourage that horse to make the best of his ability with your trimming and your shoeing."
Upper-level dressage horses often train 6 days a week, Farley says, "and they go to a lot of functions where they are bathed every day. Many of the horses are in a Southern climate and they're getting a very good balance of nutrients, so their feet grow quickly. Anyone who spends time shoeing with us is just amazed at how fast these horses' feet grow. These horses require regular footcare, and the owners and trainers at that level expect regular hoof care."
Experienced dressage riders can detect the difference in their horses as the hooves grow, according to Farley, "and when they get to that fourth or fifth week, they'll call you to shoe that horse."
In providing hoof care for dressage horses, "Ninety percent of what you're doing is in the trim," he says. "You have to develop your eye to know what's balanced for that horse; you can't do it all with just muscle. You're going to get fewer horses done in a day, and you're going to get tired and sore."
Training The Eye
With experience and understanding of dressage, a farrier finds himself spending more time evaluating the horse and thus doing a better job trimming the feet, he says.
There are very few conformationally correct horses, he warns. "You must get under many horses with different conformation faults before you can evaluate with confidence. It took me about 10 years. I had to get under about 10,000 horses before my eye finally understood what normal is — then you understand what abnormal is."
Being flexible enough to adapt to each horse's needs is important, Farley says.
"There's more than one way to trim a horse," he says. "I go to as many seminars as everyone else, and I have not found just one way to trim every horse that I shoe. It takes several different ways. I trim to achieve normal balance for the particular horse standing in front of me, and it's probably not going to be just like the one I did earlier that day or the day before."
He also tries to trim each horse as close to a normal hoof-pastern axis as he can. "You can't always get it to look like that," he says. "But you want to know what you're going to shoot for on every horse before it walks up, then you start dissecting that particular horse and its problems and how you can fix them."
He cautions farriers to pay extra attention to the hind feet. "If there's a problem with the horse, it's going to show up on the front end, but about 80 percent of the problems that I've seen on the front end are secondary to the hind end," he says.
Check to see if each hind foot is centered, he says, "Because if it's too far one way or the other, it's going to affect the diagonal front first, and that starts a chain reaction. So I put a lot of emphasis on looking at these horses laterally. I'll get down on my knees, 10 feet behind the horse, to see if the heels are level. Once you start doing that, you'll realize that most of the time we're just perimeter fitting the feet."
The horses often grow a long lateral toe and there isn't enough medial heel support after a shoe is put on, he says.
Another common problem with dressage horses at all levels, he adds, is taking off too much sole.
"I can't put enough emphasis on leaving some of the sole," he says. "Once you get down to a clean sole, leave it there. Some dressage horses weigh 1,500 or 1,600 pounds. If you take a horse like that down to only 1/4 inch of sole, you're in trouble.
"These horses need that sole as a base. It's the only way to get them off of bad walls and get the wall to grow, and to keep the bony column from moving inside the foot," Farley warns. "The harder the surface and the more cupped the sole when the foot is bearing weight during lateral moves, the more the bone moves inside the foot, causing bruising."
If hot fitting is used, the farrier should leave an additional 1/8 inch of foot, says Farley, who takes pride in routinely leaving more sole and hot fitting for dressage clients.
Keeping It Simple
He believes there is no magic shoe that will elevate a dressage horse to the next level of competition. "But in my experience, no matter where you're shoeing, dressage horses need a steel shoe that's wide enough to carry that horse's weight."
He typically uses a wide-web steel shoe, "symmetrically fit on the front, with no bells or whistles," he says. "Because Grand Prix arenas usually have computerized, underground watering systems, the consistency of arenas stays the same now, so I don't have to worry about going to a concave shoe, creasing a toe or putting in the right type of a calks. The grooms change the calks, I just provide a wide steel shoe with a crease in it so that I can pull my nails with a crease nail puller."
He says that in some regions of the country, there is a trend toward using concave shoes on every horse. This causes the foot to stay on the ground longer, causing a longer, lower stride. But, he says, "The trainers are telling me that they can't always go with that shoe. They have to constantly push the horse up to get the horse to break over that toe."
Any necessary shoe modifications are usually simple, he says. "They're mostly clips and lateral support from trailers; all one-heat modifications," he says. "Most experienced farriers can make a modification in about 3 minutes. That makes the difference between a winning horse and a horse that can't do the job. That's the bottom line."
Farley often uses lateral support on the hind feet. "I like the lateral support versus the trailers because it doesn't add length to that lateral heel," he says. "I see so many horses with big trailers that when you go to get underneath them, you can't get the hock out behind you and you can't get it up on a foot stand. They constantly pull you forward, and it takes effort to just stay under them to trim them."
And, he says, "Their hocks are being overworked. As the foot hits the ground while moving forward, the trailer hits first. This alters the flight of that foot as it hits the ground. That's not always a good thing. I would rather have a horse hit square and have the width of the shoe keep the heel from sinking as much."