A racetrack farrier for more than 40 years, Tom Halpenny says there are footcare needs for those horses that go beyond a good trim and plates. Working in Southern California, he has access to the forges, torches, saws and drills at the tracks' farrier shops, as well as the tools and inventory on his shoeing rig. But while some horses need additional help like bar shoes or pads, Halpenny warns that the complicated solutions aren't cure-alls.
"If you need these tools to make a lot of these shoes for the horses, they shouldn't be on the track - they need time off instead," he says.
Halpenny says farriers didn't see as many of the ongoing foot problems as they do today because there were more racehorses, allowing owners to be more willing to rest their horses.
"Back then, you would have races with full fields, but now, there are some races where you may only have three or four horses. As soon as some problem would come up with a horse, it would go to the farm for 3 or 4 months. Not only did the feet improve, but so would their legs, their minds - the overall health."
Halpenny says that because of fewer horses, some trainers try to keep the horses on the track to appease owners, placing greater pressure on the farrier, many of which rely on the Internet for information that contradicts the advice on resting the horse. This isn't an issue only at the tracks. Halpenny has heard from other farriers of various disciplines how the Internet has empowered horse owners.
"Before the Internet, you would go to and shoe a horse for an owner, who wouldn't question about what you're doing," he says. "Now, some owners will bring the farrier a printout from a website, explaining how she wants the horse shod. It takes it right out of the trainer's and farrier's hands. And if you don't follow what these owners want, they will find someone who will. They will choose to go with the person who gives the best story."
The nature of the horse's job contributes to foot problems. "On many instances, the problem causing long toe, low heel syndrome is galloping 2 miles each day, 6 days a week," he says. "The average stride is 25 feet, so the foot hitting hard surface about 500 times each day. Horses start doing this at 18 months old."
Quarter cracks are a common issue for any farrier on the track. Halpenny mounts on the farrier because the trainer wants the crack patched so the horse can return to training the following day.
"You need time to get the soreness out, to dry it out, Dremel it out and patch it," he says. "That takes more time. But some trainers don't want to do that because they are pressured by the owner who wants to know when the horse will get back to training. It won't work until you address the cause and give it time.
"The best horseshoer in the world is time," says Halpenny. "Unfortunately the horses don't get the time, and that isn't just for those on the racetrack."