By Rob Renirie, Dutch Olympic Team Farrier
People often ask me about shoeing elite dressage horses and how modern materials can enhance performance. Shoeing is certainly important in dressage, but the question we should perhaps be asking is “where is the sport going?”
I love barefoot — it’s the best there is for the horse — but most people in dressage want to see big movement. Few horses go the same barefoot as shod. We see more expression with a steel shoe than without, as weight is important to “steer” movement.
The aim with farriery is to protect nature’s form, and a nicely fitted shoe offers that protection. Bare hooves need trimming every five to six weeks and can be ruined if the horse scrapes the lorry floor while travelling, so it’s not an option for all.
For 400 years we’ve been trying to change the fact that we nail a shoe on to the horse’s hoof. Glue-on plastic shoes work for some, but the glue can affect hoof health and make them brittle.
Shoes can’t be glued to wet hooves, so some management changes are needed. And not every farrier can glue on a shoe properly — so who will replace one if it comes off at an overseas show?
Lighter or plastic materials might be an advantage with a Spanish horse, where we don’t want to exaggerate an already upright movement, but the flatter movement [lighter shoes] tend to produce is not what people want to see at the top level of the sport.
There are more injuries in dressage today. This is partly due to the fact that shoeing knowledge has not caught up with modern breeding — we’re producing horses with longer, weaker pasterns but we’re still trying to make them more upright.
But perhaps the biggest problem is that the whole industry is in such a hurry. People want to be over-aggressive and use too much force, without allowing the horse the time to be an athlete.
It’s important to vary workload so that time is spent in the forest and on the beach as well as in the school. The sport creates more stress than ever, with a show every weekend. If we work our horses on the edge like this all the time, injures will happen. It’s like a Ferrari — you can drive it fast but it breaks easily.
If everyone does their job properly we can keep our horses sounder for longer. We first have to first train a horse’s muscle groups correctly, before looking at precisely how he lands and perhaps adjusting the shoe slightly to steer the movement. Most problems disappear, however, with a happy, fit horse. We should keep it simple.
If spectators — and judges — still want to see big, exaggerated movement, we will see more injuries. Shoeing is just one part of the overall treatment of our horses. It’s something we all need to think about if we want this sport to exist in 20 years’ time.