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At first glance, a toe grab seems like a very little thing. Even the toe grab on a Quarter Horse racing plate (the highest type of toe grab) is less than 1/3-inch high. But toe grabs often leave racetrack farriers between a rock and a hard place.
More accurately, they’re caught between the long-range health of a horse and a trainer’s need for just a little more speed.
Toe grabs — very small toe calks — are frequently used on racing plates as a traction device. At one time, they were used on almost all racehorses. But research done in California during the 1990s also linked their use to catastrophic front-leg injuries suffered by racehorses.
G.W. Pratt, a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a study published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, concluded that toe grabs, fatigue and racetrack surfaces were the primary cause of racehorses breaking down. In a 1996 California study, Al Kane, an equine veterinarian, concluded that racehorses shod with high toe grabs were more likely to suffer injuries than horses shod with rim shoes. In essence, they found that while toe grabs might give more traction, they also put much more stress on forelegs.
But that doesn’t mean toe grabs have disappeared from racetracks. Joe Trhlik, who recently moved to Rio Verde, Ariz., after a long career shoeing at Arlington Park and other tracks near Chicago, says there is a simple reason trainers continue to use toe grabs.
“If they don’t have the…