Show jumpers are judged on how fast they can cover a jumping course without knocking down jumps. This is an extremely demanding sport and very few horses have the ability to compete at top levels.

To say that shoeing show hunters and jumpers is a challenging job is an understatement. The competition is intense. Owners, trainers and riders are constantly vigilant to ensure that horses are presented at their very best.

The farrier is just one member of a team that includes the trainer, rider, veterinarian, groom, chiropractor, masseuse and an occasional horse psychic. We each have a job to do.

The farrier’s job, obviously, is to shoe the horse, but it is also to use our experience to recommend shoeing changes to maintain performance. Very often I am given carte blanche in how a horse should be set up and my advice is, “Shoe every one like it was your wife’s horse.”

It is not uncommon for a client to present a new horse for shoeing and tell you he or she knew the horse had some problems when they bought it, but were sure you could fix them. What is important is to understand which problems you can fix — and which ones you can’t.

Hunters Vs. Jumpers

The show jumping world is divided into two different segments, show hunters and show jumpers. Show hunters are subjectively judged for conformation and type, their way of going (how pretty they trot and canter) and their form when jumping a fence. Jumpers are scored on how fast they can jump a course of jumps without knocking them down.

The vast majority of show jumping horses are European Warmbloods. They vary greatly in their size and conformation and body type.

The Show Hunter: A Brief History

The show hunter has morphed into something quite different from the show hunters of yesteryear. Originally, the goal was to showcase the talents of a fox hunting horse, simulating conditions found in the hunting field. Show hunters jumped rails and coops like those found in the hunting field. Today’s hunter course is a combination of floral excess and artificial fences, found only in the show ring. At a horse show, hunters may show in more than one division.

A division will usually consist of three or four over-fence classes and one under-saddle class. Combined total points determine the champion of the division, a highly sought after honor.

hoof

This is finished hunter front foot. Red Renchin prefers open-heeled aluminum shoes in front with no pads. He shapes the shoe for a perimeter fit, leaving room for a nickel’s worth of expansion and allowing about 1/8 inch of mental extending beyond the heels.

The over-fences classes usually consists of eight to 10 fences, set up with four lines of different distances between fences. The class is judged on how smoothly the horse can negotiate the course, jumping each fence out of stride and not changing its speed and demeanor on course. Hunters are also judged on doing correct lead changes smoothly and are severely penalized for “swapping out,” which is changing leads a stride before jumping the fence.

To compete successfully in the upper echelons of the show world, it is important that a horse be a good mover and a good jumper, with an ideal stride length of 12 feet — the distance that the jumping course fences are set at.

There is an informal, 1 to 10 rating system that horsemen use to gauge the merits of a horse. A 10-mover is a horse that trots and canters in a fluid, beautiful manner, is well balanced with a long low stride, a slight bend in the knee and fluid, free-moving shoulders. The head and neck are carried in a natural “frame,” with slight contact on the reins. The expression of the eyes and ears is pleasant, and the tail is carried slightly away from the body with no wringing or signs of irritability.

A 1-mover trots with a lot of animation in the knees, hitting the ground like a trash masher. The stride will be short and choppy and rough to post to. The horse will be “on the muscle,” with a very forward short stride, head elevated and usually a bit of an agitated look. These horses are usually made into jumpers if they have enough “scope” (jumping ability). The 2- to 9-movers are somewhere in between.

Moving The Hunter Up

Trainers have different philosophies on changing things. Some are more assertive and willing to experiment. The more conservative and cautious ones will tell you to replace what the horse is wearing and add, “Don’t change anything.” But hunter trainers will commonly ask if it is possible to “move one up,” which means the trainer would like a horse to move better for the “hack classes.”

A hack class is an under-saddle class without jumping. All contestants are brought into the ring at the same time. As they move around the perimeter of the ring at a walk, trot and canter, they are judged on their way of going, manners and ability to work on the correct lead.

Before working on a new horse, it is best to observe the horse under tack with the shoeing it is wearing. See for yourself how it moves and how sound it is. Next, pull the shoes and examine the feet for length, angle, sole thickness and heel sensitivity with a hoof tester.

The basic tenants of making a hunter move at its best are quite simple. You shoe the front feet with aluminum shoes and keep the feet pain free.

The devil is in the details.

The process starts with a proper trim. Formulate a plan before you start trimming. Measure for length, the dorsal wall angle and medial/lateral balance. My advice is to trim the wall to the junction of the wall and the thick live sole. It usually takes me three shoeing cycles before I can understand exactly how a particular foot grows. I am very careful about not removing too much foot the first time I shoe a new horse. If clients think you left a foot too long, they may comment. But take too much off and leave the horse sore and they may fire you.

Occasionally a client will ask you to lower the heel and leave the toe longer, hoping to improve movement. Don’t do it. It will only result in problems for the horse. Stick to proper trimming principles and acquiesce to unwise requests.

Aluminum Shoes

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This is a typical setup that Red Renchin will use for a hunter. Most hunters wear aluminum shoes on their front feet and steel behind. Renchin routinely drills and taps all four shoes for studs.

The vast majority of show hunters today compete in aluminum shoes in front. Whenever you add weight to a horse’s foot, you increase the effort it takes for that foot to move forward, hence the equilibrium of the weight will carry upward, making a more “trappy” trot. The best a horse will ever trot is barefoot, but that is not possible in most cases. Racehorse shoes are very light, but will not to hold up to jumping. There is a happy medium that you have to aim for that will provide enough protection and support during the shoeing cycle. Aluminum shoes will make a good mover a better mover, but will not turn a bad mover into a good mover.

I am a believer in the “KISS” method of shoeing horses (Keep It Simple Stupid). Ideally, I prefer my horses to go in clipped, open-heeled aluminum shoes in front, with no pads. On horses with ideal angles (52 to 54 degrees), I will shape the shoe for a perimeter fit with about a nickel’s worth of expansion from the last nail hole back, and about 1/8 inch of shoe sticking out behind the heel. On feet with lower angles (51 to 52 degrees), I will blunt the toe and set the shoe back to the white line, leaving more shoe behind the heel, depending on the size of the foot and shoe.

Pads

The use of pads is appropriate to ensure comfort in many horses’ feet. I prefer plastic pads to leather, because plastic is more durable and stable, while leather absorbs moisture and deforms.

On feet with angles lower than 50 degrees, you start running into the problem of a flat or negative palmar angle. On these feet, I often use a 2-degree frog cushion wedge pad with dental impression material between the shoe and the pad. The frog cushion distributes part of the weight to the frog, reducing concussion to the weak heels. I do not like using wedge rim pads on these feet, because too much force is directed to the heels. pushing them up and making them sore. I do like flat rim pads for horses with round feet and flat soles. The use of a rim pad to elevate them that extra 1/8 inch does wonders for their comfort.

For horses with sensitive soles, full pads are very beneficial. Another alternative is a pour-in pad, such as Vettec Equi-Pack. The advantage to the pour-in pad is that it does not add any length to the foot and nothing can get to the sole.

A decade ago, aluminum egg bar shoes were the hot item. Since then, their popularity has decreased, but I still use them occasionally, when I want more caudal support than an open- heeled shoe will provide. Aluminum full-support shoes (egg bar-heart bar combinations) are also very useful in protecting the frog and back part of the foot.

Aluminum Is Not For Every Horse

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This is a typical setup that Red Renchin will use for a hunter. Most hunters wear aluminum shoes on their front feet and steel behind. Renchin routinely drills and taps all four shoes for studs.

Often, I am asked to put aluminum shoes on horses that are not kept in show-horse environments. An aluminum shoe is a show-horse shoe. Clients have to be realistic. You cannot treat a horse in aluminum shoes as a show horse on the weekend, but as a pasture horse for the rest of the week. The majority of my show horses are turned out in a paddock for about an hour a day, ridden for a half hour to 45 minutes and spend the rest of the time in the stall. This schedule is to preserve their shoes, feet and legs. Prolonged turnout will destroy aluminum shoes in a matter of days and then the feet will disintegrate, too.

Horses that have poor feet or need extra turnout are much better off in steel shoes. Clients have to understand that each horse has his own way of going and that the good ones are freaks. That is why they are very expensive. It is more difficult to be competitive with a horse that isn’t a good mover, but it can be done.

Some farriers have experimented with alternatives to aluminum. In my experience, titanium shoes do last longer, but they are much harder than steel and the horses do not like the lack of vibration dampening and often get sore feet.

Plastic shoes, while being extremely light, do not provide enough support and durability.

The Hind Feet

It is unusual to see anything other than steel shoes on the hind feet. Aluminum shoes worn behind offer no tangible benefits in making a hunter move better and are contra-indicated. On the hind feet, they wear out quickly and spread out, pulling the walls apart. Stick with a steel shoe with side clips on the hind feet.

Because of over-reach concerns, I prefer to square the toes of hind shoes, set them back to just ahead of the white line and round off the wall in front of the shoe. Many shoemakers now offer a hind shoe pattern with a blunted toe. Avoid shaping your hind shoes with a pointy toe. This causes the hind toes to run forward, causing interference problems with the front feet.

Hind shoes for jumping horses are fit a bit longer than for Western horses. This gives the horses a little more caudal support when they rock back on their hind feet, before jumping a fence. I also modify the lateral branch with a small lateral extension.

Again, do this in moderation, because too long a shoe will get pulled off in the stall or while the horse is being transported.

Studs

For clients that show in big venues, I routinely drill and tap all four shoes on my hunters so screw-in studs can be used. Studs are like shoes: They are a necessary evil. Slipping takes the heart right out of a good horse, making it unsure and too cautious. Horses are all different in their sure-footedness. I let riders do the final judging on what studs to use, because they can feel what the horse needs for a particular course or arena. I tell my clients that it is much better to have stud holes and not need them, than to need them and not have them.

Hunter Shoeing History

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These are some of the shoes and pads Red Renchin will use to enhance the performance of show horses. 1. A 2-degree frog support can help a horse with a flat or negative palmar angle. 2. Flat rim pads help horses with round feet and flat soles. 3. Full pads (Renchin prefers plastic) can help horses with sensitive soles. 4. Aluminum full-support shoes offer additional caudal support and also protect the frog. 5. Heart bar shoes are often used on jumpers to spread weight distribution. 6. Aluminum egg bar shoes are used when more caudal support is needed than an open-heel shoe will provide.

In 1969, I landed my first quality hunter and jumper account. Then the horses were dominantly Thoroughbreds, many off the racetrack. The shoe of choice was a heeled Diamond Bronco keg shoe, with toe clips in front and side clips behind. In the early ’70s, lighter shoes came in and we were using steel training plates in front and either training plates or heeled Diamond Saddlelites behind. In the mid ’70s, the first aluminum shoes appeared. The late Seamus Brady, to my knowledge, was the first farrier to put aluminum on jumpers.

These first shoes were plain 3/8-by-1-inch turned blanks, with no wear plate or nail holes. You had to punch your own holes and use a router to cut away the toe to rivet a steel wear piece in. About then, Thoro’Bred Racing Plate Company came out with a thick, heavy aluminum shoe in two sizes, small and large. These had built-in wear pieces, but no holes. Bob Peacock of Hamilton, Ohio, came out with the first modern looking aluminum shoe about that time.

In the early ’80s, we saw the first wave of the European Warmblood invasion and the need for a shoe that would work on them. Today, there are several very nice aluminum shoes on the market, in a full range of sizes, with beautiful clips, nail holes and finishes. You young guys don’t know how good you have it.

Jumpers

Show jumpers are my favorite equine athletes. They must be smart, super athletic, cool under pressure, have a good mind and want to please. Of the millions of horses in the world, probably no more than 30 or so can compete at the highest levels with a real chance of winning.

Because of the level of durability required, horses with poor conformation are weeded out. To get a horse jumping at the Grand Prix level usually requires a minimum of 5 years. It is very discouraging if a horse with all that training breaks down when it is its time to shine.

The vast majority of good jumpers will compete in plain steel, open-heeled shoes with either toe or quarter clips on the fronts and side clips on the hinds. The front shoes will have two stud holes at the heels, about 3/8 inches behind the end of the crease. The hind shoes will have two or three stud holes, two in the heels and the third in the lateral branch between the first and second nail holes.

Because of speed and the size of the fences, sore feet can be a big problem for jumpers. As with hunters, maintaining a solid, healthy, properly trimmed foot and combining it with a well-fit, proper shoe is the foundation to success.

To sum up, our job is to be part of a team to support our client and the horse. 
Clients rely on us not just to nail on shoes, but to be problem solvers. This means taking an active role in staying current on a horse’s changing physical issues. The “never ending show season,” makes this more difficult than ever.

Never in the history of shoeing have we had so many commercial options at our disposal. My advice is, “If whatever you are doing now is not working, change it.” Keep an open mind and be a thinking farrier.