It’s been 53 years since Ed Warrington started shoeing Standardbred racehorses. And he says determining the best way to balance these horses is just as important today as it was back then.

The Townsend, Del., shoer grew up in his father’s livestock auction business. In the late 1950s, the family converted the sale barn into an 80-stall training center and built a half-mile track for training Standardbreds.

“Standardbreds were big in the area at that time and still are,” says Warrington. “I did the shoeing at our training center along with another dozen training centers within a hour’s drive.

“I kept busy shoeing Standardbreds along with some backyard horses, Pony Club horses and 3-day horses.”

Warrington also shod horses at 10 pari-mutuel Standardbred tracks located within a 2-hour drive of home.

“When I was younger, I did most of my shoeing in the shops at these racetracks,” he says. “It was a big benefit, as I could drive to work every morning, open the shop door and go right to work. I didn’t have to unload the truck every day to start work and my shoeing schedule was normally set 2 or 3 days in advance.

“Another advantage to working in the shop was that most tracks stabled 1,000 to 1,200 horses. They required one shop for every 100 horses, so there were always 10 to 15 horseshoers working at each track. We would stay at each track for about 60 days and then move to another track.”

Changing Times

With fewer tracks today, most Standardbreds are shipped in for the day’s races. So Warrington and other Standardbred shoers have moved from the track shops back to working out of their trucks.

Warrington says footcare problems haven’t changed over the years. One concern is having a colt that toes out slightly, which means it’s going to wing out as it moves.

“Standardbred people don’t want a horse to wing out and try to eliminate the problem,” says Warrington. “Many of the concerns we see are caused by trainers who think they have a good idea and ask farriers to do it.”

As an example, the feet of most pacers are lowered on the outside of their front feet and on the inside of the hind feet. Many trainers see this as a way to eliminate interference concerns.

“This has gotten way out of hand,” says Warrington. “It’s a Standardbred tradition and not a good one.”

While imbalance can certainly lead to lameness concerns, Warrington says it can also lead to interference problems. Over the years, this concern has led to the use of many unique shoes, such as a side-weighted, cross-firing shoe with a bar.

“Because we have a lot of cross-firing problems with Standardbreds, we add a diamond toe or cross-firing toe,” he says. “It doesn’t stop the cross firing, but keeps the horse from tearing up the inside quarters.

“Cross-firing problems are usually caused by a foot that has been lowered so much on the inside that it’s distorted. With a big flare to the outside, the horse leans over to the inside. When the foot leaves the ground, it’s automatically headed toward the opposite front foot.

“In this situation, I use my nippers to trim off the outside of the foot in order to bring the foot back under the leg. I’ll usually put a pair of plain shoes on and throw away the fancy cross-firing shoes.”

Balance Worries

Another concern is with horses that are short-shod due to poor mediolateral balance. This concern is commonly defined as having a long toe or underrun heel.

Warrington says some shoers and trainers don’t fully understand the importance of the foot’s reference and balance points. “The old-time theories and many so-called corrective theories have pretty much become fact on the racetrack,” he says.

One tool Warrington doesn’t like to use is a hoof gauge. “When trainers send a horse to the blacksmith shop, many want numbers,” he says.

“They may request a hoof with a 3.5-inch toe at a 50-degree angle. They’ll bring a horse to the shop, place it in the cross-ties and hand you a card that tells you how long each toe is supposed to be and what kind of hoof angle is needed. They expect you to match those numbers when trimming and shoeing the foot.”

Warrington hardly ever uses a hoof gauge. “But on a Standardbred track, folks don’t think you know how to shoe a horse if they don’t see a hoof gauge hanging on your shoebox,” he says. “Yet on many Thoroughbred tracks, they’ll wonder what you’re doing if you use a hoof gauge on every foot.”

Warrington says the key is to properly balance the foot. “If the trainer wants to know the numbers after the foot is balanced, I’ll measure the hoof and angle and write down the numbers for him,” he says. “I don’t care what horses do for a living — they’ve got to be balanced.”

Egg Bars Work

While egg bar shoes aren’t popular with all farriers, Warrington uses many of these shoes. He relies on the shoes to pull a long toe back in order to get a horse’s foot under him and to eliminate short-shod concerns.

“An egg bar provides the extra length often needed to make a horse comfortable and get more distance behind the foot,” he says. “I’ve never had a problem with egg bar or straight bar shoes as long as they are fit properly and not left on too long.”

Warrington recognizes that egg bars are not a cure-all for everything, but finds they can help keep a foot properly balanced.

“When I’m talking about balance, I’m talking about keeping a horse’s foot under his leg so the horse is able to keep his leg under his body,” he says. “When I pick a horse’s foot up, I want to see the shoe worn evenly all the way around. I want to see a symmetrical foot without the hairline being driven up on the hoof.”

Track Surfaces Matter

Warrington says 70% of the pacers he works with today wear outer rim aluminum shoes on their front feet. When these shoes are used in back, he normally grinds some material out of the toe area since a pacer needs to get its foot into the ground on a hard surfaced track.

“The reason we went to this shoe was because most of today’s tracks have a stone dust surface rather than the nice clay and dirt surface we used to race on,” he says. “Today’s surfaces are never consistent unless you have an exceptionally good track maintenance man.”

Warrington says it’s difficult to keep a nice, consistent racetrack and horses running effectively without modifying swedge shoes. So he adds Borium on the swedge shoes or uses a level grip aluminum shoe to increase traction.

Warrington is always looking for new ways to shoe Standardbreds more effectively.

“In over 50 years of shoeing, I’m still trying to figure out this balance thing and get everybody on the same page for the betterment of the horse,” he says.