It’s not often you hear about farriers being treated as celebrities, but one who received at least a degree of “star treatment” is part of what got Bob Lanners interested in a shoeing career 41 years ago.
Lanners grew up on a Saddlebred farm. His father was a trainer, so he was exposed to these horses early. He was also exposed to a farrier named Warren Fontaine — sort of.
“We had our regular shoer, but once or twice a year, Warren Fontaine would be scheduled to do some of our horses,” Lanners recalls. “Fontaine was a legend in the Saddlebred industry. And when he was scheduled to do our horses, Dad would roll out the red carpet.”
In the days leading up to Fontaine’s scheduled arrival, Lanners and his brother were given the job of making sure the barn was particularly clean, the stalls were mucked out and the horses were groomed and looking their best.
“And my dad told us we couldn’t be in the barn while Fontaine was working. He didn’t want us to bother him,” recalls Lanners. “But I think it was seeing how important my dad felt Warren’s work was that first got me interested in shoeing.”
Bob Lanners of Carol Stream, Ill., has been shoeing horses for more than 40 years. For most of that, he’s specialized in Saddlebreds and Hackney ponies for the show ring.
8:30 a.m. There’s no red carpet in sight as Lanners arrives at Rick Wallen Stables, just outside of Marshall, Wis., on a pleasant Tuesday in July. But it is a location where Lanners’ work might be appreciated as much as Fontaine’s was. Lanners makes the roughly 2-hour drive from his home in the western Chicago suburb of Carol Stream, Ill., almost every Tuesday. Wallen, a well-known Saddlebred trainer, breeder and judge, has been a client of Lanners for more than 20 years.
Wallen’s facility is at the outer edge of Lanners’ usual shoeing radius. He doesn’t mind the drive. Wallen is a good customer, with high-quality horses. He also knows that he’ll always get a full day of shoeing in at the barn.
Lanners pulls his GMC van parallel to the front of the barn. He’s been shoeing out of a van most of his career.
“I live in a small neighborhood and this is easier to get around,” he says of his vehicle. “I also like the fact that I can zip into and out of carwashes easily.”
8:37 a.m. The van is big enough to hold all the considerable tools and equipment necessary for shoeing Saddlebreds. While the interior appears packed at first glance, Lanners quickly demonstrates that he knows just where everything is located. He’s designed, built and modified the storage areas during his career. It complements the patterns and methods he’s developed over the years. He knows what works for him and he’s meticulous in placing his equipment just the way he wants it.
He pulls a long folding table from the van and sets it up along one wall of a barn aisle. Atop the table, he arranges containers of nails, pads, dental impression material and other items that he’ll be using throughout his day. This cuts down on trips back and forth from the horse to the van.
His forge is mounted on a swing-out arm at the back of the van, where he sets up his anvil stand, just outside the barn door.
It’s obvious from his set-up time and the amount of equipment he prepares that Saddlebred shoeing is a complicated undertaking.
“A Saddlebred farrier can make pretty good money,” Lanners says. “But you have to carry a lot of gear and equipment. It’s not the kind of shoeing you can do out of the trunk of your car. We need drivers, pad cutters and an assortment of drills. It’s all part and parcel of doing the job.”
8:42 a.m. As he sets up, Lanners is joined by Ross Krings, a 10-year veteran farrier from Oshkosh, Wis. Krings typically joins Lanners at this stop once a year during the busy show season. At the end of this particular day, he plans to go on to a barn in neighboring Iowa, where he’s scheduled to shoe tomorrow.
Krings’ own practice has become increasingly centered on Morgan horses. There are similarities between the two types, as both are frequently shod for shows with packages that include shoes, multiple pads and bands, but Morgan packages have strict weight and length limits, which Saddlebred shoers don’t have to deal with.
First up for the day are some horses owned by Matt Hebl, an equine veterinarian who runs an ambulatory practice out of his home in Brookfield, Wis. Hebl, as well as his wife, Janene, who trains and shows the horses, are on hand. Cardiff, a 24-year-old gelding is first on the list, and Lanners quickly gets to work.
8:52 a.m. Lanners removes the packages from the front feet as well as the hind shoes. Throughout the day, he’ll clean and trim the hooves and shape and fit shoes, nailing them in place, then turning them over to Krings to finish. Krings trims most of the hinds, but is always careful to check with Lanners if he has any questions about how a particular horse should be trimmed.
Taking care of the light, the height and the bite. Among the innovations Lanners has come up with are mounting a bracket on his shoeing box that can hold a flashlight, left. The beam from the LED bulbs can be directed to fall right on the foot he’s working on. He’s also mounted his stall jack on steel leg extensions, center, so that he can make shoe adjustments while standing erect. He also carries a grazing muzzle, right, for horses that are likely to bite or chew on his shirt or back.
There’s a reason for all that checking. Lanners estimates that 60% of the Saddlebreds he sees have some form of high-low syndrome.
“A lot of times, you’ll have one front upright and the other flat,” he says. “If I don’t stay on top of this one, he’ll get a dish in the left upright front and a bull nose on the right flat foot.”
Once he’s turned Cardiff over to Krings, Lanners takes a look at a year-old filly named Emily.
9:27 a.m. Emily isn’t in full training yet, but she is wearing shoes on her front feet because she’s already shown a tendency to crush her heels, resulting in a longer toe. She’s shod to give her some additional heel support. Lanners removes the shoes and trims up the feet, paying particular attention to the toe length, which he checks with dividers. He makes a quick trip to his anvil to reshape the shoes for a reset.
He nails the shoes in place, and then turns her over to Krings for clinching and finishing. Krings will also trim up the hinds. At this point, Emily is still barefoot behind, something that would be very unusual for Saddlebreds once they’ve started training and competing.
Lanners explains that a typical set- up for a young Saddlebred might be a 3/8-by-3/4 shoe with a pad to get the foot started. The shoe may or may not be a weighted one, depending on the particular horse.
“As the horse gets older, we may step that horse up in shoe weight, depending on what division he’s going to be showing in,” he says.
From his own shoeing, Lanners believes that it’s a myth that Saddlebreds need to be shod with a lot of extra weight and length.
“It will depend on the horse, but athletic horses don’t really need a lot. Most horses I have encountered don’t need to be shod heavily, with a lot of extra length and width, although toe-weight shoes are fairly common on the hinds.”
He says the same is true of hackney ponies, which he also shoes.
Lanners uses dividers to check the toe length on a Saddlebred. He’s careful about checking the toe lengths on these horses and also uses a hoof gauge to make sure hoof angles are in an acceptable range.
“Some of them may carry a little extra weight to get the motion that judges are looking for. But I haven’t come across ponies that I have to load up and put a bunch of extra weight on.”
10:13 a.m. The Hebls have also asked Lanners to take a look at a laminitic broodmare. The veterinarian explains that the mare had foundered about 5 weeks before, on a front foot that had a bad crack.
The mare is wearing Soft-Ride boots on both fronts and is obviously in pain. The Hebls explain that she is still nursing her most recent foal, and they fear she’ll probably have to be put down once the foal is weaned.
After removing the boots, Lanners examines the laminitic foot, taking a few seconds to clip away hair that is sticking straight out from the coronary band. This makes it easy to see distortion in the coronary band caused by the sinking of the coffin bone within the hoof capsule. It’s pronounced enough, Lanners and Krings agree that it “almost” looks like a keratoma.
“I think strangulation of the blood supply is the biggest problem,” Lanners says, after conducting an examination. “It doesn’t seem that she’s having too much pain in the sole itself. But the area where the coronary band is jammed up seems very painful.”
The veterinarian has a new foam insert for the Soft-Ride boot that he wants Lanners to use on the foundered foot. It’s softer in the toe than in the heels. Lanners removes an old pad from the boot that shows a lot of wear.
Lanners uses a rasp to adjust a Saddlebred’s toe.
Lanners does some very minor trimming on the feet to balance them as much as he can. He keeps the feet low and works quickly, particularly when he’s trimming the non-laminitic front foot, which forces the mare to place more of her weight on the painful one.
While Lanners works on the mare, Krings and Hebl go into the stall and do a light trim on the foal’s feet.
10:34 a.m. Once both mare and foal are trimmed up, Hebl turns them out into a nearby paddock. The foal quickly gallops across the paddock, while the mare follows much more slowly. She seems to be moving with at least a little less pain than she was before her feet were worked on, but it’s also obvious she’s still far from comfortable.
10:38 a.m. The next horse is one of Wallen’s. Lanners reports that the horse won a class at the Tanbark Cavalcade of Roses at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds the previous weekend. Lanners notes that this particular horse is another example of a Saddlebred with mismatched feet.
“He will grow much more heel on the right front, so I have to build up the left heel more,” he explains.
He’ll do that by adding pads to the package on that side. Lanners prefers to use leather pads next to the foot. He buys large pieces of leather and cuts out the size pad he’ll need.
“I think leather is a little better for the feet,” he explains. “It offers a little more shock absorption than plastic, a little more flexibility.”
He will combine leather pads with plastic wedge pads in his packages. He carries a supply of 2-, 3- and 4-degree wedge pads, and says he has shod horses that needed packages that included a pair of 4-degree wedge pads to get the angles needed.
Lanners nails a front on a Saddlebred that will be competing in the country pleasure class. Horses that compete in this class may not be shod with pads.
“It all depends on the particular horse,” he says.
This particular package was new the last time (Figure 1), so Lanners will reset it. The bands, which are attached to the shoes with roofing nails (Figure 2), are removed first, then the rest of the packages.
The shoe is removed from the pad package (Figure 3). Lanners cleans the shoe up and makes adjustments to it, using a power drill to redrill and check the pitch on the nail holes. He places the pad package in a vise (Figure 4) and pulls out some of the worn tacks that hold the pads together. He takes the pads from the vise, cleans them up a bit more using a grinder (Figure 5) and then drives new tacks (Figure 6) where they are needed. Finally, he reattaches the shoe (Figure 7) to the package.
He rechecks his trim, then prepares a mixture of dental impression material to place over the frog (Figure 8). Finally, he nails the shoe back in place (Figure 9). When both front packages have been replaced, he’ll reattach the bands (Figure 10).
10:47 a.m. “I’m really almost forming a prosthetic frog,” he explains as he mixes the dental impression material and shapes it. “Because of the package, we’re taking the horse’s foot away from the ground, so the dental impression material provides some frog pressure.”
11:02 a.m. The majority of shoes Lanners uses in his work are Anvil Brand blanks, or shoes that he makes himself. He does most of his forging, punching and other prep work at his home workshop.
“I’d rather not build shoes at the job unless I have to,” he explains. “That just takes too much time.”
Although his forging skills aren’t on full display today, Lanners stresses that they are an important part of working on Saddlebreds. The horses often have thin hoof walls, placing an increased emphasis on nail placement.
The pad on the left will replace the one of the right in a Soft-Ride boot being used on a laminitic horse.
“We’ve had a lot of rain and the feet are soft right now,” he explains as he nails the package back in place. “That means you have to be very careful on how you drive the nails. Particularly at this time of year, I have to rely on my band to make sure the packages stay on. I put a lot of faith in the band.”
He usually uses Cooper No. 10 or 12 nails to secure his shoes, needing the extra length to drive through packages. His bands, on the other hand, are attached to the package using roofing nails that he buys at hardware or home improvement stores.
Lanners has been shoeing long enough that he took and passed the Illinois licensing test, back when the state was one of the few that had such a requirement. He spent a lot of time honing his forging and other horseshoeing skills to pass the test and he believes that all that practice has paid off over the length of his career. He mentions that one of his mentors who helped him prepare for that test was Illinois shoer Tommy Wilkenson.
11:12 a.m. As he works, Lanners demonstrates a handy and easy way he’s come up with to help him better see a foot in dim barn aisles. He’s attached a small, but powerful flashlight to the handle of his wheeled shoeing box. The mount is equipped with swivels that allow the beam from the bright LED bulbs to be adjusted so that it falls on the foot as Lanners works. It’s an effective and space-saving alternative to larger lights some farriers use and it’s also inexpensive.
“I just make sure I’ve got extra batteries,” Lanners says with a chuckle.
The Illinois farrier also has come up with a couple of other tool innovations. He keeps a standard stall jack near the horse, as many farriers do. However, he’s mounted the stall jack on steel leg extensions. This modification gives him the convenience of being able to make quick shoe adjustments without going all the way back to his anvil stand, but the leg extensions allow Lanners to do so while standing erect, giving his back a rest.
He also carries a grazing muzzle, which he’ll put on horses that have a tendency to nip at or otherwise bother him while he works.
11:21 a.m. While most Saddlebreds will be shod with packages in front and toe weight shoes behind, Lanners says it’s vital for a Saddlebred farrier to know what classes and competitions a particular horse is used in. Saddlebreds compete in five divisions, some of which require a horse to perform in five gaits, while others require three. Some classes also place more emphasis on animation, while others stress speed. This requires subtle differences in how the horses are shod. (See “Saddlebreds In The Show Ring,” on Page 14.)
The coffin bone has been sinking within the hoof capsule of this laminitic broodmare. Note the distortion of the coronary band.
Lanners finds that working with Saddlebreds in the country pleasure class presents a particular challenge.
“The country pleasure class is the one place where you can’t use pads in these competitions,” he says. “Typically, these are older horses and ironically they’re the ones that probably really need pads, because as they age, they’re more likely to develop problems that pads would help. I think I can speak for a lot of farriers in the industry who don’t care for that. You want to do what’s best for the horse. But even though you can’t use pads, the judges are still looking for that pronounced animation, and there’s only so much you can do with swelled-heel shoes and trimming.
“If you could use pads, you wouldn’t have someone trying to hang some 3-pound shoes on a horse this size, with no shock absorption.”
Lanners says that one of the real keys is having a trainer who understands what the horses need, such as Wallen, the owner and trainer at this barn.
“None of Rick’s horses carry a whole bunch of weight and apparatus compared to other places,” he says. “They don’t need it. He gets them set up right and gets their mouths right.”
Competing Saddlebreds, Lanners explains, are known for the high, arching necks and their high-stepping animated gaits. Proper collection is needed for some of the gaits, while little or no collection is required for others. He says good trainers develop horses with “soft” mouths that carry their heads properly and respond to slight touches to the snaffle and curb bits that are used in the discipline. Developing horses that display the movement that judges are looking for is the job of breeders and trainers. A farrier can, at best, enhance gaits a little.
Lanners clips away hair from the coronary
“If you have a horse that’s just naturally stiff and jerky, there’s not a shoe in my truck that’s going to fix that,” Lanners says.
11:23 a.m. Lanners holds up a hind shoe that he’s just removed from this horse, and points out worn areas. He thinks that hind shoes wearing and needing to be replaced earlier than might be expected can actually be a good sign.
“That tells me that the hind end is engaged the way it should be, plain and simple,” he says. “Saddlebreds are supposed to be pushing off the back end, not pulling through with the front.”
11:55 a.m. Lanners mentions that he rarely takes a lunch break — something Krings gives him some good-natured ribbing about. He is careful to stay hydrated and keeps a supply of light snacks on hand.
“As I’ve got older, I found if I stopped for a big lunch, I wouldn’t feel as good when I went back to work.”
12:22 p.m. For the most part, Lanners will trim hinds “a hair shorter” than fronts, but he emphasized that is dictated by the horse and what the horse does. It’s figuring out the right trim and shoeing package for a particular horse that Lanners says is the biggest challenge to shoeing Saddlebreds, but he also finds it’s one of the most rewarding aspects.
“You’re not doing the same thing day after day,” he says. “This is a kind of shoeing where you can use your imagination and your creativity. There is no black-and-white science to this, and there are different combinations of shoes and pads that can help get the kind of motion you’re looking for in these horses.”
12:57 p.m. Lanners moves on to another Saddlebred, as Krings takes over finishing the fronts and shoeing the hinds on the previous one. Lanners is religious about checking toe lengths with dividers and angles with a hoof gauge, but he says that he uses the hoof gauge more as a broad guide, rather than trying for a specific angle. The Illinois farrier is not trying to match pairs, but rather to make sure that he’s being consistent.
Lanners uses a hoof knife to try and relieve some of the pressure on the coronary band.
“It’s more of a check than anything,” he says. “Particularly since most of these horses have that high-low problem.”
1:15 a.m. Lanners clips quite a few of his shoes. Generally, he’ll use toe clips on his front packages and quarter clips on hinds, but again, this is dependent on the needs of particular horses. He also pays close attention to supporting the heels with his shoes.
“I want steel back there for support and protection,” he emphasizes.
2:45 p.m. Lanners is going to wrap up his day by taking a look at a young filly owned by Douglas Langer, an equine veterinarian from Wisconsin Equine Clinic and Hospital, in Oconomowoc, Wis. The filly toes out on the left front in a pronounced manner. The veterinarian and farrier agree that this is partly a matter of conformation — she’s one of those horses described as “having both fronts coming out of the same hole” — and possibly due to a failure to address the issue when the horse was a foal.
Neither the veterinarian nor the farrier was involved with the horse’s care at that time. Now they’re in a situation where they know they can’t “fix” the problem, but Langer would like to do something to prevent the toeing out from getting worse.
After looking over the filly, Lanners and Krings decide to shoe the horse, lowering the medial heel on the affected foot and rolling the lateral toe.
Working together, Lanners and Krings shoe the filly. It’s not the easiest job, as the horse hasn’t been shod before. Although Langer does tranquilize the horse, she’s still a bit of a handful. But the job is done fairly quickly. Now it will just be a matter of seeing whether the shoeing has the desired effect over the next few weeks.
Lanners and Ross Krings examine the laminitic foot of a broodmare.
When possible, Lanners says he would prefer to limit his workday to doing four Saddlebreds.
“That’s a good number,” he explains. “Generally, with these horses, you’re shoeing or resetting all four feet, and the packages also involve more work than standard shoeing.”
When he’s working with someone, he’ll do more than four horses and, as is true of many farriers, will add horses as needed for good customers, particularly during the busy show season.
The summer months are the busiest ones in the Saddlebred world, and the most challenging for farriers.
“Just as an example, we have three big shows in June and a lot of these horses will be going to at least two of them and maybe all three. The horses typically will come back from the shows on a Monday and you’ll have a window of 2 days before they leave for the next one. You need to get in for regular appointments, plus any other things that crop up.”
It’s all part of the challenge of providing hoof care for Saddlebred show horses. And that’s a challenge that Lanners remains happy he took up.
“This kind of shoeing has been very good to me,” he says. “And it’s not just the financial rewards. When horses that you work on win at big shows and start showing up on the covers of some of these magazines, it’s a great feeling. It really is.”
Lanners works on a yearling filly in the foreground, while Krings finishes up the shoes on a Saddlebred behind him.