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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dressage, Fuego-Style: It's What's Underneath That Counts as Euro Rocker Shoes Score for Spain

Update: The horseshoe explained in this article is the subject of an update post published 18 February 2012 with a dressage horse in California. Be sure to click on this link after you read this original story: ON THE (Dressage) CASE: Euro Rock ‘n Roll Horseshoe Evolves with Vet-Farrier Collaboration, California Style

Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz, Fuego de Cardenas
Fuego XII, now known as Fuego de Cardenas, is one of the top ten FEI dressage horses in the world, and probably the most successful FEI dressage horse in Spanish history. Spanish horses are usually short-backed and great at piaffe but lack the extension of the northern European warmbloods. But the Spaniards are working on that...(Mrs. Flax photo)

Every champion seems to have a special shoe.
This horse wears an open-frog rock 'n roll.
When the great Spanish dressage horse enters the arena at an FEI musical freestyle event, you know who it is. You hear that staccato Spanish flamenco music and he starts piaffing in perfect time.

But underneath, that horse is pure rock n roll.

Although someone suggested that, when it came time for The Hoof Blog to show his shoes, the soundtrack should change to the theme from Twilight Zone.

In the past, we’ve shared the news that the USA’s top dressage horse, Ravel, ridden by California’s Steffen Peters, won the FEI World Cup in high-tech plastic Epona shoes. And that when triple-world champion Totilas left The Netherlands, his new German management team switched his minimalist steel Rob Renirie open-heeled shoes for heart bars.

Like all FEI dressage horses, Fuego is wrapped and wears bell boots except when he is the ring. Who'd ever know what's under those bell boots? (Closeup of top image, by Mrs Flax)

At the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky last year, it wasn’t only the Dutch superhorse Totilas who captivated the audience. No one was counting on the big gray Spanish PRE stallion Fuego XII (now known as Fuego de Cardenas). He and his rider, Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz, had the crowd roaring and clapping. Their music was contagious.

The rider played to the crowd and showboated with some one-handed changes down the center line, and the horse just had that look, even if his movements weren’t as fluidly extravagant as Totilas or as precisionist as the USA’s Ravel. (Watch Fuego's WEG freestyle video here.)

A star was born. And back home in Spain, a superstar was confirmed.

Fuego at the start of the Alltech 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games. No one seemed to notice his unusual shoes except journalist Erin Ryder of Kentucky Equine Research. Luckily, she thought they were unusual enough to record. (photo courtesy of Erin Ryder)

That could be the end of the story right there, except that the horse had a secret weapon. His hooves were shod with a special shoe rarely seen in the USA. It was featured in an article a few years ago in Hoofcare & Lameness, so dust off your back issues and re-read Rock n Roll Flying Saucers by Hans Castelijns.

Luckily for us, our friend Erin Ryder of Kentucky Equine Research happened to snap a couple of photos of Fuego’s feet when his bell boots were off during the dressage trot-up inspection.

But once the Games were over, attempts to contact the rider and talk about the shoes weren't successful. It’s not good form to expose a horse’s feet after the fact, since he might have been wearing the shoes only for that competition. So the story of Fuego’s fancy feet languished in the Hoof Blog incubator for a year.

Call it a cooling-off period.

How did Erin Ryder happen to notice that Fuego's shoes were different? The trot-up for the veterinary inspection is conducted on a hard surface, not a soft deformable footing. When Fuego stands on a hard surface, it's obvious that he's bearing weight somewhere other than his hoof walls. (Photo courtesy of Erin Ryder)
Meanwhile, Fuego has continued to compete on the world stage and has continued to make top-ten finishes. In June, he won the CDI4* Grand Prix at Wiesbaden in Germany and his performance at the FEI European Championships earned Spain a place at the London 2012 Olympics.

Enter a raft of new photos and videos of Fuego and evidence that he is still wearing those crazy shoes.

Fuego’s time had come. And maybe those shoes weren't so crazy after all.

I decided to approach the story from the angle of the shoes and updating the article rather than the famous horse, so I contacted the author, Italian vet/farrier Hans Castelijns.

A closed-heel 3-D rock n roll shoe.
(© Hans Castelijns photo)
I don’t usually call people overseas without setting up an appointment first by email, but this was an exception. I fired up Skype and dialed his cell phone number. To my embarrassment, he answered and said that he was sorry he couldn’t speak with me, he was traveling. He was in the beautiful city of Seville, Spain, as a matter of fact, and enjoying a fabulous dinner. Could he speak with me another time?

Of course. Seville. What a coincidence that I was calling an Italian vet about a Spanish horse and he was in Spain.

It turned out that he wasn’t just on holiday in Spain; he was working there. Shoeing a horse. And the horse was Fuego.

Cue the Twilight Zone theme. What are the chances of that?

Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz of Spain riding Fuego XII competes in the Grand Prix Special Dressage Competition at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky September 29, 2010. REUTERS/Caren Firouz (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT EQUESTRIANISM)

As it turns out, Hans Castelijns has been shoeing the big gray horse for almost three years.

Hans Castelijns, DVM, Farrier
(Fran Jurga/Hoofcare archive)
He explained the shoe this way: "Contrary to what is known as the (Ric Redden) "Rock'n Roll" shoe in the U.S., these (European rock 'n roll) shoes do not only work in the sagittal plane (toe to heel), but also in the latero-medial sense.

"They are more appropriately classified as belonging to the "full rolling motion" family of shoes: They have a large ground surface, which is, however, concentrated under the middle of the foot, away from the outer edges of the hoof.

"The same concept exists at least since the Middle Ages and is also explained in the "old" (edition of) Adams Lameness in Horses. The novelty is perhaps only in the use of lightweight aluminum alloys."

A different type of full rolling motion shoe in aluminum from the case photos of Michael Wildenstein, probably an Equi+. Notice the dome effect. (© Hoofcare Publishing and Michael Wildenstein)

Up to now, the only place in America I have seen the Euro rock n roll shoes is hanging on the wall at the Rood and Riddle Podiatry Center and in Michael Wildenstein’s arsenal at Cornell vet school. This is in spite of Hans Castelijns' ambitious worldwide lecture schedule and evangelical enthusiasm for the concept of a full rolling motion of performance horses that need some help. He does a very good job of explaining the mechanical principles of the shoe, but the takers are few.

Hans continues, "As the competition arenas become stiffer (less penetrable) due to the use of geotextile-type surfaces, the large amount of sideways work dressage horses perform (pirouette, small circles, shoulder-in etc.) can, in selected cases, be facilitated by the use of these shoes.

"Reining arenas are not very deep, either (as they have to enable sliding stops) and some reiners at the top level also benefit from these shoes. This seems logical as these horses also have to excel at lateral movements, like the spin. Italy was very successful at the European championships in Austria (shod this way)."

Normal shoe (left) vs rock n roll for lateral work
But the shoe looks like a flying saucer. What it does is take the horse's directional gear box out of the way of the external hoof wall and place it squarely under the horse's center of weightbearing.

Illustration at left courtesy of Dr. Hans Castelijns.

In doing so, it creates a pivot under the foot. It's been touted as being very kind to a horse with any type of ringbone issues, but you can also see that the plate-like platform fitted to the full foot, along with the aluminum-dense inner pivot shoe, keep the hoof wall out of first-impact with the footing in a dressage arena. Many horses might take very kindly to that change.

Where the horseshoe meets the footing: I love this display of horseshoes and footing samples used to explain why and how horseshoes function differently on, for instance, soft but firm (synthetic) vs soft and yielding (sand) arenas. Features that enhance a shoe for one surface may be a liability on another. Horse foot shape (especially width) and pastern length and angle also affect how the foot interacts with different surfaces. This is an area deserving much, much more study. (Note Euro rock 'n roll shoe at far right, in front of case.) Photo courtesy of Germany's Loic Entwistle.

Note: there is a shoe design in the United States, also called a rock 'n roll shoe, but it is based on different mechanics and was popularized by Dr. Ric Redden. The European rock 'n roll shoe is made in Italy by a company called Colleoni.

The end result: Here's Fuego doing a special performance in the SICAM arena this winter. He's the most popular horse in Spain right now, with good reason. At the otherwise-staid freestyle during the World Equestrian Games, no one was expecting one-tempi changes on a left-handed circle and a dare-devil one-handed one-tempi parade up the center line. Juanma and Fuego woke up the audience, and perhaps even woke up the sport of dressage a little bit.

What part of his success is owed to his shoes? Who knows, but he has been amazingly consistent in his scoring and persistent in his appearances at major events. Something is keeping this horse going strong. The Spaniards dare to be different in the performance of the required movements and carry that difference all the way down to the horse's hooves.

And all the way to bringing in someone who will dare to try things that might help a horse get around the arena with less effort, less stress on his joints and soft tissue, and more points on the scoreboard.

Thanks, as always, to Dr Hans Castelijns for making us think, and for testing and proving his theories with good work. He could easily have let it be known he was behind this horse but he modestly let me figure it out. I have a feeling he knew I would line up the dots, sooner or later. I'm just sorry it was so much later.

Dare to be different, readers and friends. No one's ever made fun of Totilas, Ravel and Fuego because they are amazed that such supremely talented horses would be shod differently--whether it was Totilas' minimalism at WEG or his heart-bars this spring or Fuego and Ravel's eclectic choice of shoewear. It worked for them. Maybe it's true that there an ideal shoe and an ideal trim for every horse; the trick is to find it and fine tune it and let the horse's soundness reward your independent thinking.


Castelijns, Hans: Flying saucers and rock n' roll: Full rolling motion shoes in equine podiatry: Hoofcare + Lameness 78.

Castelijns, Hans: Shoeing for Palmar Hoof Pain (and many other papers) at

Caudron et al: Radiological assessment of the effects of a full rolling motion shoe during asymmetrical bearing: Equine Veterinary Journal Suppl. 23 (1997)

Russell, William; Scientific Horseshoeing, various editions, discusses the benefits of rolling motion shoes for conformational and lameness compensation.

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Wendy said...

Wow! Funky shoes! I love reading your blog and learning about new things like this. I find it fascinating. Plus I LOVE Fuego!!

Fran Jurga said...

Hi Wendy, thanks for your comment! It is very interesting, isn't it? These horses are always in footing or a stall, so the shoeing is designed for that. It looks really strange, I know.
I was so taken by that horse at WEG and yet so many people still don't seem to know who he is. Maybe his shoes will make him famous!

All the best,

Anonymous said...

Jorge Said:
"Riding is the sublimation of the art through the love" Nuno Oliveira.
Courage, passion and study is the way to the triumph.
Simply Wonderfull,thanks to H.H.C.E.
Muito Obrigado dos Mestres Irmaos Castelijs.Mister Cid.

Sarah S. said...

I do the Natural Barefoot Trim on my mare and I have to say that for someone who is generally speaking not the biggest fan modern horseshoeing, this shoe makes a LOT of sense. It actually looks like it may mimic what the barefoot trim does in many ways: taking the weight off the walls and putting the pressure back where it belongs, spread across the sole and frog! I can imagine that this shoe would help keep a horse's coffin bones up where they belong, away from the bottom of the hoof capsule. While barefoot is always the ideal (nothing beats a solid sole callus!) this looks like it might be a good option for horse in heavy competition. :)

Anonymous said...

You don't have to show this on your blog,I am sure you won't. after all any comments other that what you think is right would be bad publicity, but I can't imagine how that can possibly simulate a barefoot trim, I have worn those rocker tennis shoes & after 2 hours my hips hurt so bad I could \n't even sit! That horse does not look like he is comfortable or having fun, he looks like he is just trying to please. I feel for him.

Anonymous said...

hmm Yak! Barefoot is best.. BUT then you need to keep the horse in an environment which is best for him/her and his hooves.. not your convenience. Mine are all barefoot and yes it's more work than keeping them nice and clean in a stable, but they are soo much happier being out 24/7.

I feel here, we are going down the route like medicine does.. instead of treating the cause, we just keep treating symptons.. e.g. You take a tablet for one ailment.. that tablet has a side effect, so you take another to combat that, which causes another side effect.. etc etc.. Instead of treating the reason why you were taking the tablet in the first place.

We just come up with more and more bizarre 'things' to put on our horses.. when so much can be done without it all and keeping things, including the horse-husbandry side of it, as natural and holistically beneficially to our buddies as possible.

Anonymous said...

hmm Yak! Barefoot is best.. BUT then you need to keep the horse in an environment which is best for him/her and his hooves.. not your convenience. Mine are all barefoot and yes it's more work than keeping them nice and clean in a stable, but they are soo much happier being out 24/7.

I feel here, we are going down the route like medicine does.. instead of treating the cause, we just keep treating symptons.. e.g. You take a tablet for one ailment.. that tablet has a side effect, so you take another to combat that, which causes another side effect.. etc etc.. Instead of treating the reason why you were taking the tablet in the first place.

We just come up with more and more bizarre 'things' to put on our horses.. when so much can be done without it all and keeping things, including the horse-husbandry side of it, as natural and holistically beneficially to our buddies as possible.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating article - thank you!
I'm in agreement of sorts with the school that barefoot is best, however these top level horses are something else. When you look at the stability it gives the foot in the lateral plane it speaks volumes. Much better support and it just seems to make sense!
I guess I agree with the closing sentiments that there's a shoe to fit every horse - you've just got to find it.

rrivarr said...

Just saw this! I, too, was absolutely captivated by Fuego at the WEG and it's quite interesting about his shoes. He and his rider certainly do elevate the freestyle to art based on mutual love. Thanks for posting.

Ven said...

Just to comment about 'rocker shoes' for people hurting so bad...let me tell you a story about a human that makes this type of shoe make sense...

I was born clubfooted in both feet. Was in casts until I was a year old. My ankles are stiff, and when my foot is at rest, it tends to roll in. Six years active duty in the Army did NOT help, and I ended up with severe tendonitis in my -hips- of all places. Big stiff combat boots were the most comfortable, but were heavy and a bit clunky for a five foot one female.

I bought the exercise sneakers, hoping that they were light enough and yet a sturdy enough base to keep my feet from rolling in.

The rounded heel HURT. Oh, god, it hurt for weeks. But I put up with it, and eventually my muscles got used to the new position, and my hip issues disappeared. The stiffness of my ankles makes me heel-strike rather heavily, but with the rounded back of the shoe, my foot rolls more naturally instead of thumping down. The thick, yet reasonably yielding sole of the shoe gave me a great deal of balance, and I also no longer require inserts for my arches. This pair of shoes has lasted almost two years, and is the only pair of sneakers yet that doesn't conform to my foot issues--it makes my feet conform to it, for a more natural stance.

This is a lot of blabber just for this point: those shoes may not be for everyone, and may not even do what they claim (toning the legs or whatever, I haven't noticed much), but they have helped ME immensely with foot and leg issues.

With all the variety in the -human- foot, I cannot imagine horses to be any less. Time will tell for Fuego and other horses that use these shoes if they are worthwhile or not. There might even be, as someone pointed out above, therapeutic benefits for what is 'merely' a dressage shoe. said...

Fabulously informative discussion! Thanks for this - I learned so much - and can'r wait for Fuego's next performance now I've snuck a peak under his hood so to speak.

Heidi Meyer said...

If you look beyond the shoe, at the shape of the hoof, the hairline, the cartilages, the contracted heels, and the twist in the hoof capsule (especially behind) as he weights his hoof....all show that the inner stress on this guy's feet are eventually going to make something give somewhere. Regardless of how marvelous a contraption we attach to a hoof, the basic mechanics of this live structure can only be modified for so long without affecting the horse. For these athletes to be competing on what is supposed to be the best surfaces, and receiving the best in care - which can be a matter of opinion(supplementation, matted stalls, minimal turnout)the fact that he needs this apparatus to move "sound" leaves a lot to question

Fran Jurga said...

In response to the previous comment by Heidi Meyer, stating "the fact that he needs this apparatus to move "sound" leaves a lot to question "

Heidi, please read the article again. I do not see any reference that he needs this shoe to be sound. I have not seen anything that says this horse was unsound with a different shoe.

You are of course entitled to your opinion but the vet DID NOT say that the horse was not sound. His use of the shoe was to be kinder to the horse.

I believe he has done that because it is now three years later and the horse competed at the Olympics in the fall and may well be back this year to compete again.

Also, remember that in FEI competition and in most European countries at any level, absolutely no medication is allowed, unlike the USA, and that the horses have to be inspected by multiple veterinarians for signs of lameness before they are allowed to compete.

I hope you get to meet Dr Castilijns some day. He is delightful, generous and quite happy to discuss how and why he does what he does for horses.

Heidi Meyer said...

Thank you Fran, and I do continue to monitor/watch all the "new" applications that are coming out in droves now that more attention is given to actual biomechanics.
My point was, if this horse doesn't need the shoes to be sound, then why? The evals done by the various vets/farriers are of a horse shod. So if the shoes are off (and in my opinion, this is really the only way to find out if a horse is truly sound or healthy hoof/body) and if he moves soundly then, why the shoe? Anyone with basic knowledge of hoof form/function can tell that there is distortion. We also know that there are a very few percentage of horses that conformation wise are "perfect" and many that are not, perform sound without any issue. I guess my biggest point in responding was to the whole concept of "sound" and what that means to the vast majority and what it means to me and other professionals in the field that take the whole horse into consideration. You basically hit the nail on the head (no pun intended) by stating that supposedly the horse was sound without shoes. So again, I say.....why add the shoe? In the horse world, many times apparatus that are used become "the" new thing and are applied without truly analysing what should be done, or in many cases, realize that the animal in question should not be asked to do XYZ because his conformation simple doesn't support it. I guess I would need to see this horse move unshod to make a final determination IMO as to whether he is truly sound. It's like asking your kid to perform in a cast....and if he can't, then is your child really sound/healed?

Tami Strom said...

After seeing the damage done by shoes, (I'm a barefoot trimmer), I'm excited (wishful thinking?) for a day when we honor the horse and prepare him for the job he's going to do and then allow him to do it in his natural form. In almost every discipline we have come up with some way to "enhance" performance through artificial means. If we raced horses after they were mature,and then allowed them to have healthy natural feet, I believe we wouldn't be seeing all the catastrophic injuries that we are. If TWH were judged based on their natural movements, on healthy balanced feet, and THAT is what we rewarded with ribbons and prizes, there would be no need for soring, or other painful methods that are being used to make them win. If we didn't insist on asking things of horses that they're not naturally capable of doing,and we took the time to prepare them, we would have happier, healthier horses, and they would be usable for a lot longer. It would benefit everyone in the long run.

Judi said...

I agree totally with Tami. These shoes are horrendous horrible hurtful. Please do not praise such contraptions.