Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Big Brown: The Most Famous Feet in Derby History!

Big Brown's left front foot has a raceplate glued on with a PMMA epoxy type adhesive that is custom selected. The specs used are Lord 403 with a #19 accelerator. You can see a copper "clip" embedded in the glue; it is riveted to the shoe and is used only as a receptor for additional glue. The horse had wall separations on both front feet that required repair.

Racing fans, rejoice! I have finally obtained actual close-up photos of the feet of Kentucky Derby favorite Big Brown. The following photos were taken on or about April 11, 2008, when the horse's feet were re-glued and re-shod by farrier and hoof repair expert Tom Curl of Vero Beach, who has been working on the colt since he shipped to Florida this winter.

I know there has been some confusion and misinformation in the press so to clarify: the colt was originally worked on by Ian McKinlay in New York, and the horse benefited from his new Yasha shoe technology and heel resection technique. Ian has been supplying photos and videos of the technique and system. But the horse subsequently was worked on by Tom Curl, an associate of Ian's. Tom did the work on the second foot.

What you see is a collaborative effort of two experts using a new technology that has been helping a lot of horses over the past few months.

This is the bottom of the foot, showing the placement of the clips. The shoe has a rubber-like gasket rim pad on the inside that is half the web of the shoe. Adhesive is under the other half of the web. This is a unique modification of the "direct glue" technique used by farriers.

This foot shows the repair situation on the inside heel of the first foot, which was done by McKinlay in New York. You can see that the new heel wall is growing down.

Here's the foot worked on in Florida by Curl, showing the heel repair on the right side of the photo. The glue on the left side is just for reinforcing the shoe.

Here are both of Big Brown's feet as he looked on April 11.

Now for an update: Tom Curl told me today that he checked Big Brown's feet the day he left Florida and headed to Churchill Downs. He watched the horse gallop with trainer Rick Dutrow.

Tom said that he used more glue than McKinlay because he knows the Derby will fall three weeks after the horse was done, and the glue can be stressed over time, so he was pro-active.

Here's Tom Curl checking out Big Brown's hind feet; he said that they are turndowns (bent heels for traction) appropriate for Churchill Downs. Read more about Tom Curl and Big Brown in an article in today's Treasure Coast Palm (Florida) newspaper.


~The South Dakota Cowgirl~ said...

I am just finally thankful to see a racehorse with a decent hoof angle! Seemed all the rage for years to let their toes run out and their heels collapse, but Big Brown looks to be in good shape. Modern Technology is genius!

Anonymous said...

Too bad the medial/lateral balance is off. I thought this was done by an "expert" farrier.

frankengelding said...

Gee, and to think he's going to be a stud. That way his offspring can inherit his crappy feet.

Fran Jurga said...

Hi "Anonymous",

I am not sure what you are referring to as medial-lateral imbalance, on which foot or by what criterion?

I agree that it appears the hairline is not parallel to the ground but that is a shortcut way to evaluate M-L balance and can often be erroneous.

And as a magazine publisher, I can tell you that people do not always take photos on level surfaces and that photos can be askew.

I am very cautious about jumping to m-l conclusions based on hairlines.

I also have never seen this horse stand up straight to know what his hairlines really look like.

Perhaps you have been around Big Brown and have insider information, in which case, please share!

Ian and Tom were hired to repair the heel blowouts, and I am sure that they did the best they could with the hoof balance under the parameters they had and the shoes that were needed.

After all, there are no "before" photos for comparison!

I am sure that if there had been issues when the horse was walked, that adjustments would have been made. I also know that Tom went to watch the horse gallop to make sure he was moving ok over his feet, and did not feel that adjustments were needed before the hosre shipped to Kentucky.

I hesitated about showing those photos because I was concerned about the possibility someone would make a snap judgment about hoof imbalance. It took a week for someone to take a shot.

Hopefully, BB will get expert hoof balancing help when he gets to the breeding farm. He is a young horse and will be able to benefit from remedial farriery to support whatever issues his front legs and hooves may have.

But never having met Big Brown or examined his feet and legs, I couldn't tell you what, if any, weightbearing issues he has beyond his current injuries.

Fran Jurga said...

Hi Frankengelding--It seems to be how it goes, remember Unbridled's Song Derby feet saga? And AP Indy, one of today's most popular sires, was unable to start in the Derby because of his foot problems. People breed for market prices, not for durability. I have high hopes for the Jockey Club's durability index of stallions and hope it will be completed soon, regardless of who gets black marks!

Unknown said...

Wow - thank you for posting this information and the pictures.

I am frequently amazed at how far veterinary and farrier advances have come in recent years. Not too long ago, BB's feet would have had few (if any) true options to allow for healthy hoofwall repair in a sterile manner. I applaud these farriers efforts and success.

I have one major concern in the case of Big Brown and other horses that may follow: Given an option to quickly get a horse back into full competition when he should be allowed a more moderate schedule of exercise during the time of healing, many owners will choose to abuse this option (and subsequently the horse) and cripple the efforts for successful healing and long-term soundness.

Obviously BB had hoofwall problems that led to the need for such drastic (and brilliant) hoofwall repair. Was it actually ethical to race him in the Derby? At what point will the owners stop for the best quality of healing for the horse? Will they wait until something gives way and then blame the work of these farriers?

I understand that they are a the top of the highest level of race competition and that the Derby and the following Triple Crown races will determine the course of their lives and the life of Big Brown and many generations of his offspring. I'd just love to see (for once) the horse owner step forward and state publicly and loudly that Big Brown has proven himself, and to push further would not be in the best welfare of the horse. To announce that they are going to allow BB to fully regrow his hooves and return to racing when he has completely regrown his hoofwalls.

I would also love to witness leading owners in the industry step forward and state that they choose, for the welfare of the breed and industry as well as their own horses, to only race their horses after the horse has reached his/her third year, giving these magnificent horses more time to close growth-plates, have stronger hooves, and have a better bone to muscle mass ability to prevent the high numbers of early breakdowns (those not seen on TV) that end a life and career before it begins.

I'd also love to see steroid use denounced by leaders in the industry, but I suppose I'm asking too much at once. How different with the Triple Crown races be if the age changed from 3 to 4yo's? The horses could begin actually racing a year later in preparation for these events, and imagine the drastic reduction in thoroughbreds breaking down merely because they were started before their bodies were ready. I know its always been done this way, but when will the great advances in medicine and science be applied to the benefit of the horse over tradition and spending the money to feed/care for a horse longer in order to actually allow him/her to grow up?

I'm sure that veterinarians and farriers alike would enjoy seeing far more healthy horses and far fewer breakdowns needing "fixing."

- Shannon McCullough
(from Houston, TX)

Ms.Paris said...

If he were my horse I doubt I'd be riding him for pleaseure let alone racing him. This hoof still needs lots of time to grow out with theraputic shoeing along the way.

And there should be a rule against breeding an animal with such crappy feet. Can't wait to see his babies bought up by the killer buyers in a couple of years.

Fran Jurga said...

To Marzbars (Shannon): thanks for your comment. You have good suggestions and I think that at least one, the steroids, may become a reality soon.

Personally, I have high hopes for rating stallions by durability/soundness, and hope that the market will start to value sound horses over precocious performance at a young age.

I'd also like to see stallions rated with a number such as Black Sky (3) in which the numeral would tell the age at which the horse left racing, accompanied by a * if the horse retired sound. So you could say Blue Bart (5*) retired at the age of five, sound, so he is a five-star stallion! (and there wouldn't be many of those). But earning the 5-star rating would become the greatest goal.

Also, I am sure that when the durability stats finally are published, they will be poo-pooed by people saying that it's not an inheritable characteristic and accidents happen. Which is true.

I don't really think that 3 is too young for the Derby. I think it may be young for the type/quality of Thoroughbreds that are currently being bred, however. I think the problem is in the horses, not the tradition. It used to work.

Please don't give up on racing and thanks very much for your post and for your visit to the Hoof Blog!

Fran Jurga said...

To Ms Paris: you are correct, most people would not ride or train a horse in that condition but the horse's connections felt confident that the glue would hold and the heel patches would stay in place.

It's interesting that racing and sports don't have many rules, except for some breed shows, about the use of repair and special shoes. In fact, in most racing jurisdictions, the only rule is that they have to have on some sort of a shoe!

About breeding to a stallion with crappy feet: If I showed you a lineup of the feet of some of the top stallions...they are not top stallions because of any sort of legacy of soundness, that's for sure.

djl said...

Who wants to take bets that this one breaks down also.

And if we are lucky enough for him not to break down and make it to a stud career, they can breed him to some daughters of Unbridled's Song, create a new breed of hoofless thorobreds.

This is just disgusting.

So much for the best interest of the horse. Who should be in pasture growing some hooves, not running in races.

Shame on the trainer, owner and farriers on this one.

~The South Dakota Cowgirl~ said...

Just because the stallion has bad feet, doesn't mean the offspring will. The mare contributes to that end as well, so it's not simply the sire's fault.

Should a bad footed horse be bred to a bad footed horse; I don't know that I would; but it also wouldn't mean that the offspring would still have crappy feet. Is there a greater chance? Yes.

Anonymous said...

Wall separation in a shod horse? It almost sounds as if this is surprising.

I bet if those shoes were taken off and a proper barefoot trim applied the "crappy feet" would no longer be so crappy.

Look up Saucy Night!

Also I have an OTTB with supposed bad feet that went away after he was allowed to go barefoot. Thin walls that would barely hold a shoe and now thick walls and feet that crunch gravel barefoot. It seems people in the horse world are still in the dark ages as far as horse feet go. Not everyone, but a lot.

...I know, I's amazing the horse survived long enough barefoot for it to be domesticated so that we could save it's feet by nailing metal to them and reducing the contact surface area while increasing the concussive forces. And OMG how do those wild horse's survive? Come on people, think outside the metal shoe!

Ms.Paris said...

Thanks Fran Jurga- And I know I'm conservative when it comes to asking a horse perform (I want the animal to be in perfect shape) and I'm sure there are horses out there racing with worse feet than big brown and without nearly as high quality care.

As for breeding. Duh, of course the mare contributes. But as far as influencing the breed as a whole of course the stallion is more important as he has 100+ foals a year and the mare, just one.

(sorry if this got posted twice, my machine is acting up)

Anonymous said...

Racing a horse with bad feet seems ill advised.

Breeding him, which we know they will, and passing on the the weakness borders on criminal.

For his handlers to be barefoot is just plain stupid

Anonymous said...

Wow. Money and greed rule common sense and equine welfare.

The most disgusting thing I've seen. Farriers caught up in heroic efforts have left their ethics at the door when it comes down to this kind of quackery.

Yes, you can fix it, but race a horse with feet like this?
I'd be embarrassed if I were the owner/trainer/farrier.

This sport is in the last spirals of going down the drain.

Greed. You can smell it like a rotting corpse.

~The South Dakota Cowgirl~ said...

Now maybe I'm just a stupid girl from Texas, and I don't know a lot about racehorses, but I do train barrel horses; running barrels is how I make my living.

Barrel horses are a type of racehorse, and racehorses like barrel horses are athletes. Not all athletes have great feet. Not every track star (the human kind) has great feet either. We make special shoes for them to solve low arches, or other foot ailments.

We run barrel horses in Natural Balance shoes all the time if they've got underslung heels or what have you to HELP Them.

Am I just blonde and missing the point? He's got bad feet- he may have been bred that way, or he could have just had a shoddy farrier, I don't know, but I'm failing to see what is so criminal and terrible about this.

Have I made a wrong comparison or am I coming from the wrong premise?

Ms.Paris said...

Streakin Iron-You are clearly not dumb, but maybe just missing some people's point of view.

If I were to buy a horse (say a stallion) with not so great feet, and I worked with a talented farrier to correct the hoof issues so that he could be ridden, that would be my own prerogative. I would not then however, with good conscious, allow my crappy footed stallion to be used in the breeding shed. Its just not responsible. In fact I would take my crappy footed stallion and make him a gelding.

Also, with respect to shoeing in general, yes there are many many things farriers can do to correct bad feet. BUT, the issue is, how did the feet get so bad to begin with? Our horrible breeding!

Remember when the QH halter stallions winning in the 80s were these overbuilt tanks with teeny tiny feet? Well eventually people wised up and stopped breeding these huge horses with small feet b/c these horses weren't staying sound!

"No hoof no horse"

Anonymous said...

"No hoof no horse"


I see this and worse on a daily basis in the vet field and I wish there were a place to cull these horses from the breeding stock. Oh, wait... there was. Argh, won't get started on that.

Thank you for the great photos! It is refreshing to see that someone is getting their angles closer to correct. It's 10x better than the all toe and no heel theory they had for decades!

Hopefully the SPCA doesn't get a-hold of those photos. You see how much they helped the industry the last time they had a brilliant idea to improve something.

*Not the same anonymous who posted before. :)

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, they waited till Secretariat was three before they started racing him.

They need to go back to that.

Terry C
Anti-War Elitist

Fran Jurga said...

Sorry, Terry, but you are mistaken. Secretariat was the champion two-year-old in 1972. In fact, he won three races in 27 days over the Saratoga meet!

Maybe you are thinking of someone else?


Anonymous said...

You know Im new to this, but before we go and judge the trainers,onwer, and what have you dont you think we should find out WHY the feet are bad. It could be something "simple" and not genetic. There are lots of reasons for bad feet genetics is just one. I do have ever think that if a horse no matter why is lame should be able to heal before being use for what ever.

Unknown said...

That is one good point that we have completely left out of this discussion...

What happened to Big Brown's hooves to cause them to break down and need such extreme intervention? I have not googled this, but its a key question to ask. Did he have laminitis or did he founder? Was there a specific incident that broke off part of his hoof, requiring the repair and the subsequent support of the the opposite hoof? Did he have thin, brittle hoof walls to begin with?

Once we have the answer as to what happened, then we may be better equipped to refer to his value as a sire.

All thoroughbreds are to some extent inbred. Most extremely so in comparison to other breeds. There have been many articles and discussions concerning the closed gene pool facing the thoroughbred breed, and how to strengthen the horses within. We've bred out the very strengths that allowed Secretariat to run sound as a 2 yr old in back to back races in exchange for a cosmetically prettier yearling for the yearling sales. Softer bones, poor joint alignment, and poor hooves are the majority in the gene pool now, and instead of fixing the root of the problem, we are actually just slapping bandaids on horses to get them through to the breeding shed alive. Its a huge ethical need for change that is most often overshadowed by the monetary costs of change.

We can adapt our racing to the welfare of the horse we have today, including racing at a later age; we can strengthen the horses of the future through a change in breeding strategy; or we can watch these horses, and the industry itself, breakdown and die - something I believe is NOT in the best interest of horses nor the horse industry.

And in reference to a post above alluding to having a place to dump the horses that didn't belong in the breeding shed, I'd like to say that slaughtering the horses does not solve the problem. It only gives irresponsible breeding and breeders an easier way out of their bad decisions, and the subsequent consequences.

Shannon McCullough

Fran Jurga said...

Shannon, look back at the other stories about Big Brown and wall separations. Ian McKinlay did explain how a heel problem like this develops, compared to a quarter crack. He blames it on the super hard training tracks and says it is a very common injury. Both Ian and Tom said that Big Brown does not have bad feet, as TB feet go. Just broken feet. But supposedly, that is in the past now and the new feet just have to grow out the rest of the way.

Anonymous said...

It just kills me to read some of these comments. The guy must be doing something right. I am sure some of the comments posted, were from people that have never even been around a track or have delt with many race horses.

Sandy M said...

Could anyone speak, just as a for instance, to the Olden Times and Carry Back lines vis-a-vis relative soundness. I remember reading an article where Jack Price said that Carry Back didn't get the "best" mares because Price refused to syndicate him, so he produced stakes winners, but few, if any GRADED stakes winners. In that article he also said that he liked to breed Carry Back to Olden Times mares, because (and this is a paraphrase) "they stay sound and can run all day..."

NaturalHoof said...

Yes it's true that the farrier sciences have come along way. The sad part is they have gone in the wrong direction. It's not about glue and better shoes, it's about going back to nature. Barefoot natural hoofcare could do wonders for the racing industry and maintain healthier faster horses. The racing industry really needs to review it rules and start to allow horses to run barefoot. It would change the sport for the better. Horses weren't born with shoes and wild horses have the toughtest feet around with half inch thick hoof walls and half inch thick soles. With proper triming by a barefoot trained specialist and lots of movement these hourses would be much better off. I know there are many skeptics but do your research before you allow old stereotypes to continue to harm the horses we love.

Anonymous said...

This condition alone should make us all stop and think of what people are doing for the almighty dollar.
To start with Thoroughbreds should NOT be racing at 2 to 3 years old. Their hooves and bones are not matured yet. Look what happened to Barbaro and Eight Belles.

Horse racing is now disgusting me thoroughly.

Anonymous said...

I hope to God that these idiots think about what they are doing here especially knowing that running a horse in that kind of a race with the condition his feet are in and running the risk of further injury could result in a barbaro-like episode. They need to regulate the horse-racing industry. People are way out of control with the way that they treat the animal and all for the almighty dollar.

Anonymous said...

i went to both the preakness and the belmont, and big brown did not look like himself at the belmont. he seemed a bit agitated, threw his head a lot and repeatedly bumped the lead pony while being lead during the post parade. when he broke, his head went sharply to the left. he never looked like he was comfortable throughout the beginning of that race. i was happy to see kent pull him up--in my heart of hearts i didnt think he would make it thru the race just based on his unusual behavior. he just seemed like there was something wrong from the get-go. looking at these pics, i cant believe they would run him at all! i cant imagine that he wasnt in some type of pain during the whole thing. poor baby.

Anonymous said...

i dont think that you people realize how this sport used to be. racing was a classical thing to do, and it had the horses best interest in mind. sure, its not as great as it once was, but lets not say that the farrier/owner/trainer/jockey and everyone that deals with this horse doesnt care about its best interest. thats what is called jumping to conclusions..
and sure, he doesnt have the greatest feet, but not a lot of horses have steel blobs for hooves. i mean get real, like humans, horses are not all the same, and they are most deffinately not perfect. i have been dealing with horses since i was 4 years old, i am now 47, and along the way i have yet to see a horse with perfect feet. a lot of you people are just being to critical. its not the horses' fault. yes, i think they should let the horse off the hook for awhile and give time to re-grow some hoof...but in reality, thats not going to happen. because the time it would take for that to happen would cost and awful lot of money.

Anonymous said...

OK, to the person who said, "Wall separation in a shod horse? It almost sounds as if this is surprising."

Sometimes shoes are necessary. different things suite different horses but when done properly shoeing wont hurt the horse at all. I once leased a horse to a professional trainer for his wife to ride.

The trainer removed my horses shoes without my permission and barefoot trimmed him. the horse came back a cripple.

Shoes wouldnt have done BB any damage if they were fitted properly and he didnt have crappy feet to start with and from what I can gather, there was nothing wrong with how the shoes were put on.