Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Best Shod" Classes Keep Farriery Front and Center in Britain and California

We're coming down the stretch of a very long show season and the end-of-year "Big Shows" will soon be here. All the horses and ponies who have been chasing points all summer find out if they have qualified to compete at the "indoors" for hunters and jumpers and the "nationals" for breeds like Arabians. The Quarter horses are pointed toward the Congress in Ohio or the World show later in the fall. This weekend is the big Dressage at Devon show in Pennsylvania, which has a phenomenal in-hand division as well as actual dressage test classes.

On the regional level, those year-end banquets start, with endless awards for point winners that will hopefully keep people coming back to show next year.

It's also pressure time for farriers. Nothing is worse than qualifying for year-end competitions, only to have your horse too lame to compete. After such hard campaigns, these horses suffer from foot fatigue and unless a horse has great hoof walls, this is the time of year when farriers reach for the glue, the pads, the wall repair compounds.

This time of year reminds me that farriers receive little recognition in the show world. Sometimes I see farriers and vets and grooms listed in congratulatory ads in the breed magazines, but it's pretty rare.

All of which makes me remember how British horse shows give "best shod" awards at their shows. These classes were originally encouraged by groups like the Worshipful Company of Farriers or horse welfare groups.

Here's an example of a show with these classes. It is in Hay, on the English-Welsh border, in the county of Hereford. From their show list, held in July:

"Included into the following classes for 2008 will be judging of the "Best Shod" Horse or Pony. Classes: 34, 35, 37, 38, 41, 71 & 72. The Judge for 'Best Shod' will be Mr. Mark Jones Dip. WCF., Dorstone, Hereford. Clients of Mr. Jones, of course, are not eligible for judging.

"Winning Horses and Ponies will receive a Best Shod rosette and will be asked to supply the name and address of their Farrier. A 'Best Shod' card will be sent to the successful Farriers."

(This show obviously includes many in-hand classes for Welsh ponies and cobs, like the one shown in the photo.)

These classes provide a consolation prize for owners and exhibitors--the horse may not have won a class, but it did go home with a prize ribbon for its feet. And those ribbons look just as good hanging over the mantle. But they also make that owner a little more appreciative of the farrier who works on the horse. And for the farrier, it's nice to have some recognition.

Different shows in Britain run these best-shod awards differently. At a breed show, there might be a "best feet" award. At the Suffolk show, having a heavy horse best feet winner is a great honor; the breed made good feet an emphasis years ago and the class still has a great honor attached to it. (Just ask Roger Clark, FWCF Hons., who takes great pride in the classes he was won...and who won again this year.)

One of the favorite best-shod or best-feet classes is at the Badminton Horse Trials, held each May. You'll see familiar names of top competition and world-champion farriers like Billy Crothers and James Blurton on the recent list of winners of the "Farrier's Prize". Last year's winner was Martin Deacon FWCF and before that, Sam Head, the up and coming shoeing son of former WCF Master, Mac Head FWCF.

This year's Badminton best-shod winner was Paul Gordon of Cheshire, England, farrier to the scarily-named Valdemar. On the awards page for this most prestigious event in the world, Paul is listed, not the owner and not the rider. Just Paul, and the horse's name. Just to clarify, there may be little correlation between winning at Badminton and the Farrier's Prize: Valdemar finished 36th in the horse trials, but was #1 in the hoof-judging.

James Blurton of Wales won both the Gatcombe Park and Burleigh horse trials awards for best-shod horse this year.

At England's Melplash show for heavy horses, the class is described this way: "This Competition is for the best shod horse in the Heavy Horse Section (Classes 80 - 85). The judge will examine each horse before or during the line-up for preliminary judging, taking into consideration: a. Condition of the feet; b. The making (or preparation) and fitting of the shoes; c. Nailing, and position of the clips. Normal shoes and showing plates are equally acceptable, PROVIDED they are suitable for the horse."

For more information about best-shod classes, a good reference has been written by Tim Challoner AFCL who describes the why and how of the best-shod class for the Dales Pony exhibitors.

In the USA, the only class of this type that I know of is at the Draft Horse Classic in Grass Valley, California, which also hosts an actual farrier competition and is dedicated to the legendary Scottish farrier, Mr. Edward Martin FWCF. Some of the winners of the best-shod class at that show have included well-known California farriers (and outstanding competitors) Jason Harmeson and Jason Smith. It's great for non-competition farriers to have their work quality judged alongside the pro competitors. As far as I know, in these classes, handmade shoes are not required.

The Draft Horse Classic had the world-class judge and former world-champion, Mr. David Wilson FWCF of Scotland as judge this year. It was his only US clinic/competition this year.

Nevada farrier Jean Meneley gets the credit for organizing that event and keeping it going for many years. She believes that both the best-shod class for the showing horses and the farrier competition make horse owners and breeders more aware of the role of farriers in the well-being of these special horses.