Observations and filming of horses on different surfaces and wearing different shoes has been convincing evidence of the variations of horses' running styles and their adaptability. High-speed videography by Mitch Taylor in Kentucky has been slowed down to detail the different phases of a horse's stride. He has filmed the same horses over different surfaces, wearing different shoes. (Mitch Taylor photo, still image captured from OnTrack video system, presented at the Fourth International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot.)
A major fashion change is due on most Thoroughbred racetracks on January 1, when the majority of racing states will change over to the outlawing of most toe grabs on the front shoes of raceplates.
The January 1st deadline is in compliance with a ruling by the American Graded States Committee that states would not qualify for graded stakes status unless the rule was adopted. It is feasible that some states may delay implementing the rule if the state does not have many graded stakes, or if the graded races are run later in the year.
In California, a rule began in February 2006 banning toe grabs higher than 4mm on the front shoes of Thoroughbred racehorses only; racing Quarter horses and mules do not run under that particular rule in California. At this point, it looks like California will hold with their original 4 mm rule, which may move it from one of the first to restrict toe grabs to being one of the most lenient.
At CDI tracks, owned by Churchill Downs, a new rule enacted this fall reads: “Front horse shoes which have toe grabs greater than two millimeters shall be prohibited from racing or training on all racing surfaces at all Churchill Downs Incorporated racetracks. This includes but is not limited to the following: toe grabs, bends, jar calks, stickers and any other traction device worn on the front shoes of Thoroughbred horses.
"Any hind shoe with a turndown of more than one-quarter inch will not be allowed on the dirt courses. Hind shoes with calks, stickers, blocks, raised toes or turndowns will not be allowed on the turf courses. This includes quarter horse shoes or any shoe with a toe grab of more than one-quarter inch.”
CDI tracks include Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Arlington Park in Illinois, Calder Race Course in Florida, and Fair Grounds Race Course in Louisiana.
The CDI rule is an example of what is known as a "house rule", meaning that individual racetracks can create specific rules for horseshoes that are more strict than the rules of the state where the track is located.
Down the road from Churchill Downs, but also in Kentucky, Keeneland and Turfway Park announced a toe grab ban last fall on their artificial Polytrack and turf courses. The house rule there reads, "“No toe grabs, caulks, stickers, inserts, blocks, turndowns, trailers or heel extensions will be allowed on front or hind shoes. Only flat, Queen’s Plate, Queen’s Plate XT or equivalent may be used on the Polytrack or Turf.”
Horses training at Keeneland to race at Churchill had better check their shoes at the gate when they get back to Lexington, or else make an appointment with the horseshoer for race day in Louisville.
At the Penn National group of tracks, a house rule went into effect in October, stating "All Thoroughbreds competing or training at Penn National Gaming owned racetracks will not be permitted to use toe grabs in excess of two (2) millimeters in height. The use of bends, jar caulks, stickers or any other traction device on front shoes for racing or training will also be prohibited." Penn National in Pennsylvania and Charles Town in West Virginia are impacted by this rule.
Racehorse trainers will need to be conscious of both state and "house" rules at different tracks, and horseshoers will need to be prepared, although publicity about the rule changes has been widespread. Horses that ship between tracks may need to be reshod in some cases.
Shippers should be happy about the traction ban, since toe grabs and other protuberances rip up mats on loading ramps and in van stalls.
Some questions about special designs of shoes may be decided by stewards or horseshoe inspectors, depending on how each track or state designates the decision-making process surrounding shoes.
As you can see, some tracks will enforce the ban on the hind shoes as well as the fronts; some won't. Some allow two millimeters, some don't. The strictest rules of all, at Keeneland and Turfway, allow no traction at all on any feet.
While the arguments over toe grabs seem to have died down, the winter months are when trainers would naturally turn to traction devices, depending on the type of conditions at a training track or on the main track where the horse will be racing. While they may assert that they are using shoes to help the horse "get hold of the track", many feel that the safety of the rider is more assured if the horse is less likely to slip, especially around turns. Others feel that toe grabs are more dangerous to jockeys and exercise riders, in the event of a fall.
Thoro'bred's new three-dimensional Turbo shoe is an interesting innovation, since it provides traction on the sidewall of the shoe, not directly on the ground surface and does not increase the angle of the hoof. The horseshoe is no longer a two-dimensional object.
If you are working with racehorses and are uncertain of rules, think of toe grabs as the equivalent of medication, and don't take someone else's word for what the rules are at a given track. Check with the racing secretary's office.
The Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation's Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit has a shoeing and hoofcare committee that would like to have feedback about the rule changes and shoe designs. Call the Grayson-Jockey Club: (859) 224-2850
"The Snow Plow Effect" is a new commonly-used term to describe the displacement of the racing or arena surface as the foot lands. Since the foot basically disappears into a loose surface, the relative snow-plow effect is of interest to observors. (Mitch Taylor photo, still image captured from OnTrack video system, presented at the Fourth International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot.)
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