Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Breeders Cup: The Agony of De Feet

by Fran Jurga | 21 October 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

What kind of horse shoe is this?, originally uploaded by Rock and Racehorses.
Imagine the confused looks when someone spots this horse's hoof print.

The Daily Racing Form announced today that the defections are beginning; the field for next month's Breeders Cup Classic has lost a few interesting entries.

First it was the news that the fast-closing gray Macho Again would not make the trip west to Santa Anita after developing a cough while training at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.

Then it was the withdrawal of California-based Rail Trip, pulled from contention because of bruised frogs. Apparently Rail Trip sloughed his frogs after his last start at Del Mar and his feet are still tender, according to Steve Andersen of the Form.

The race is still three weeks away, so the horse's trainer must be pretty concerned about the horse losing training.

(For Breeders Cup readers: The frog is a fleshy triangle-shaped pad on the bottom of a horse's foot.)

Sloughed and bruised frogs are a common complaint from horsemen in California on the artificial tracks. The problems could be compounded by the heat of the track in summer months. It is normal for real-world horses to shed the outer layer of their frogs, but racehorses are shod and trimmed so often that their frogs are kept neatly manicured.

Horseshoers at the track have a lot of tricks to help a horse with sore frogs. This photo by our friend Sarah K Andrew was taken during Breeders Cup week at Santa Anita last year.

This horse is wearing a frog-protection plate, sometimes called a mushroom shoe. It can either be an aluminum plate that goes between the shoe and the hoof (some of them look like hockey goalie masks and are called spider plates), or it can be a shoe.

Frogs come in all shapes and sizes. This is Visionaire's frog before the 2008 Kentucky Derby. It probably didn't contact the ground. The frog shape and size of winning horses has never been documented. The width of the frog also determines how the shoe is shaped and how the heels are covered. This shoe is almost an oval; it is probably a hind foot. (Dan Burke/FPD photo)

The same type of shoe or plate is used to relieve pressure on sore heels. The horseshoer may medicate the frog and pack felt or foam rubber under it if the goal is to cushion a sore frog.

Conversely, if the frog is healthy and the goal is to relieve sore heels or a quarter crack, the horseshoer will use the plate to "engage" the frog to bear weight while trimming the heels to relieve weight on them.

This perfectly heart-shaped frog belonged to Gayego before the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Compare it to Visionaire's. Gayego is slated to run in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint. There's no statistical relevance between frog size or shape to speed or performance. Notice how much space there is between the heels of the shoe. (Dan Burke/FPD photo)

There are many reasons a frog can be sore. Infection from thrush or canker is the most common but abrasion also can cause soreness, particularly if a horse has a bulbous, protruding, or fleshy frog. Frogs can and do bleed if they are aggravated enough.

The type of shoe shown here might have been just for training and the horse was reshod with regular plates before training at speed or racing. Standardbreds will race in frog plates, though.

Since the horse spends most of the day in its stall, the trainer would pack the sore hooves with a favorite packing or wrap Animalintex poultice against the bottom of the foot. Turbo tubbing, salt water soaks and spas, foam-lined boots and changing stall bedding are some other treatments that trainers may try to get the frogs back in racing shape.

Away from the dry California climate, a frog could be sore because of excess moisture. In that case, the trainer might medicate with a hoof product containing ingredients from the formaldehyde family to wick moisture, or paint the feet with iodine.

Exercise, even walking, would be considered therapeutic, unless the horse is lame. Circulation can help feet recover and grow.

Protecting soles and frogs and preventing injury will be on the minds of trainers who ship their horses to California for the Breeders Cup. When the European and East Coast trainers see local horses sporting plates like the one in this picture, they will catch on very quickly.