I've watched Garrett Ford build an empire based on the original EasyBoot over the last 25 or so years. His company, EasyCare, now makes 18 different kinds of hoof boots and, perhaps more importantly, sets a standard for continual innovation and product development. I can't keep up with their new products.
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This summer, Garrett moved his company into new territory: he pursed his desire to race a horse in a product his company could design and manufacture. What started out as a curious R+D project led him to tinker with a lightweight hoof boot until it ceased being called a boot and for all intents and purposes became a glue-on shoe.
The problem: the racing stewards at the track vacillated over whether or not it was legal racing equipment.
There's no question that the decision must be respected, but sharing this story will show everyone what entrepreneurs go through and what some of the upfront costs and time expenditures are in getting a new product to the market.
When Garrett told me the saga of his shoe, I smiled because I wasn't surprised. Almost every hoofcare innovator runs into a brick wall of some type sooner or later, when and if the product is to be used on certain types of show horses or at the track.
I've seen some people sail over the brick walls, and I've seen others bang their heads against them time and again. I've also seen wonderful products abandoned, never to see the bright lights of a store shelf, simply because the developers didn't have the resources to jump through the hoops that lay waiting for them on the other side of the brick wall.
Unfortunately, Garrett ran into his brick wall sooner instead of later. Fortunately, he is not building these shoes one at a time in his basement. He's not mortgaging his house to finance an injection mold modification. He has the means and the resolve to keep modifying and keep trying until he really does have his own unique type of all-plastic glue-on boot/shoe.
If you ask me, the brick wall was a blessing. Had Garrett Ford merely whipped up four prototype glue-on shoes, glued them onto a racehorse and proceeded to the owner's enclosure at the track, that might have been the end of it. He might have rested on his easily-earned laurels and retired the racehorse to become an endurance horse, as was his original plan. And he might never have thought about turning his prototype into a truly usable product that could potentially be of value to horses all over the world.
Parts of this post in the Hoofcare and Lameness Hoof Blog were published in a different form in the EasyCare newsletter and/or on the company blog under the title The Horse That Wasn't Allowed To Race. Dual copyright from both companies protects this post.
|The prototype “Easyboot Race” is an all-synthetic, one-piece glue-on cuff and shoe. It will remain a prototype until it is approved for use by racing jurisdictions around the world. (© Garrett Ford)|
What Could the Glue-On Do for Racing?
Why bother, you ask? Life on the race track presents challenges to the equine hoof. Many racehorses have challenges with brittle walls, quarter cracks, tender feet, lack of support, and contracted heels from continuous shoeing and training stress. When a racehorse rips off a shoe and loses hoof wall, that wall has a difficult time holding nails and, as a result, may miss conditioning and races. Track horses are subjected to pounding workouts and as a result are prone to injury.
For these reasons, and probably many more, the idea of a better shoe for racehorses is fertile ground for any innovative thinkers who spend much time at the racetrack.
Garrett believed that his prototype, which he called the “Easyboot Race” could potentially be the mortar in some of these gaps of the hoofcare needs of a race horse. Some of the objectives the R+D would set out to accomplish would be to design a shoe that would:
- 1. allow the hoof to expand and contract as nature intended;
- 2. provide support and comfort for quarter cracks;
- 3. allow farriers and trainers another tool for problem feet that will not hold nails;
- 4. allow farriers and trainers an option that flexes and absorbs concussion to extend the horse's health and longevity;
- 5. be capable of being trimmed and modified to suit a specific horse, track or surface;
- 6. be less likely to hurt horses, jockeys or spectators if they do come off;
- 7. allow trainers to train the horses harder and on less than perfect surface conditions;
- 8. bring an affordable glue-on solution to the track.
Weight of the Prototype
Weights of the aluminum race plates and the modified Easyboot Race shoe were taken after the Race shoes were modified. The average weight of the aluminum plate was 4.5 ounces. There were variances of + .1 ounces and - .1 ounces. These shoes had been worn in one race, on a soft racing surface, and exhibited little to no wear and tear. They were removed within three hours of finishing the race.
The average weight of the reconfigured EasyCare Race shoe was 5.5 ounces. After adding the appropriate amount of glue for proper adhesion, the final weight was 6.0 ounces. The variance was + or - .15 ounces.
During this process Garrett met with the stewards (race officials) at the racetrack. They discussed the new shoe and the prospect of racing Clunk in the new design on August 7th, 2011. Garrett said that the stewards were initially very receptive to the design and thought it could be beneficial for many reasons; they asked to see Clunk do an official workout the week before the August 7th race.
Official Workout with Shoes On
Clunk's race shoes were applied (glued) Tuesday August 2, 2011, in anticipation of a workout in front of stewards on Wednesday August 3rd. Garrett reported that Clunk did a flawless workout in front of the stewards, track vet and several jockeys; Clunk’s jockey was reported to be very impressed and said the horse felt more confident and stable. The track vet had no objections and saw many benefits that could help track horses.
The stewards, however, subsequently changed their opinion, informing Garrett that Clunk would not be able to race on August 7th if wearing the Easyboot Race Shoes. They were unable to give a reason or cite a rule in support of their decision.
On Friday August 5th, Garrett filed a formal appeal and asked the stewards and director for a reason and rule that would not allow Clunk to race in the new EasyCare hoof wear. The director responded with a written response, stating that our new shoe went against rule number 7.608: "7.608 - Bar plates may be used only with the consent of the Division Veterinarian. The commission may limit the height of toe grabs for any breed at a live race meet. Toe grabs with a height greater than the maximum set by the commission, bends, jar caulks, stickers and any other traction device worn on the front hooves of horses while racing or training on all surfaces, are prohibited. The horse shall be scratched and the trainer may be subject to fine for any violation of this rule."
After the decision, Garrett could have simply removed Clunk's Easyboot Race shoes and raced him in aluminum plates but decided instead to scratch him and stick to what he had set out to accomplish. He quickly finished a new mold that was exactly the same shape of the aluminum plate removed from Clunk's hoof after he was purchased.
Although Clunk was not allowed to race on August 7th, he remained entered in the August 21st feature race. Garrett believed that he could modify the Easyboot Race to be an exact copy of an aluminum plate and the stewards could not say it violated the 7.608 rule.
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On Wednesday August 17th the racing director informed Garrett via e-mail: "Please be aware that we will be unable to provide you with suggested changes to the product to get it to conform to Commission rules. No matter what changes you suggest, it will not change the fact that the device is a traction device prohibited under the Rule 7.608."
Unless EasyCare knows the portions of the shoe that the track officials believe don’t conform to commission rules, the email is correct: he is unable to make changes.
Polyurethane glue-on racing shoes are already out there and being used by some of the best horses and trainers in the sport. Breeders Cup races and major stakes races all over the world on all types of surfaces have been won by horses wearing next-generation glue-on hoofware. Big Brown ran to victory in the 134th Kentucky Derby wearing glued-on Yasha plastic-aluminum hybrid shoes. Shackleford won the 2011 Preakness Stakes wearing glue-on Polyflex shoes. Overdose set a track record on the turf in Germany wearing glue-on Sigafoos shoes.
Clunk had been at the track and training in the Easyboot Race shoes since August 8th. Garrett decided to scratch Clunk from the August 21st feature race rather than change his equipment the day before the race.
State Racing Commission Presentation
Next, Garrett made plans to attend a September 13th racing commission meeting. “We have indicated that we would like to be part of the meeting as we would like to do everything possible to hit the ground running for the 2012 race season at this track,” Garrett wrote.
On September 13th, Garrett reported in after the meeting, “I was told by the commission and the director of the track that regardless if the product complied with the rules (or not) that I would need to go through a process or testing with universities. They were unable to give me a protocol...
“I asked what they wanted to see, how many universities, what kind of studies etc. They had a hard time answering. They are asking me to collect different types of study data to prove our device but can’t document what types of study data they are looking for. All of their commission meetings and rule meetings since 2006 have minutes and I can’t find one mention of them asking another company or inventor to prove a new device used on the track in the same way. They don’t have a formal written process that stipulates the kind of testing a new product needs before being approved.”
"In the months to come, I hope to pull some of the horses with foot issues off the slaughter-bound truck at the track and fit them in the new Easyboot Race shoes. I would like nothing more than to show that a horse heading for a processing plant in Mexico was saved, turned around and could win races again in Easyboot Race shoes.
"We will continue to persevere and believe the track officials will accept the shoe.
"At this point in the process, I am turning to the Hoofcare & Lameness community of top professionals and the benefit of this blog's reach into the global mainstream horse industry to ask for consultation. Do Hoof Blog readers believe the racetrack industry could benefit from more choices in alternative hoof wear and more urethane shoe options? Do you have a horse or know of a horse that would be a candidate for the new Easyboot Race shoe?"
What are your thoughts about the process that inventors and entrepreneurs go through? Please click on the comment button and leave your thoughts here. If you don't know how to leave a comment, send Fran an email and I will post it for you.
|From Drs. Lisa Lancaster and Robert Bowker and the Equine Foot Laboratory at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Just click to order yours today!|
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