Saturday, February 18, 2012

ON THE (Dressage) CASE: Euro Rock ‘n Roll Horseshoe Evolves with Vet-Farrier Collaboration, California Style

Just As Successful Dressage Illustrates Synergy Between Horse and Rider, 
Successful Dressage Hoofcare Illustrates Synergy Between Vet and Farrier 
by Fran Jurga

Background: The Hoof Blog took a long look at the Euro “rock n roll” shoe this fall, with photos of the great Spanish PRE grand prix dressage horse Fuego, who wears them when he competes against the likes of Totilas and Parzival. His high-tech, high-fashion Italian-made (of course) aluminum shoes help him pirouette and piaffe with the best of them, as applied by his vet/farrier Hans Castelijns of Italy.

Spain’s FEI dressage star Fuego de Cardenas is not a warmblood but he’s near the top of the world rankings. He wears Euro-style rock ‘n roll shoes not often seen outside Europe. (Erin Ryder photo)

Utilizing the negative space under a horse’s foot made sense to a lot of people. And curious minds have been either debating or deliberating over how it might help their horses ever since that article appeared. It went around the world and back again and was the most popular story on this blog in three years.

Is Euro rock ‘n roll shoe design some kind of rocket science? Just remember: rock ‘n roll was born in the USA. Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis would be proud of California farrier Ernest Woodward and sport-horse veterinarian Mark Silverman DVM of Sporthorse Veterinary Service in San Marcos, California. Together, they visualized an Americanized version of the concept they had seen illustrated in the Hoof Blog on a successful competition horse.

Silverman challenged Ernest to figure out how to make the shoe in a cost-effective way that worked on different hoof types.

California dressage-specialist farrier Ernest Woodward Americanized the Euro-style 3-D full rolling motion shoe with a simple fabrication plan. A base plate and pony shoe are held together with a few screws and some PMMA adhesive.

“This shoe eases breakover in all directions but backwards,” Ernest observed after the first shoes were nailed on. “We applied it to a working competition horse with a few different issues but the main one we were hoping to address was strain on the medial collateral ligament (of the coffin joint) of the forelimb.”

Ernest began by cutting the 6mm plate out with a jig saw. Black Equilox (PMMA adhesive) holds the shoe to the plate. He also drilled holes in the crease of the pony shoe and placed a few screws through the plate to secure the two levels of aluminum.

The impression material used under the plate is brown Sound Horse 25 durometer (extra-soft), pre-medicated with copper sulfate.

Ernest’s two-fiered design (shown with foot surface down, ground surface up): On hard surfaces, the horse stands on the inner, or bottom, shoe--a Triple 0 Kerckhaert Triumph aluminum pony shoe. The outer foot plate conforms to the foot’s shape from heel to heel. The inner shoe, a.k.a. the breakover sweet spot, kicks in for the “lateral” work required in upper level dressage.

My conversations with Ernest and Dr Silverman reminded me of talking to designers of racing sailboats. Much of the stability of a saiboat is based on what’s underwater--the shape of the hull and the keel.

When it comes to the racing boats at the level of The America’s Cup, there’s a lot of sail up in the sky but it has to work seamlessly with what’s under the water.

A hoof isn’t shaped anything like a hull but would a dressage horse benefit from a little bit of a keel in arena footing to help it turn with less stress on joints and ligaments??

These shoes were called “flying saucers” when they first came out. Can you see why?
Both Ernest and Dr Silverman shared my interest in what happens when a horse hits the corner of the arena or is asked to do non-linear movements. When a sailboat falters, the sails are said to “luff”. They flutter against the mast until the vessel corrects course and the wind fills them again. A lot of horses luff a bit in deep corners.

“I’ve known a lot of horses that would earn nothing but 10s if they only had to go in a straight line,” Dr Silverman remarked. We go to great lengths to study how horses land when going straight and extrapolate that the horse uses that landing pattern throughout his work.

But think about it: Does shoe wear always reflect the linear landing pattern?

 “A square toe helps when the horse is going in a straight line, but can actually lengthen the breakover distance when the horse needs to break over the corner of that squared toe,” Ernest observed, then added that a minimum bevel on his shoes is from second nail hole to second nail hole.

It all began with a simple aluminium plate cut out with a jigsaw to match a tracing of the horse’s foot. The border is beveled and nail holes drilled. The sample shoe that Ernest made for this article has a crease in the plate so it looks startlingly like two shoes. He said he heated up the plate to make the crease and punch the nail holes but that is the only heat he used in the fabrication.

Ernest Woodward is an analytical farrier with a penchant for video documentation, which Dr Silverman also shares. Ernest analyzed a current grand prix dressage test and found that 34 percent of the movements required lateral work by the hind end of the horse. With that fact in hand, Ernest now builds a smaller-scale lateral rocking effect into almost all his hind dressage shoes.

You might ask why Ernest Woodward pursued this shoe design rather than use an out-of-the-box rail shoe. His answer: “The focus is for the competition horse. The traditional rail shoe is a very extreme forward breakover, and not as smooth and symmetrical to the other points of the compass. Also, the prefab shoes are generally very hard to fit and nail for any application other than just making an unsound horse feel more comfortable at rest.”

Silverman mentioned another alternative that had been considered and not adopted for this case. “The now-traditional approach to shoeing horses with unilateral injury to the collateral ligament of the coffin joint involves the use of asymmetric shoes. While the asymmetric approach may prove beneficial in the acutely injured horse, it would not provide the horse with a chronic issue the omnidirectional freedom that it needs while in work.”

Lateral view of the shoe nailed on; the horse is standing on a hard surface to lllustrate the height of the shoe. Ernest said that the materials used cost a total of perhaps $25 for a pair of shoes that would be affordable to most owners, including the adhesive.

Ernest remarked that slipping hasn’t been a problem for the horses wearing these shoes; they live in deeply-bedded stalls and work in cushioned arenas. He said that the only hard surfaces his clients’ horses walk on are some concrete walkways and barn area paving blocks. “The shoe is a surprisingly more stable platform than I anticipated on a hard surface,” Ernest remarked.

If horses were subject to a lot of walking on hard surfaces, an interesting feature of this shoe might be that the plate can be reset and a worn wear-point pony shoe can simply be unscrewed and replaced.

The finished shoe lifts the horse about 14 mm on a hard surface (6 mm plate plus about 8 mm thick pony shoe).

“The horse was trotted afterward and looked very promising in the arena in a fairly tight circle on the lunge. We are eager to see how this horse progresses over time,” Ernest commented.

“We wanted to just try it,” he continued. “This shoe is a prototype and just one of what ’m sure are many versions to come as we refine things and learn more. It’s just one more way, and a cost-efficient proof of concept. It has already taught us a lot for how we approach conventionally-shod horses on a daily basis.”

Silverman is an advocate of collaborative problem-solving on cases like this one. “When working with farriers, especially one with Ernest's creativity, I find that it's best to suggest what I would like to achieve, then leave it to the farrier to open his or her mental toolbox to build an appliance that will meet our needs.”

“As farriers and vets we all learn off each other,” Ernest concluded. “I can’t wait to see future articles: Someone, somewhere will take it to the next level.”

From the Casebook

The case: Hanoverian mare, 16’1” tall, age 10, working at third or fourth level, with a history of medial collateral ligament strain.

The history: She had previously been shod with Kerckhaert Steel Comfort shoes and leather wedge pads with brown dental impression material. “That was successful for a time,” Ernest recalled. “I’d say that it was improvement, but not a fix.” The California-style 3D Euro full rolling motion shoes were nailed on in January and Ernest saw immediate improvement. This video was shot about a week after the new shoes were applied.

Ernest also commented: “The landing on the outside of one heel and the inside of the other does show the need for the rockering area all the way back to the heel of the shoe.”

Notice: All images, media and text in this article are protected under international copyright by Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. Images and video © Ernest Woodward and Erin Ryder. This article and media are provided for the enrichment of subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This is their blog.

To learn more:

Previously on the Hoof Blog: Dressage, Fuego-Style: It's What's Underneath That Counts as Euro Rocker Shoes Score for Spain (by Fran Jurga with Hans Castelijns, Erin Ryder, and many others)

Castelijns, Hans: Flying saucers and rock n' roll: Full rolling motion shoes in equine podiatry: Hoofcare + Lameness 78. (back issues and reprints available)

Castelijns, Hans: Shoeing for Palmar Hoof Pain at

Caudron et al: Radiological assessment of the effects of a full rolling motion shoe during asymmetrical bearing: Equine Veterinary Journal Suppl. 23 (1997)

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask, so pleas do! This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to  

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