Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lost Shoes, Caught Shoes and Twisted Shoes: Drama on the Hoof

It happens. But it rarely happens when you are pointing a camera at a horse. This image begs the question: Did one of these horses lose the shoe a second before the photo was taken, or was the shoe buried in the arena footing and springboarded into the air when one of them stepped on it? Definitely one for the Lost Shoe Hall of Fame by Santa Cruz, California photographer Eleanor Anderson. (Image © Eleanor Anderson)

Lost shoes were in the news this week, and it turns out that the tribunal in Ireland didn't feature the only lost shoes in the news.  Each of us has a favorite lost shoe photo, video or story.

In eventing, one of the most dramatic shoe pulling ever was captured on video unfolded in New Jersey. Neither horse nor rider were hurt, but this is really more of a story about a girth than about a lost shoe. It's hard to figure what on the shoe caught on the girth, unless the horse was studded, which might or might not have been the case for the arena footing. It's also possible that the shoe could have become loose or the horse could have stepped on the egg bar with a hind foot, slightly dislodging it from the hoof. Whatever happened, something connected with something.

Thank you to "TheHorsePesterer" for posting the video--in slo-mo, no less!

Rider Tamie Smith obviously couldn't see what was going on underneath her horse, Fleur de Lis, at the Jersey Fresh International. The game horse made a one-leg landing and managed to free his foot from the shoe, which continued to dangle from the girth, where some part of the shoe had hooked onto the clip for the martingale.

The Chronicle of the Horse has still photos and the full story, including comments from Smith, who sadly was disqualified at this point in her round, thanks to an earlier refusal on course.

I think Fleur de Lis has to be the horse of the week! He kept his head and didn't panic.

What happened here is unusual; what is more common is for a horse to get a shoe caught in a blanket strap while turned out. Usually no one sees that happen, and sometimes the blanket isn't ripped, but the horse is lame or the shoe is twisted on the foot, or the horse may even be down and the blanket all twisted around it, if the blanket or strap don't rip.

There's also the dilemma of the loose back cinch on a western saddle; a horse reaches up with a hind hoof to kick at a fly or scrambles around a turn and the hoof ends up in the cinch.

The worst kind of lost shoe is one that is not retrieved by the rider, but instead is left behind on the trail, like this one, or in the pasture. The exposed nails are an invitation to injury for another horse and the shoe is almost invisible on the ground. There's something to be said for those colored plastic shoes. A big magnet is a worthwhile investment for lost shoes in a pasture. If people ever wonder why horseshoes hang on fences, it is because people found them lying on the ground! (Olli Wilkman photo)
And then there are the loose shoes that never become lost shoes, much as you'd like them too.

That was the case with the most famous racehorse of post-Civil War Saratoga. Longfellow was raised at Nantura Farm in Midway, home of the great stallion Lexington; he won 14 races in a row and traveled to Saratoga to contest 2 1/4 mile 1872 Saratoga Cup against his rival, Harry Bassett, the only other horse in the race.

The headline on the front page of the  New York Times called it the "greatest contest in American turf history". The race is immortalized in a beautiful print by Currier and Ives, and an individual portrait of Longfellow galloping alone. Longfellow's African-American jockey was also symbolic of his Kentucky roots, and the post-war melding of North and South cultures in Saratoga. Harry Bassett was ridden by the champion white jockey.

There are a couple of versions of how and when the colt's shoe twisted: one version says it happened at the start of the race, another says it started after a mile had been run.

Doesn't it seem ironic that Currier and Ives used an image of Longfellow to advertise horse nails? Vulcan nails were made in the 1800s by the Fowler Nail Company of Seymour, Connecticut. 

Suffice to say, the champion wasn't happy about it. In fact, the shoe either bent double beneath his hoof or broke in half, depending on whose account you believe. His jockey couldn't know that, of course. He thought the horse was slacking, and went to the whip. Longfellow surged on but lost by a length.

Harry Bassett was credited with breaking the track record by two and a half seconds. But Longfellow's steel shoe was bent and embedded in his frog and heel bulb. He hopped off the track on three legs and would never race again. His grooms could barely get him back to the barn.

The book Race Horse Men by Katherine C. Mooney  (highly recommended: Harvard University Press, 2014) describes the scene after the race: "Visitors crowded around his stall, watching the great horse holding his lame hoof up and John Harper (owner) weeping quietly as he looked at him." The entire state of Kentucky is said to have mourned his injury, which may have been the most famous shoe-related injury in history. 

It wasn't quite the end of Longfellow's story. He went back to Kentucky and enjoyed a remarkably successful career as a stallion, siring two Kentucky Derby winners and many champions. When he died, he and another champion, Ten Broeck (immortalized in the song by the same name), were the first horses ever honored with memorial graves in Kentucky.

On Longfellow's grave was carved "King of Racers & King of Stallions". He died where he had been foaled and never changed owners. He's in the Hall of Fame in Saratoga, although he wasn't inducted until 1971, and a restaurant in the New York racing town bears his name, though few people probably know that it's not named for the famous poet.

Longfellow was the great racehorse of his day, but now he's rarely mentioned, except when a racehorse twists a shoe.

Finally, we make a fast forward to this weekend, when farrier Patrick Reilly, normally of the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, was paddock farrier at the Willowdale Steeplechase nearby.

He shared this story:

"A horse apparently arrived with a twisted hind shoe. The trainer did not want it fixed (I don't know why) and the vet passed the horse as "sound". 

"As the horses moved from the barn to the paddock, I received a call that a horse required the farrier, but as the horses arrived in the paddock, the trainer told me not to try to remove the shoe--which had twisted more, resulting in the horse stepping on the clip. 

"The stewards convened and told the trainer that the horse would not be allowed to race with a twisted shoe. 

"The trainer said to scratch the horse, but the jockey walked over to the horse, picked up the foot and puled off the shoe with his bare hands. 

"The horse finished fourth running on three shoes."

--Fran Jurga

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