Saturday, September 12, 2015

Rolex Grand Slam Hoofcare: Hello Sanctos Made History on These Hooves!

This horse and rider attempted to do something no other horse and rider had even come close to doing: win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. And they did it. Was there a hoof angle to the story of the world's best show jumper, Hello Sanctos? The Hoof Blog wanted to know. (photo by Kit Houghton courtesy of Rolex Grand Slam)

The whole world was watching on Sunday, September 13, as an unpretentious rider from Scotland rode his high-jumping horse into history. World #1 ranked rider Scott Brash and World #1 show jumping horse Hello Sanctos have done it before: They won a gold medal at the Olympics in 2012, the European Championship in 2013 and almost everything else in bdetween.

In December 2014, they won the tight-cornered indoor grand prix in Geneva, Switzerland and in May the expansive grass-field grand prix at CHIO Aachen in Germany, two of the most difficult jumping events in the world. That made Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos the first horse and rider to win the two consecutive legs of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Think of it as winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

And on Sunday, the test was to see if they could become the American Pharoah and Victor Espinoza of show jumping by winning the third leg at Spruce Meadows in Canada. The thrill of it all? Not only has no one ever done it, no one has even come close!

Hello Sanctos and Scott Brash have already made history by becoming the first to ever win two consecutive legs of the Rolex Grand Slam. They are blazing a new trail in equestrian sport. No one has ever even attempted to do what they did on Sunday, September 13 at the Spruce Meadows Masters in Calgary, Alberta.

Rolex added an extra $1 million or so to the bonus, if they could win the CP International Grand Prix at the 2015 Spruce Meadows Masters CSIO 5*. The only problem was that many of the world's top show jumpers also showed up. But with two double clear rounds, Hello Sanctos was unbeatable.

“Winning one of the equestrian Majors was an incredible achievement, to win two was a dream come true, but to go on and complete the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is beyond belief," Brash said after the event. "I have a very special horse in Hello Sanctos, and some amazingly supportive owners in Lord & Lady Harris, and Lord & Lady Kirkham. This close partnership has enabled Hello Sanctos and myself to achieve success that will never be forgotten, and I would like to thank all those who have played a part in making this happen.”
This horse is so impressive and is so much fun to watch, it seemed imperative that his hoof story be investigated. But tracking down a rider who is in a different country every week isn't easy.

These are the four hooves that cleared the rails at Spruce Meadows. Hinds are at the top, fronts beneath; all are Mustad Continentals. Note the difference between left and right front. (Look at the diameter of the sole of the foot, or at the inside web of the shoe.) Photos © Gary Hood.

When finally tracked to his lair, Scott Brash, MBE,  was happy to talk about his farrier. "I have had him shoe Sanctos since the day he came into my stables and I wouldn't use anyone else. He is a fantastic farrier and I'm privileged to have such a man shoe my horses.

"(Gary) is an enormous key in our success and I would be lost without him. I moved to England near London and I still fly Gary down (from Scotland) every time my horses need to be shoed."

Scott Brash, MBE
Gary Hood, FWCF, is originally from Ayrshire, Scotland but now lives in Fife. He moved there to do his farrier apprenticeship as a teenager and never left.

In a phone interview, Gary Hood said he has been shoeing for Scott Brash for about ten years. He received a call one day in 2005 to consult on one of Scott's jumpers, and has been doing his horses ever since. He only travels to the major championships; a trip to Kentucky for the World Equestrian Games in 2010 was the first big international trip for Gary.

Hello Sanctos joined Scott Brash's string in December 2011; Gary went south to London for the Olympia show at Christmastime to shoe him for the first time. "He's a true star and an absolute gentleman," Gary said of the 13-year-old Belgian-bred warmblood gelding, who is owned by Lord and Lady Harris and Lady Kirkham.

Farrier Gary Hood, FWCF,
Fife, Scotland
The first thing you'll notice about  the shoeing scheme for Hello Sanctos is that it appears completely uncomplicated. The shoes could have leapt out of the box and onto the horse's hooves.

But as with most high level athletes, the horse is tuned as much as he is shod. Simple shoeing rarely is on horses at this level. It is something that the best farriers aspire to reach, shoeing by shoeing, to get things out from under the horse and simplify each and every phase of the stride until or unless support or relief changes are needed as injury or conformation dictate.

Side clips were about the only embellishments that Gary Hood could list for this horse's feet, and that they are "set under the foot with enhanced breakover". If you look closely, you will see some subtle variations between the feet, such as the fact that the left front only has four nails. The e-head nails are either Derby or Maddox slims.

Look a little closer and notice the difference in shape between the two front feet, which is somewhat camouflaged by the (at first glance) symmetric shoes.

Video highlights from Spruce Meadows on Grand Slam Day

An interesting part of Gary Hood's shoeing process is the use of slow motion video on every horse he shoes. "I like to know if there are any wee changes or changes in landing," he said. Gary keeps notes on each horse, recording if they are landing high on the inside or some other change that might indicate either an injury or strain to the lower limb or a compensation in landing from soreness or injury elsewhere. Farriers of high-level horses are also acutely aware that any changes in stride characteristics or even posture can relate to injury or strain impacting the limb where the change is seen, or that that limb is compensating for a condition in another limb.

Gary has been shoeing Hello Sanctos for almost five years now, but many jumpers change hands often, and they rarely come with hoofcare histories documented. These farriers, whether they are aware of it or not, become practitioners of what Sherlock Holmes calls "the science of deduction"; they are acute observers of small events and changes.
"In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backwards...Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backwards, or analytically."
--Sherlock Holmes, from A Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
A farrier taking on a new horse has to try to read the mind of a previous shoer who is often half a world away, doesn't speak the same language or whose clients now have to compete against the horse they once owned. The demanding schedule and travel requirements adds more pressure.

"I've learned over the years that my eyes can deceive me," Gary admitted. "At the walk you can just about see (the landing) but at the trot, it's impossible." Gary lectured on slow motion video analysis at the 6th Scottish Farrier / Veterinary Conference at the University of Glasgow veterinary college last year.

This short video from Longines is a biography of Hello Sanctos, as told by Scott Brash, and fits well with the excitement surrounding today's Spruce Meadows Masters.

Gary recalled removing the shoes from Hello Sanctos after he won the Olympic gold medal. "I had each of them framed...both owners, Scott and myself have one each."

The story ends here, for now. Gary and his wife are in Calgary with Hello Sanctos and Scott today. Gary said he wasn't planning to do anything to Hello Sanctos but wanted to be there. He had a front row seat, while the rest of us watched around the world.

Congratulations to Gary, Scott, Hello Sanctos, and the entire horsecare and ownership system that supports this horse. Thanks for the thrill and for the care taken to insure this extraordinary horse does his job so well.

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