Thursday, August 18, 2016

Olympic Farriers: Inside the Forge at Rio

This article is an edited extract from a general news release from the FEI.

Some of the hardest working people behind the scenes at the Rio 2016 Olympics are the team of British and Brazilian farriers working round the clock to keep the well-heeled equine athletes well-shod at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro.

According to the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), which is the world governing body of horse sports, the Olympic horses here in Rio have “bespoke” (a British term for customized) shoes to help them perform at the very highest level. The FEI says that a horse re-shod by the Olympic farriery team with glue-on shoes went on to win gold!

Also mentioned was the Olympic farrier team’s use of copper-coated anti-microbial nails.

The FEI included a comment on the important use of studs in Rio. According to the Rio 2016 Lead Farrier Jim Blurton, AWCF “stud selection is nearly as important as (car) tire selection for Formula 1 (racing)”.

Meet the farriers: (left to right) Jim Blurton (Wales), Claudecir da Costa (Brazil), Túlio da Silva Carvalho, André Tavares Brandão, Luiz Gustavio Tenório (Brazil), Ben Benson (England), Craig Darcy (England) and Dean Bland (England). Photo by Arnd Bronkhorst for the FEI.

Former world champion Blurton (57), a third-generation farrier from Wales in Great Britain, heads up a five-man British team that also includes Jim’s right-hand man, Ben Benson, AWCF (36), himself a second-generation farrier. Ben will take over as lead farrier for next month’s Paralympics. Both of them worked at the London 2012 Games, along with forge general manager Emma Cornish (41).

The British side of the team is completed by three farriers: Ed Dailly, CMF (26) of Gloucestershire, England; Craig D’Arcy, BSc (Hons) AWCF (48) of Lancashire, England and Dean Bland, DipWCF (Hons), (45), of South Yorkshire, England.

Veterinarian and farrier Luiz Gustavio Tenório, a native of Rio de Janeiro, is Farrier Coordinator at the Olympics.

Overseeing them all is Luiz Gustavo Tenorio, Med.Vet. (44), the man in charge of Farrier Services Coordination for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Tenorio, who designed and equipped the Rio 2016 forge, is a first-generation farrier (and veterinarian) born and bred in Rio de Janeiro. He’s responsible for making sure that wherever there’s a horse, there’s a farrier ready to step in if a shoe needs to be replaced, even if it happens moments before they’re due onto the field of play.

“The major players come with their own farriers,” Blurton told the FEI. “All the Olympic horses come with a spare set of pre-fitted shoes so that if they lose one the team can produce a shoe that already fits. In London 2012 we had a horse that lost a shoe in the warm-up, 10 minutes before it was due to jump. We had the shoe back on in seven minutes, that’s the equivalent of a 3.5 second pitstop (in car racing)!”

Welsh farrier Jim Blurton, AWCF, is Farrier Team Leader at the Olympics.

Tenorio has also hand-selected the Brazilian forge team that includes 13 volunteer farriers. As part of the Games’ legacy program, each day’s schedule includes lectures and one-on-one training sessions, allowing the less-experienced Brazilian farriers to add to their knowledge bank, particularly about remedial shoeing.

This is a major legacy for Brazil, but there’s also a global legacy, as the national team farriers and the Rio 2016 team meet up in the forge on an almost-daily basis to discuss changes within the industry. As the sport evolves, horse-breeding is also evolving to produce more athletic horses. This in turn puts more demands on their shoes and on the farriers, so this meeting of minds involves knowledge-exchange at the highest level.

A heart-bar shoe punched for European nails meets the water of Brazil. 

Forge manager Emma Cornish
The FEI also pondered gender equality in the farrier industry, which services the only Olympic sport that sees male and female athletes competing for the same medals. The FEI assured the public that women do work as farriers, although not as many as their male counterparts, at present.

Jim Blurton was asked about the dangerous side of farrier work. “I’ve had three broken legs and I’ve broken my back, but none of those were from shoeing horses,” Blurton said. “Broken toes are part of the job, and you get backache from the very first day you start shoeing horses. You’re constantly bent over, but you adapt and you get extremely strong back and arm muscles! But there’s incredible job satisfaction. I see farriers as legal equine performance enhancers.”

Here are headshots of all the farriers:

Left to right from top row: Claudecir da Costa, Cristiano Gomes de Oliveira, Felipe Villa Gonzi, Guilherme Celentano Lanzarotto; (second row) Leopoldo de Mesquita Weiss, Tiago Machado Vieira, Anderson Alencar de Paula, André Tavares Brandão; (third row) Danilo Gabrilaitis, Irineu Fernandes dos Santos Neto, Antônio Claudio dos Santos Peixoto, Túlio da Silva Carvalho; (fourth row) Alex de Souza Silva. Gilson Bonalume, Ben Benson, Dean Bland, Ed Dailly, and Craig D'Arcy. (Photos provided)

• • • • •

This is the Hoof Blog’s first report on the farriers since the beginning of the Rio 2016 Olympics. More to follow!

Thanks to the FEI and photographer Arnd Bronkhorst of The Netherlands for their work on this article.

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