Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Sport Horse Farriery: Burghley's 2016 Best Shod Horse Award

Horses had to jump through the Olympic horseshoe on their way home in the four-star Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in England this weekend. The huge double-horseshoe is an icon of the 2012 London Olympics moved to Burghley for horses to jump for old times' sake. And the view through it isn't bad, either. (Thanks to Pamela Kelly for this photo)

The "Best Shod Horse" Award at the 2016 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials was judged on Wednesday of the highly-esteemed four-start event. Would that mean that the rest of the event would be anti-climactic for hoof-related news?

Hardly. The "best shod" prize from the Worshipful Company of Farriers was just the beginning.

The Best Shod Horse at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in 2016 was Coolys Luxury, a repeat winner from 2014, although awarded by a different judge and wearing different shoes. The horse was once again shod by British farrier Jim Hayter, who provided these photos. The stock on the bar shoes for the front feet was tool and fullered. Notice the difference in lateral support for the hind feet. Note: These photos were taken at the time of shoeing, before the horse hit any dirt, which builds up in the creases of the shoes and is believed to assist in traction. In addition, all four shoes are drilled and tapped for studs. 

Since 2013, the Hoof Blog has reported on the horse judged to be the "best shod" at the major late summer star fixture on the global eventing calendar. It's the big time, with many of the world's best horses and riders competing for considerable prize money and prestige. The event is hosted on the grounds of Burghley House, an architectural treasure dating back to Elizabethan times (16th Century) near Stamford, in the county of Lincolnshire, England north of London. The house's 72 chimneys pierce the sky and every point of view is classic.

The competition is world class, and the setting is storybook. But the bigger story is that this horse event attracts 160,000 people, who do watch the competition but are inevitably distracted by about 600 trade stands selling everything from food to furniture. It's a festival of country life and, to be truthful, it's gone to the dogs: there seems to be about one dog to every human!

Only at Burghley would they think of this: an extended trailer hitch covered with the Union Jack stretches between a black Range Rover and an equally black inflatable boat on a launch ramp trailer. (Land Rover is title sponsor of the event.) On approach, would the horse think it has to jump the car or the boat? Would it notice the reflections in the water, or see himself as he clears the jump?

Burghley is a great place to get your name and message out in front of 160,000 or so horse-friendly people (and their dogs), and the Worshipful Company of Farriers have it on their list of events where they award one of their "best shod horse" prizes. The Company arranges with the event for the award to be given, and then sends out its own judge or judges. Each judge has been through a training program for exactly this type of shoeing evaluation.

At Burghley, the feet were judged at the first horse inspection. This is a mandatory "trot up" of each horse by its rider before the ground jury and the event veterinarian(s). They're looking for any sign of lameness or "unlevelness". Yes, that is a word in eventing.

The riders have to be sound enough themselves to keep up with the horse at a flat trot, as illustrated by New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson in this photo. Nicholson has won this event three times, and finished second this year with this horse, Nereo.

The foot judge was standing by at the horse inspection. He lifted all four feet of all 72 horses from ten countries in the event to have a look.

This year's judge was Shaun Chatterton, DipWCF, of Lincolnshire. He kindly agreed to an interview this afternoon. He said that he judges one or two "best shod" classes a year, and had judged Burghley previous, perhaps ten years ago.

Are the horses' feet in better shape this year than the last time he judged? Shaun was quick to answer in the affirmative to that one, and he said that quite a good number of the horses' shoeing was enhanced with "modern materials" such as pour-in pads, impression material, or other enhancements to improve support or alleviate a hoof problem.

He said it took him between two to three hours to get through them all, and that he marked each and every foot.

In the end, Shaun tallied the scores and saw that the winner was Coolys Luxury, ridden by British eventer Tom Crisp and owned by The Swift Syndicate. Ironically, the horse was the first to be judged, since it was assigned the #1 position in the go order. Although the news who won is technically part of the awards on Sunday, it soon passed through the grapevine. Tom's farrier is Jim Hayter, and the same horse-rider-farrier combination won in 2014, chosen by a different judge.

At first glance, this might not make for very interesting journalism. Nonetheless, your reporter rose early on Saturday to watch Coolys Luxury in the cross-country phase. He had the unenviable role of the cross-country pathfinder for the event. The horse went well, up to the second water (known as the Trout Hatchery), where he climbed the brush skinny required to exit the little lake instead of jumping it.

In a rain of splashing hooves, I saw a flash of steel. A continuous flash. The horse was wearing bar shoes, and this story got interesting again.

Jim Hayter's number is still on my phone from the last time he won this prize, and he has also been featured on this blog for consecutive wins of the Farriers Prize at the Badminton Horse Trials in 2010 and 2011, respectively, for two different horses ridden by client Emily Llewellyn.

While Jim's record is impressive, there's not much of a strategy behind it. These horses cannot be shod to impress the hoof judge; they must first and foremost be safely and appropriately shod for the daring undertaking of competing at this level. This is one farrier competition where the horse really does come first, and the safety of the rider is important, as well. The farrier's vanity is somewhere down the list.

In 2014, when Coolys Luxury was "best shod", he finished 11th at Burghley. In 2015, he was 19th. This year, he didn't finish; the rider signaled that he would retire after the mishap in the water. They had been 38th of 72 entries after dressage.

Two years ago, Coolys Luxury was competing at the four-star level while being successfully managed for a pair of mismatched feet, thin walls and a rough looking hind hoof wall. He competed successfully in handmade shoes forged from 7/8 x 3/8" fullered concave; the near fore had an unconventional nailing pattern, which Jim explained as necessary because, "I am unable to nail into the two or further than the widest point of the foot. I use Mustad Concave Number 5 nails."

"The reason for tool and fullered front bar shoes was so Jim could use the cover and still nail with a Mustad MX60 nail, a very slim nail, as he doesn't have strong walls."

Coolys Luxury was the only horse that Jim Hayter shod for Burghley this year, but not his only success on the "Best Shod Horse" circuit; one of his clients' horses won the best shod horse at the Euston Park endurance competition in Suffolk this summer. He was also Edenbridge & Oxted Agricultural Show shoeing champion in Surrey, England in August; it was two days of hunter, pony and shoemaking classes.

Does being able to re-configure a section of steel through a top anvil die guarantee a "best shod prize" for a farrier? It's certainly not easy or even something most farriers have ever tried to do, let alone craft the section into a prize winning shoe that actually fits. Still more difficult: converting the section to a bar shoe. But Judge Shaun Chatterton was adamant that the horse wasn't selected based on the difficulty level of the shoemaking.

"The fact that the horse wore bar shoes played a part, but the award was made for the way they were fitted, overall and the foot dressing. Someone else could have made those same shoes for a horse but they wouldn't have won."

It's not about bar shoes, according to Shaun. "If someone had really gone to town and fitted a pair of shoes well, they would have won," he insisted. "The lad who won had the best lot, but some of the marks were quite close."

• • • • • •

So, the best shod horse didn't complete the event; that's not unusual, since the completion percentage can be daunting at an event of this level. Almost half (33 of 72 starters) were either withdrawn or eliminated.

But what about the horse that won? That would be Nobilis 18, a 17-hand, ten-year-old Australian-bred gelding ridden by Australia's Christopher Burton and shod by British farrier Jamie Goddard. Nobilis 18 also wore front bar shoes. Instead of making the shoes, Jamie went with wedged Jim Blurton Heart Bars, which were augmented with Vettec Equi-Pak (pour-in) support coverage in the back part of the foot.

The champion horse at Burghley this year was the Australian-bred Nobilis 18, ridden by Christopher Burton. The horse was shod with wedged Jim Blurton heart bars in front, augmented with Vettec Equi-Pak support coverage behind the widest part of the foot. Note that this photo was taken at the time of shoeing, so the dirt hasn't packed into the shoe crease yet. Dirt in the crease is believed to improve traction. (Jamie Goddard photo)
Jamie's comments on the horse: "I changed the bars to a set down towards the frog, not away from (it); the green bits are Play-doh that I use to stop the Vettec running into the front half of the foot. I only wanted to support the back half of the foot. I find this help grow strong heels! On flattish feet, it also helps with grip!! I also made an Equilibrium toe to help break over."

Hoof-pastern axis on Nobilis 18, 
winner at Burghley in 2016. (Jamie
Goddard photo)
(An Equilibrium toe is short for rolling the shoe edge not just in the toe but back to the third nail holes.)

"Chris's horse doesn't have bad feet, they just a bit flat," Jamie commented. "Chris knows about shoeing and likes all his horses to stand up in front." (Jamie later clarified that "Stand up in front" refers to having hoof-pastern alignment, rather than a more broken-back alignment.)

Burton won a Bronze Medal in Eventing at the 2016 Rio Olympics on a different horse, Santano II, also shod by Jamie, who described that horse as "shod very simply in concave hunter-heel shoes".

Jamie also shod horses ridden by Paul Tapner and Shane Rose, both of Australia. He had four horses entered at Burghley this year; the other three were shod in English concave shoes, which he described as giving the "best of support and grip on grass and arenas".

• • • • • • 

The "Best Shod" award was not the only farrier-related event at Burghley. A sweet moment occurred on Sunday in the main arena, when the event honored its official "show" farrier. Local farrier Bert Flatters, FWCF has 44 years of service as the show farrier on his record. Both he and his assistant (and former apprentice), Steven Thorpe, are retiring from the responsibility, which includes being stationed on-course at the start of the cross-country phase.

Farriery at Burghley Horse Trials took time out for a little ceremony on Sunday. From left to right: longtime show farrier Bert Flatters, FWCF; 95-year-old Denis Oliver, FRCVS, (Hon)FWCF,OBE; show farrier Steve Thorpe, DipWCF, and main farrier for the event this year, Stephen Hill, AWCF.

Bert Flatters has a fascinating biography, which included gaining his basic formal education as well as the trade of blacksmithing via lessons scrawled on the forge canopy with chalk, thanks to the interest his master took in his progress. He went on to become an engineer in the military, with skills like mine detection and bomb dismantling; he served in the Cyprus conflict and parachuted into the Suez zone in the 1950s. 

Later, in civilian life, Bert Flatters decided to take a farrier course, but treated it as a hobby since there were so few horses to be shod at that time. That, however, was about to change and he soon went on to earn his AFCL (now the AWCF) and his Fellowship (FWCF), gained the Freedom of the City of London, and joined the Worshipful Company as a liveryman. He has trained eight apprentices, including his son, Michael, and his Burghley assistant and former apprentice, Stephen Thorpe, DipWCF.

Steve Thorpe grew up with an eye to an apprenticeship shoeing the gray Shires of the famous Tetley Shires in Leeds, England. A career-ending accident to the master farrier there cancelled those plans and Steve made a career change to engineering. Five years later, in 1975, he advertised in Forge magazine for someone to take him as a farrier apprentice, and he heard from Bert Flatters, FWCF, who was seeking his first apprentice. It was the first year of Farrier Registration Act, and Steve began as an RSS. In 1976, he served as Bert's assistant at Burghley Horse Trials for the first time and ten years later, converted his RSS by passing the Company's Diploma examination, just as his former master was earning his FWCF at the same time.

Plaques were presented to retiring show farriers Bert Flatters, FWCF and Steve Thorpe, DipWCF. Each plaque featured a handmade tool-and-fullered calk-and-wedge shoe made from solid copper (10" of 5/8" square). Stephen Hill, AWCF made one shoe;  Adam Fitch, DipWCF made the other. (Stephen Hill photo)

Each man received a plaque, made for each with a copper-finish handmade tool-and-fullered calk-and-wedge shoe made from solid copper (10" of 5/8" square). The shoes and plaques were the work of two event farriers, Stephen Hill, AWCF of Rutland, England and Adam Fitch, DipWCF of Cambridgeshire.

Stephen is the only farrier to have won the "Best Shod Horse" award at Burghley Horse Trials three times. Jim Hayter and Jim Blurton have each won it twice.

On hand to make it a very special moment was a representative of the Worshipful Company of Farriers,  Denis Oliver, FRCVS, HonFWCF, OBE, former Master of the Company as well as former President of the British Veterinary Association and many honors. Mr. Oliver is 95 years old this year and is affectionately called "The Father of the Company".

• • • • • • 

Shoe your own horse award?

There's one more farrier-related story to share from last week's Burghley Horse Trials. There was one farrier who shod two horses slated to go around Burghley and he was the only farrier who both shod and rode a horse. And he made it through to the end with one of the two.

Remember this name.

Alexander Bragg, DipWCF lives in Somerset, England, where he is a farrier, a rugby player and an event rider. Burghley 2016 was his first attempt at the four-star level, and his results were quite satisfactory: he survived, completed with one horse, and will be heard from again.

The "Best Shod Horse" is a great concept and well-executed program, although its winners enjoy, at best, footnote status in the news beyond the Hoof Blog. Suffice to say, when the best shod horse is also the winning horse, the world might take notice.

But what would really get attention for the farriers is when and if the farrier of the Best Shod Horse rides it, too. Is it possible that might happen one day? In addition to Bragg, British farrier Will Telfer made it to the British Eventing Grassroots Championship at Badminton a few years ago, and US farrier Dianne Lemmon made it to the US Eventing Association championships here. New Zealand saved money at the Hong Kong Olympics in 2008 when farrier/showjumper Bernard Denton was on hand to both shoe and ride, as well. The US Endurance Teams are noteworthy for often having two farriers, John Crandell and Jeremy Reynolds, in the irons. 

Worth a watch: In the German Jumping Derby in 2013, farrier Gilbert Tillmann beat the world. Notice that this course includes banks and ditches and that the fences have very little run-out, not that Hello Max needed them. This video shows his first round and the winning jumpoff.

How far can a farrier go in the international ranks? One of the great moments in recent showjumping history happened when German farrier Gilbert Tillmann rode the throwaway horse no one else wanted, Hello Max, to victory in the grueling 2013 German Jumping Derby at Hamburg. Gilbert left the famous German Olympic showjumpers behind him on the scoreboard as he made history in one of show jumping's most grueling contests.

Hopefully the farrier/riders listed are just the tip of an international iceberg. It's not easy getting to the top of a sport; perhaps we should all think about supporting the few who are on their way up, so we can go along for the ride, too.

To learn more:

Special thanks to Sarah Hayter for photography and to Jacqueline Chatterton for email assistance.

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