Thursday, May 11, 2017

Badminton Horse Trials 2017 Farriers Prize: The quest for the best shod eventer

Badminton Horse Trials 2017 Farriers Prize
These hooves were under British eventer Arctic Soul, the horse that finished seventh at last week's Badminton Horse Trials, one of the world's most famous horse events. They also won recognition of Great Britain's Worshipful Company of Farriers through its prestigious "Farriers Prize", awarded to Sussex, England farrier Jimmy Cooper, DipWCF.

Forget everything that comes to mind when you hear the words "farrier competition": Hoof smoke? Not a wisp. Deafening cacaphony of hammers? Near silence. Stalwart anvils and precision-crafted hand tools? None in sight. Sweaty apron-clad farriers with rolled up sleeves? Well...

Only one farrier showed up last weekend for one of the world's most prestigious horseshoeing contests. He wasn't stripped down to shoe a horse against the clock. He was challenged instead by an entry list of some of the world's most outstanding equine athletes at the world's foremost equestrian eventing competition. And he wasn't even competing; he was the judge.

Phillip Perryman was certainly well-dressed for the job, but not the way you'd expect: He wore a distinguished navy blue "team" blazer from his days on England's international horseshoeing team. 

After working on a few horses in the sun, the blazer came off and he worked in his "waistcoat", or traditional tweed vest. And on his head was no baseball cap, not even a bandana to stop the sweat from running down his brow. He wore a black bowler hat.

Phillip Perryman, BFSc (Hons), AWCF judged at a farrier contest that farriers stay away from. His task was to judge the hooves of more than 40 horses that had successfully completed the cross-country phase of England's four-star Badminton Horse Trials. He picked up each and every hoof after the riders presented their mounts to the ground jury on Sunday morning before the show jumping phase. 

Once the jury deemed a horse fit to continue, its rider led him to Phillip to have the hooves evaluated.

Phillip Perryman, farrier judge
Farrier judge Phillip Perryman
Phillip Perryman went to work while the likes of Andrew Nicholson and Sir Mark Todd  held their horses for his task.

Farriers from around the world had shod horses to compete at the Duke of Beaufort's spectacular Badminton House in Gloucestershire. There was nothing they could do to fine-tune their work at the last minute, after the hooves had rumbled over the four-mile course on Saturday. But from their distances, the farriers wondered what the judge would think of their work.

And who would win the Farriers Prize? What country's farrier would earn this year's honor?

Only one horse can win the annual Farriers Prize at the Badminton Horse Trials. And only one farrier can see his or her client's horse receive one of the most unique and coveted awards in the farrier world. Perhaps victories in recent years by Irish and New Zealander farriers may have made the local farriers more interested in the event. 

News travels through the farrier world in unusual ways: a phone call from a groom, a Facebook post, texts from owners. Farriers do get the news. This report attempts to fill in the gaps--and congratulate the winner.

British Rio Olympic team eventer Gemma Tattersall trotted up her 14-year-old Irish Thoroughbred ex-racehorse Arctic Soul at Badminton Horse Trials, and then headed to the farrier judge to have the horses' hooves judged. (Andrew Matthews photo via Getty Images)

This year, the award stayed in England and went to Sussex farrier Jimmy Cooper, DipWCF. The details of his shoeing for Gemma Tattersall's Arctic Soul are impressive. Equally impressive is the meteoric rise of the horse on the Badminton scoreboard. 

Sitting in a dismal 67th place (out of 82 starters) after dressage, the Irish Thoroughbred (and former racehorse) hit his stride on cross-country and rose 60 places after Sunday's jumping.

His shoes served him well.

front hoof Badminton Horse Trials Farriers Prize 2017
The front feet are wide and round in the Thoroughbred tradition; the traditional front shoes are made from fullered concave with side clips and road pins for traction on pavement. The photo was taken two days after the Badminton Horse Trials. (Jimmy Cooper photo)

Gemma and "Spike", as he's known around the stable, finished third at Badminton last year--the highest placed British horse and rider behind two Germans--and were headed to the Olympics until the horse sustained an injury; Gemma went to Rio with another horse, Quicklook V.

Jimmy Cooper is no stranger to "Best Shod" competitions, having won "25 or 26" (by his rough count) such awards already, although his forte in the past has been awards for his shoeing of heavy horses. Badminton was his first award for shoeing an eventer.

He has been shoeing Gemma Tattersall's 20-horse eventing stable for the past 15 years; he has shod Arctic Soul since she gained the ride on him, around 2011.

hind foot of of winner, 2017 Farriers Prize at Badminton Horse Trials
The hind feet are shod asymmetrically with handmade lateral ("outside branch") extension shoes forged from "bold section" steel, with side clips and road pins. The stock is "bumped" on the anvil to create the wider outside branch. The bars are left untrimmed; Jimmy said they are "strong". Notice how differently the inside and outside heels are shaped, as well as the difference in width. The mark on the sole is simple flaking from contact with the hoof stand. The photo was taken two days after the Badminton Horse Trials. (photo courtesy of Jimmy Cooper)

Jimmy began his explanation of the Arctic Soul's shoeing with the horse's hoof history. "It's only been the last couple of years that he has matured," he began. "I really struggled with his feet. They've really come good."

Then he paused. "He's a grumpy horse to shoe, if you ask him to move," he confided.

Arctic Soul had never been the first pick of a "best shod' judge at a three-day event before, even though he had shown up at events like Badminton sporting handmade light tooled and fullered shoes all around. Jimmy remarked that the horse did not have the best hoof conformation in the past.

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul zipped around the Badminton cross-country course on Saturday, rising 60 places from their dressage score into the top ten, and finally finished in 7th place. (Getty images photo by Andrew Matthews)

An event horse "has to run and be sound," Jimmy stressed. "This year, it was back to basics."

At first glance the horse is shod, as you'd expect, with handmade British-style fullered concave side-clipped shoes (7/8 x 3/8") in front, with small drive-in studs, or "road pins" to help with the slippery lanes around Gemma's training center.

His hind shoes, however, are made from hard-to-find "bold section" steel, formerly supplied by Arthur Cottam but now discontinued. Jimmy Cooper has hoarded some. It came in handy for Arctic Soul.

winners of Badminton Horse Trials Farriers Prize 1993-2017

"It's just brilliant (stock) for eventers," he said enthusiastically. "It's light enough, and seated out. They help keep the hind feet flat, on top of the surface, to avoid hock problems." The horse had previously been shod in light 3/4" fullered stock behind, with side clips.

Jimmy downplayed the complexity of the shoeing and the artistry of the lateral extension: "Just an average Thoroughbred foot--not much to do really."

Farrier Jimmy Cooper shoeing a horse
Award winner Jimmy Cooper hot fitting in an English stable. (photo courtesy of Jimmy Cooper)

Jimmy admitted that he had it in the back of his mind that the feet were going to be judged. He is an experienced farrier competitor, having served his apprenticeship with Andrew Casserly, AWCF. He is now an "Approved Training Farrier" in Great Britain and has trained three apprentices; his current apprentice, 22-year-old James Sutton, competed internationally on England's apprentice team. Jimmy competed internationally himself in the World Championship at the Calgary Stampede in Canada in 2013.

Best shod horse awards
Jimmy's shoeing forge boasts a gallery of "best shod" plaques, but he admitted that winning the Badminton Farriers Prize means that this plaque will take pride-of-place inside his home. Arctic Soul posed his left hind for the photo; the mark on the soul is just some flaking that came off while the horse had his foot on the hoof stand. (Jimmy Cooper photo)

He also confided that he didn't shoe the horse for Badminton under the best of conditions. In fact, he showed up late on the day the rider was leaving for the event. "Each foot I finished, the travel bandage went on," he recalled.  Apprentice James clenched up for him. "I dropped the last foot and (the horse) went right onto the lorry."

The story of farriers at the Badminton Horse Trials doesn't end with the single fact that one farrier won the prize for one horse. Judge Phillip Perryman said that he had six horses that could have won. He had to nit-pick to find the winner.

"Arctic Soul was nice and smooth, tidy, with square clenches and wellmade shoes," he recalled the next day. "I saw a vast array of different types of shoeing. The winner had upright heels. But the standard was very good, overall; there was really only one that was not a good job."

One person who would definitely approve of Badminton's Farriers Prize is Britain's Princess Anne, shown at Badminton last year. Princess Anne is former Master of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, which sponsors the award at Badminton and other top three-day events. Princess Anne rode on the British Olympic Team in 1976 at Montreal and was European Individual Eventing Champion in 1971. (Max Mumby file image courtesy of Getty Images)

Phillip picked up all four feet of more than 40 horses. His assistant that day, Sandra from the event staff, made sure the riders were shuttled to Phillip after the trot-up. He was stationed in a grassy area in the courtyard; as the horses passed under the famous stable arch, he was between them and their stalls.

"It is an honor to judge something so prestigious," Phillip said modestly. "The event looked after me really well, and I can't thank them enough."

Only hours after Badminton was over, 
congratulations to farrier Jimmy Cooper
started to appear on Facebook. 
Like all "best shod" and shoemaking judges, Phillip has been through a qualifying training course to learn the ropes and recognize the standard the Worshipful Company hopes to uphold.

In the weeks before the Badminton Horse Trials, some farriers post the photos of their clients' horses on Facebook, Twitter or their websites. Some riders also post photos and graciously thank their farriers for preparing their horses. Some horses are shod for the event with customized toe clips. The "best shod" game is on.

English farrier Jamie Goddard shod Bonza King of Rouge for Australia's Paul Tapner and shared his work on Facebook before the event. His client and horse went down in a spectacular crash on Saturday's cross-country so Jamie's hard work was not judged on Sunday.

There was one competitor who would have had a lot to talk about with the judge. Farrier (and ex-rugby player) Alexander Bragg not only shod his horse for the event--he rode it, too. And he not only rode, he excelled, ending up 8th on the leaderboard after cross-country. Note: It was his first Badminton.

But heartbreak was on the Badminton menu for Alex; his Dutch Warmblood Zagreb was sent to the holding box and was not presented to the jury for a second time. His route back to the stable did not include having the feet judged by Phillip Perryman.

This interview with Alex was done by Equestrian PR in the trade show area after he finished cross-country on Saturday, before his hopes were dashed; click to play the video:

A tip of the bowler is due to two-time best shod winner Euro Prince, ridden for Ireland by Clare Abbott. He won the Farriers Prize in both 2014 and 2015 and is still going around; he is shod by Ireland's Neil Dickson. This year, Euro Prince finished Badminton in 14th place overall. He also competed last year at the Rio Olympics.

Cooley's Luxury, a two-time winner of the "Best Shod" award at Burghley Horse Trials (2014 and 2016), retired on cross-country with rider Tom Crisp, so was not judged for Badminton's Farriers Prize.

Under the Worshipful Company of Farriers program, "Best Shod" prizes and plaques are judged at leading British equestrian events and shows throughout the year, for all types of horses.

Thanks to Jimmy Cooper, Phillip Perryman, Gemma Tattersall, Jamie Goddard and the Badminton Horse Trials for their assistance with the preparation of the this article, and congratulations to Alexander Bragg for doing it all. Thanks to Equestrian PR for sharing the interview.

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